State Assemblywoman Dion Aroner (D-Berkeley) and student leaders rallied around a proposed $15 million bond for new student housing at a press conference at UC Berkeley Tuesday morning.
But Governor Gray Davis and university officials have raised concerns about the politics and language of the proposal.
The bond gained momentum Monday afternoon when the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee added $15 million for low-income student housing to a larger $2.1 billion housing bond that California voters will likely consider in November.
The legislature and Governor Gray Davis will have to approve the bond measure before it goes to the voters.
In order to qualify for the money, universities would have to come up with matching funds, either by dipping into their own budgets or lining up private developers.
Until now, the state’s public universities have not drawn on taxpayer dollars to pay for housing, depending instead on student fees, donations and other sources.
Under the current system, Aroner argues, the universities have moved too slowly to address the student housing crisis. If passed, she said, the bond would mark a “paradigm shift” in the way student housing is funded, providing the first-ever direct infusion of public dollars, and stimulating speedier development.
But the bond amendment faces a number of obstacles. First, Davis has raised concerns about asking the public for too much money in bond issues on the March and November ballots.
In March, voters will decide on a $2.6 billion parks bond and a $200 million elections equipment bond. In November, the housing bond will likely run alongside a more than $10 billion education bond.
“You want to have the right amount,” said Sandy Harrison, spokesman for Davis’s Department of Finance. “You want the amount that will do the most good and won’t frighten voters away.”
Aroner said student housing advocates will have to “be vigilant” to ensure that Davis does not strip away the student housing money.
Chuck McFadden, spokesman for the University of California system, said UC does not yet have an official position on the student housing bond amendment.
But he said the university, currently in negotiations with Aroner and State Senator John Burton (D-San Francisco), who authored the larger housing bond, does have some concerns about the language in the amendment. McFadden said the bond should give all UC campuses a shot at the money.
McFadden would not offer details on the university’s precise concerns with the language. But the amendment, which would provide money to both the UC and California State University systems, gives priority first to development on university-owned land, and second to campuses “suffering from a severe shortage of housing and limited availability of land.”
Aroner said the “severe shortage” language would likely give a leg up to UC Berkeley, UCLA and other campuses facing the most severe housing crunches.
Aroner added that only four to five campuses statewide would likely receive bond funding, given the relatively small amount of money involved. She said the state would need to provide about $500 million to address the statewide student housing crisis in a more comprehensive way.
Another potential concern for the university is the effect of the bond amendment on the rest of the system’s budget. Historically, McFadden said, the university has avoided asking the state for housing money, concerned that it could eat into research and instructional budgets. But he emphasized that the university has not yet raised this concern in talks with Aroner and Burton.
Students at the press conference said the measure marked an historic step toward addressing a housing crisis at UC Berkeley and at universities statewide.
“This is a major triumph,” said Josh Fryday, Vice President of External Affairs for the Associated Students of the University of California. “There are students who are living on counches, on the basements of fraternities, who are living in cars.”
Jimmy Bryant, a fourth-year student at UC Berkeley, said he is sleeping on a couch in a dangerous Oakland neighborhood because it is all he can afford.
Bryant said that low-income and minority students are the most effected by the housing crunch.
“This is not just a situation for me,” he said. “You will barely find any minorities living in and around the Berkeley campus.”
According to a UC Berkeley student survey completed in the fall of 2000, and presented at the press conference, students spent an average of two months looking for an apartment and 55% of their income on housing.