The Santa Clarita Community College District held a study session Wednesday evening discussing an approved state grant of approximately $62 million to construct a 100-bed facility on its property for qualifying College of the Canyons students.
“It’s a pretty exciting project,” said Jim Schrage, assistant superintendent/vice president of facilities planning, operating and construction for the district, which administers COC. “It’s also the biggest grant we’ve ever been awarded.”
According to Schrage, the grant is a culmination of lobbying and various actions to support students’ basic needs such as housing, food and transportation security, to name a few. In 2022, the Higher Education Student Housing Grant Program, Assembly Bill 183, was passed, and approved funding allocations for community college affordable housing projects.
“Student housing has always been an issue, especially affordable student housing,” said Jasmine Ruys, assistant superintendent/vice president of student services. “One in three students face food and housing insecurity in the spring of 2018.”
The data referenced by COC staff came from the 2018-19 Student Expenses and Resources Survey, which 150,000 students responded to regarding their basic needs. The California Student Aid Commission reported that nearly 1 in 3 students faced food and housing insecurity.
Ruys said student housing is the “very foundation” of what’s needed for students to be able to concentrate on school.
“You can’t be expected to do well in your classes, show up on time, make sure that you’re well prepared when you you’re struggling to find a place to live or trying to figure out where you are going to sleep tonight,” Ruys said.
The $62 million grant is specific to low-income students who are full-time in school. She also explained the difference between developing student housing versus apartments.
“When you’re living in a dorm, you have community, and you have a camaraderie of people who are doing the same thing as you — that goal of student success,” Ruys said. “You might be attending classes, or maybe you may not have classes together, but you have that time in which you could study together, work together and so that way you support one another.”
Student housing can provide a sense of independence and an opportunity to connect to the campus, she added.
“When you get a grant, you get spending guidelines,” Schrage said. “We finally got guidelines in December and here we are in February, moving as fast as we can.”
COC staff noted the grant would be allocated in two parts for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 fiscal years. COC received its first portion of funds of approximately $23 million.
The housing facility must also be on district-owned property, per the guidelines.
According to Schrage, they’ve identified a location on the Valencia campus, near parking lot No. 6. The housing development would be directly adjacent to the parking structure, according to the presentation.
“It’s a flat piece of property, all the infrastructure of the campus runs right around it as it’s close to parking, it’s well-lit and it’s close to everything on campus,” Schrage said.
Moving forward, the district will bring architectural contracts and environmental impact reports for possible approval.
“We’ve been working kind of on the side because we knew this was going to happen even without guidelines,” Schrage said. “We started our initial discussions with student services and we’re pretty much ahead on the program.”
“We expect to keep fast tracking this and have this project to DSA, the Division of the State Architect, by midsummer,” he added. “This project is a DSA project, it’s a prevailing wage project, as well. So, the costs are substantially higher than any private development.”
Joan MacGregor, member of the board of trustees, expressed her frustration with the process and said the project would most likely move forward without her approval.
“There’s just so many questions, and so many comments that I would rather see us return the money at this point,” MacGregor said. “They give you money, but they don’t give you any ability to go forward, and now it’s rush, rush, rush.”
MacGregor agreed that students need to have a permanent home, they need food and clothing so as not to be concerned about those issues to succeed in the classroom.
“But this is going far beyond that,” she said. “This is going into a facility structural commitment by this board, and I’m just mortified that this is the first time the board has had a presentation.”
Her fellow board members shared the sentiment that the housing development would benefit COC students and said they would be looking forward to the next step of the process.