Santa Rosa Junior College advances $42 million on-campus student housing project

The five-story $42 million development represents an unusual step in the world of U.S. community colleges, just 1 in 4 of which offer on-campus housing.|

Santa Rosa Junior College will take its largest leap ever into the North Bay’s competitive housing market with a plan to provide on-campus student housing at affordable rates as soon as the fall semester of 2022.

The $42 million, five-story development bid approved by SRJC trustees on Tuesday represents an unusual step in the world of community colleges - just 1 in 4 of which offer on-campus housing, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.

The project, slated for the corner of Elliot Avenue and Armory Drive, next to Highway 101, will have capacity for up to 360 students, with rents ranging from $750 for a traditional double room up to $1,175 for single occupancy in a four-bedroom apartment.

The 101-year-old college has offered on-campus housing before - but nothing on the scale of the apartment- and dorm-style housing envisioned in the new development, which officials said would enliven the Mendocino Avenue campus beyond normal instruction hours. It comes as enrollment continues to decline - a trend exacerbated by the 2017 fires - and as students struggle to compete for the area’s scarce, affordable rentals. Some have been forced to commute from as far away as Ukiah, 60 miles to the north, said President Frank Chong.

“SRJC is more to our community than just a college,” Chong said. “We aim to support students, even outside the classroom. And what many students need right now is a place to live.”

After the fires, which wiped out 5,300 homes in Sonoma County and 5% of Santa Rosa’s stock, 7% of SRJC students reported they planned to leave the college, and 30% said they were considering leaving, according to a survey conducted last year by The Scion Group, a student housing advisor.

“Housing insecurity is a major concern for SRJC students and Sonoma County residents,” said Pedro Avila, the college’s vice president of student services.

Board President Jordan Burns called the housing development the “single most important project” during the current trustees’ tenure on the board, which itself has been revamped over the past two elections.

“This is really going to reshape the entire campus. It’s turning our campus into a 6, 7 a.m.-to-10 p.m. campus into a 24-hour campus,” Burns said.

The lead developer will be Texas-based Servitas, which specializes in student housing development. Local firms involved in the project include Santa Rosa-based Wright Contracting.

“A project of this size and complexity takes a village,” said Lisa Freedman, director of pre-construction at Wright Contracting.

Austyn Rebich, 32, is an architecture student who attends the SRJC alongside her husband, and they hope to have a child soon. A Healdsburg native, she said she’s seen friends move out of state because of the area’s high housing costs and she was concerned that the housing development wasn’t open to families.

“The prices looked great and affordable, but I think the demand is a lot higher than they think it is,” Reich said.

The design isn’t conducive for children, according to Angel Rivera, vice president of real estate development at Servitas.

Although the college has expanded and upgraded its facilities through Measure H, a $410 million bond approved by voters in 2014, the new student housing development will be funded through a public-private partnership. The principal investor in the deal is listed as George K. Baum & Co., an investment banking firm headquartered in Kansas City.

The college estimated the housing will return revenue of over $3 million by 2031, growing to more than $71 million by the year 2061.

The project will be built with light-gauge steel and have red brick to match other buildings on campus. There will be communal lounges and kitchens and a dozen washers and dryers.

Chong said he was thrilled the housing was moving forward, and at the Tuesday board meeting he expressed interest in providing faculty housing down the road.

“This community deserves affordable housing and I feel that we are doing our share to address the housing shortage in Santa Rosa,” Chong said.

You can reach Staff Writer Susan Minichiello at 707-521-5216 or On Twitter @susanmini.

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