It’s an annual college rite. But not a good one. When Sacramento State opens its doors next week for the fall semester, most students will arrive in cars, commuting to a campus and surrounding area long known for lack of student housing.
That may soon change in a big way.
Drawn to Sacramento’s hot rental market, national developers are laying plans to build housing for 4,000 students within walking distance of campus near Folsom Boulevard south of campus.
One housing complex, The Crossings, opened this summer, tucked behind Highway 50 on Ramona Avenue. Six more are planned to open in the next four years.
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That includes a joint venture by the university and developer EdR for the largest of all, a 1,100-bed housing cluster at the south edge of campus on the McAuliffe baseball field site, with a scheduled summer 2021 opening.
Together, those projects could turn a faded industrial and commercial nook into a teeming university village, offering students an area near campus to call their own. The development could help the university finally shed its commuter-school tag.
Dan Weinstein, whose College Town International group plans to build the Q Street Commons apartments near the 65th Street light rail station, said developers have learned that the right type of housing can be profitable near growing state universities that have a dearth of on-campus housing.
“We are excited about the critical mass here,” he said. “This is a successful university with a flourishing enrollment and we think there is a demand.”
Most of the proposed apartments will be designed as group housing, but with an element of privacy. Apartments will hold up to four suites, each with a door lock and its own bathroom. Buildings will include group study rooms. The projects are designed to have fewer parking places than residents. The Q Street Commons, to open in fall of 2020, is planned to accommodate 424 students, but only slightly more than 100 cars.
City leaders say they are pleased to see so many proposals come in, but not entirely surprised. They have been laying groundwork for a transit- and campus-oriented community where cars and driving are not the central focus. That includes roadwork now on Folsom Boulevard to make it a more bike- and pedestrian-friendly street.
City Councilman Jeff Harris, who’s helped recruit developers, calls the area’s potential metamorphosis “one of the coolest things I’ve ever been involved with.”
“We get kids really plugged into their university, we get people using transit, it frees up low-income housing units (elsewhere) around the city, and lowers the vehicle miles traveled.
“And, you’ve got beer and pizza. What more do you need?”
The proposed housing may help kickstart other development. The owner of the strip mall on the 6700 block of Folsom Boulevard said last week he is close to signing a lease with a supermarket chain for a 24,000-square-foot store that could be under construction next spring.
Mall owner James Sullivan said he expects other stores, entertainment venues and non-student housing to follow. “Maybe I sound like a cheerleader. I’ve been here so long.”
Alex Amaro, president of the East Sacramento Chamber of Commerce, expressed caution, however. He said the new development will likely be good for area business, but the amount of development poses questions about traffic, policing and infrastructure that should be discussed with the community.
“Four thousand is a significant jump,” said Amaro, who is a real estate broker.
University officials, however, are pleased and hopeful. The school has spent tens of millions of dollars in recent years on more parking garages as campus enrollment topped 30,000.
Only 2,100 students live on campus, including 400-plus at a new housing complex opened last fall. Thousands more live in apartments within a few miles of campus. But most live farther away, including many who make half-hour plus treks to get to campus. That adds to congestion on Highway 50 and some local streets.
Many low-income students struggle to pay high local rents, work and attend school. Commuting adds to the degree of difficulty, Student Affairs Vice President Edward Mills said, stealing hours from students’ days and leaving them disconnected from campus.
“Our students already are trying to live close to the university, but housing has never been adequate,” he said. “Students living closer utilize support services on campus at a higher rate. Your ability to be involved in clubs or sports goes way up, or be in community service. A student is able to have a much more well-rounded experience.”
Mills said campus officials hope private developers will price housing at levels that low-income students can afford.
The first of the new projects to open, The Crossings, is advertising a $799 monthly rent for a bedroom-bathroom suite in a four-unit apartment. That compares with a typical $823 per month rent on-campus for a room in a two-bedroom unit. Campus rentals, though, typically last nine months. Private development rentals for students may require a 12-month lease.
Rents ultimately will depend on demand, other area rents, and what the campus is charging, several developers said.
“We want to be within a range of what they charge on campus, then we adjust as we assess demand,” said Stephen Clarke, an executive with AMCAL, the Southern California developer behind The Crossings.