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SSU unveils Petaluma apartment building for faculty, college employees

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Sonoma State University will unveil Thursday a new 90-unit apartment complex school officials hope will provide much-needed housing to faculty and employees.

The complex, which offers studio and one- to three-bedroom apartments at market rates, is located on a 2.17-acre site adjacent to the Petaluma Marina and Sheraton hotel, about 10 miles south of the Rohnert Park college. Officials said the apartments are part of a larger campaign to address the university’s long-term need for staff and student housing.

“We’re very excited. We’re just delighted we could find a facility that was already in construction and that the developer was willing to sell,” said Joyce Lopes, SSU’s chief financial officer.

Lopes said the project’s $42 million price tag was about $12 million less than what it would have cost to build housing from the ground up. After getting approval from the California State University system last November, the property was purchased from Basin Street Properties and will be financed through state bonds and reserves.

Rents at Marina Crossing Apartments, 785 Baywood Drive, range from $1,774 for a compact, 439-square-foot studio to about $3,300 for a 3-bed, 2-bath apartment, according the university’s website, www.livemarinacrossing.com.

One SSU lecturer said Wednesday she would not be able to afford the kinds of rents SSU is asking. The lecturer, who asked that her name not be used because she did not want to jeopardize her teaching position, said she lost interest in the apartments as soon as she saw the rents.

“I don’t think they’re affordable,” she said. “It’s not helpful. It’s helpful in the sense that there’s more (housing) stock … but as soon as I saw the rents I kind of stopped paying attention.”

University officials said the apartments are priced competitively compared to other apartments in the area. In previous communications with university employees, Lopes described the apartment project as an effort to provide “affordable housing” to SSU staff and faculty.

But Lopes said Wednesday she meant “appropriately priced” housing for the area and all the amenities.

“When I say affordable, I don’t mean it in the federal term,” she said, referring to the federal government housing programs and policies aimed at low-income residents.

She said the university is greatly reducing deposit and other move-in costs, and that its financial projections for the project are based on the assumption that rental rates will not rise by more than 3% a year.

“Our goal is not to make money on this project; our goal is to provide quality housing,” she said, adding that the university loses 1 in 5 job candidates who make it to the final stages of recruitment because of the difficulty in finding housing.

Paul Gullixson, SSU spokesman, said the rents at the five-story, multifamily complex are currently being priced at market rate. But the hope, he said, is that after a few years, with increases kept at a minimum, rents will actually be below market rate.

Sonoma State owns 10 condominiums just south of campus, across East Cotati Avenue, available to new faculty members and others in need of temporary or transitional housing. Gullixson said Marina Crossing Apartments is the largest workforce housing initiative in the university’s history, and potentially the largest in the North Bay.

Ethan Brown, a program manager at the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, said he’s not aware of any other workforce housing project of comparable size. Brown said projects such as these, particularly in response to the 2017 wildfires, are becoming a priority for local employers, the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber and local government officials.

Gullixson called the new SSU apartment complex unprecedented.

“Many companies, agencies and even school districts in the North Bay have talked about the importance of creating housing projects for employees like this, but no one to my knowledge has done it on this scale,” he said in an email.

Gullixson said Marina Crossing Apartments will be available only to faculty and staff members at Sonoma State, and possibly to faculty and employees from other schools, such as Santa Rosa Junior College and College of Marin. He said it depends on whether demand is not sufficient.

“At this point, we’re confident that the demand is such that we shouldn’t have a problem filling the units,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at (707) 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.

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