Senator Wiener Introduces the Student & Faculty Housing Act to Address Student Housing Crisis

February 23, 2022

SACRAMENTO - Today, Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced Senate Bill 886*, the Student and Faculty Housing Act. SB 886 streamlines and accelerates student housing production across the state and increases the supply of housing so more students and faculty can live on campus. SB 886 will give more students the opportunity to attend California’s public colleges and universities. SB 886 exempts on-campus student and faculty housing projects built by the University of California (UC), California State University (CSU), and California Community College (CCC) systems from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which has been used to stop or delay new housing from being built – including badly-needed housing for students on campuses across the state.

SB 886 effectively provides UC, CSU, and CCC the same ability to create new student and faculty housing that many cities already have through state housing streamlining laws like SB 35 and AB 2162.

“California’s failure to build student housing is harming so many California college students –  pushing them into homelessness and even depriving them of a college education entirely,” said Senator Wiener. “Students – who are simply trying to go to school and learn – should not be forced to live in their cars because colleges can’t provide enough housing for them. It is unacceptable for NIMBY lawsuits to strip students of their right to a quality education by blocking housing and effectively forcing schools to reduce enrollment. Public colleges and universities are California’s economic engines and a key path to the middle class for young people. Yet, they are struggling to accommodate students and faculty, and we need to make it easier for them to build the housing they so badly need on their campuses.”

California’s lack of student housing drives college students into homelessness. According to a 2021 report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, 5% of UC students are currently experiencing homelessness. That number rises to 16% when those living in hotels or transitional housing are included. For CSU students, the rate of homelessness during the academic year is 10%. With over 280,000 students currently enrolled in UCs and 485,000 in CSUs, this means that over 60,000 students at four-year universities in California are currently facing homelessness, with even more facing housing insecurity.

The statistics are even more jarring for our community college system. In a 2019 survey of 40,000 California community college students, 19% of students had been homeless in the last year while 60% had experienced housing insecurity. With 1.8 million Californians currently attending community college, this means over 1 million community college students in this state alone are unable to find an adequate and affordable place to live while pursuing a degree.

The lack of student housing also impacts California’s urgent need to expand access to public higher education for California youth. The UC system, for example, received record amounts of applications in 2021 and has expanded enrollment as demand has increased. The growth in admissions, combined with decades of limited housing development, has left campuses without the necessary shelter for their students or staff. Schools have revoked housing guarantees, and housing waitlists continue to grow. In the fall of 2021 alone, 13 CSU campuses reported having 8,700 students on waitlists for housing, while 8 UC campuses reported 7,500 students – a combined total of over 16,000 students unable to gain access to housing through the university they attend.

Just last week, UC Berkeley’s plans to expand its campus to meet enrollment demands were halted because of a CEQA lawsuit filed by neighbors – neighbors who have also opposed UC Berkeley’s student housing proposals. Because of this, UC Berkeley might have to reduce the size of its incoming first year class by approximately one-third, or 3,050 students.  

Although half of CSUs and all UCs have added housing capacity since 2015, the rate at which these projects are ready to be inhabited has not matched the rise in admissions. One issue facing potential housing projects for students and faculty is the prevalence of CEQA appeals and lawsuits.

CEQA requires state and local agencies to evaluate and disclose the significant environmental impacts of projects they approve and to avoid or mitigate those impacts if possible. CEQA is a critically important law that protects the environment from projects such as refineries that pollute natural resources and jeopardize health, especially for historically marginalized and underserved populations.

However, the CEQA process is subject to appeals and lawsuits that can increase project costs and create delays for reasons completely unrelated to the environment. It’s not unusual for it to take three to four years and millions of dollars to resolve a single lawsuit, while pre-lawsuit appeals regularly take six months to resolve. The delays and excessive costs associated with CEQA can slow down projects, or even prevent proposals from moving forward.

Using CEQA to delay or halt student and faculty housing projects has greatly impacted California campuses, increasing the cost of living in and around campuses, pushing thousands of students and staff into housing insecurity or homelessness. Moreover, increasing on-campus student and faculty housing is inherently environmentally beneficial, as students and faculty can walk to work or school, rather than driving long distances due to the extreme cost of housing.

To qualify for this exemption, projects must be on a UC, CSU, or CCC campus, utilize prevailing wages and a skilled and trained workforce, not utilize land demarcated as farmland, wetlands, or a very high fire hazard severity zone, and not result in the demolition of rent-controlled or affordable housing.

SB 866 is sponsored by California YIMBY, the State Building & Construction Trades, the UC Student Association, and the Student Senate for California Community Colleges. Assemblymember Rob Rivas (D-Salinas) and Senator Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) are co-authors of this legislation.

"UC students are suffering through a crisis-level affordable student housing shortage across the system,” said Alex Niles, Chair of Government Relations for the UC Student Association. “By exempting on-campus projects from CEQA litigation, this bill would remove a legal tool that has been abused in order to delay or halt too many student housing projects in recent years. It encourages necessary housing construction in a way that minimizes the impact on surrounding communities by keeping more students on campus. The UC Student Association is grateful for the partnership of Senator Wiener, CA YIMBY, The Student Housing Coalition, and many others in advancing this significant reform."

“For far too long, CEQA has been misused to prevent students from having access to housing on our own campuses under the facade of protecting the environment,” Michelle Andrews, Legislative Director for the Associated Students of UC Davis. “Students are not an environmental burden and they should never have to worry about where they are going to sleep at night while pursuing a degree. If the state of California truly wants to ensure protection of the environment into the future, it must put an end to the inhumane student housing crisis and that begins with passing SB 886.”

“The students attending California’s world-class universities are not pollution – they represent the future of our state,” said Brian Hanlon, CEO of California YIMBY. “Achieving California’s climate goals is a critical part of that future, and that includes updating CEQA to make sure it’s focused on things that harm the environment. Student housing is not one of those things.”

"Students have been denied access to education due to their basic need insecurities,” said Jasmine Prasad, Vice President of Legislative Affairs, Student Senate for California Community Colleges. “The community college system consistently advocates for basic needs but continues to be overlooked despite being the largest higher education system in the state representing 1.9 million students. We are creating an inequitable system, only 11 out of 116 campuses offer housing in community college leaving 19% of students to face housing insecruites. "

*Bill language will be available online tonight at 9pm. It is also available on request