UC Berkeley partners with private developers to ease student housing crunch

Garden Village apartments on Dwight at Fulton in Berkeley were built privately and are leased by UC Berkeley for students. Photo: American Campus Communities

To help ease the shortage of affordable housing for students, UC Berkeley has begun leasing privately developed apartment buildings in their entirety and renting them out to students. The move is one way the university is attempting to meet the challenge of housing an increasing number of students in an area with a shortage of housing for the general population, let alone students.

In the fall of 2016, university officials signed lease agreements with two new apartment buildings — the New Sequoia building at Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street, and Garden Village on Dwight Way at Fulton — to rent to students. New Sequoia provided 113 beds to students and Garden Village initially provided 210.

Additionally, the university leased apartments at Panoramic Residences in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood this year and rented them to around 60 students as summer housing.

“We’ve explored and continue to explore creative options to help accommodate the growing number of new incoming students, including providing additional housing through lease agreements in Berkeley,” said Adam Michael Ratliff, a spokesman for UC Berkeley’s Division of Student Affairs.


The need for additional housing is clear. The university’s undergraduate population increased 15% between 2006 and spring 2016, to 26,094 undergraduates, according to statistics cited in the university’s Master Plan Task Force report, released in January 2017.  The graduate student population increased 7% during that time, to almost 11,000 students.

The taskforce has recommended a campus goal of housing approximately 50% of the university’s undergraduate students and 25% of its graduate students. This means about 15,600 beds are needed, while the university has only about 8,700 beds.

Berkeley has the lowest percentage of beds for its student body of any campus in the UC system, with only 22% for undergraduates and 9% for graduate students. Across the system, the average is 38.1% for undergraduates and 19.6% for graduate students.

Teaming up with private developers has several advantages. This way, the university doesn’t have to bear the considerable costs of building new housing, while the developer doesn’t have to worry about finding and managing tenants. Cal is exploring building new housing too: it has identified nine potential sites in Berkeley and nearby for construction, including at the Oxford Tract and People’s Park.

There are advantages for students as well, though unlike on-campus residence halls, Garden Village, New Sequoia and Panoramic Residences don’t have meal plans.

Garden Village: Car sharing, rooftop farm

Living area in an apartment at Garden Village in Berkeley. Photo: American Campus Communities

Garden Village, a 77-unit mixed-use housing development near downtown Berkeley, has a number of innovative features, including rooftop farm plots and a novel approach to parking.

Located at 2201 Dwight Way, the housing development is made up of 18 distinct but connected “volumes,” or towers, ranging in height from three to five stories and connected by open-air walkways; more than 12,000 square feet of rooftop farming plots; and a small garage, which offers just enough space for a fleet of shared vehicles that tenants can rent.

There is no onsite parking for residents; the building was designed as a walking- and biking-oriented development. Instead of parking their own cars in the garage, students can participate in the on-site car share program.

At Garden Village, a student living in one bedroom of a two-bedroom apartment, sharing with another student occupying the other bedroom, will pay about $1,670 per month, which does not include meals. A student living in one bedroom of a four-bedroom apartment, sharing with three others, will pay about $1,597 per month, again, with no meals included.

The median monthly rent in Berkeley was $3,410 for a two-bedroom apartment in May 2017, according to real-estate rental agency Zumper’s June metro report.

New Sequoia: Student housing on Telegraph Avenue

The New Sequoia Apartments on Telegraph at Haste, seen here under construction, provide 113 student beds. Photo: Max Cherney

New Sequoia Apartments, which were built a few years ago after a devastating fire destroyed the original Sequoia building, are located at 2441 Haste St.

The building has 42 apartments on five stories. The apartments are designed in a U-shaped building around a courtyard. Amenities include Wi-Fi, an outside courtyard, a laundry room, limited covered bicycle parking and fully furnished rooms.

A student sharing a one-bedroom apartment at New Sequoia with one other student will pay about $1,456 a month, while a student sharing a two-bedroom apartment with another student will pay about $1,560 a month. A student sharing a two-bedroom apartment with two other students costs about $1,404 a month. As with Garden Village, meals are not included.

Housing students at Panoramic Residences, San Francisco

A shared student room at the Panoramic Residences in San Francisco, which is offered by UC Berkeley housing to summer students, among others. Photo: Panoramic Residences

Panoramic Residences is in San Francisco, a lengthier commute for students but chock-full of amenities. The building is a 12-story high-rise at 1321 Mission St. The apartments have flat-screen TVs, Wi-Fi, stainless-steel appliances, bay windows and window seats, extra-deep soaking tubs, convection microwave ovens and laundry rooms on every floor.

The university isn’t renting the entire building, which is shared with students from other educational institutions including the California College of the Arts.

Rent for two students occupying a studio is $1,750 per month; for two students occupying a double room in a suite, $1,850 a month, and a single room in a suite is $1,975 per month.

In addition to the arrangements with New Sequoia, Garden Village and Panoramic Residences, UC Berkeley also has a public-private partnership with developer American Campus Communities to build Bancroft Hall, a residence hall for nearly 800 students. It’s located at the corner of Bancroft Way and Dana Street, and construction is expected to finish up in 2018.

“One of the benefits of working with partners is that they have dollars they can use to help build the building,” said Stephen Sutton, interim vice chancellor for student affairs.

“Because of our financial constraints, we don’t necessarily have the resources toward building a building we used to have when we built residence halls,” Sutton said.

In the arrangement with American Campus Communities, the developers own the building and rent the land from UC Berkeley. This arrangement is under a 45-year contract that has options for extension.

Unlike the rents for Garden Village, New Sequoia and Panoramic Residences, the rents for Bancroft Hall will include meal plants. The rents will be comparable with those of residence halls on campus, Sutton said.

Under the arrangement, the university is to collect the rents and meal costs from the students, and a portion of the monies collected will be passed on to the developers. The developers pay the university rent for its ground lease.

Rates for on-campus housing range from a quad room at $12,980 for the school year to a single room in a suite at $19,698 for the school year, with meal plans included, Sutton said.

Like most college towns, Berkeley has a number of apartment buildings that have no connection with the university but rent to students. Stonefire, an eight-story building at 1974 University Ave. that took the place of the Firestone garage and parking lot, was developed specifically for students, but Landmark Properties, its Athens, Georgia-based real estate developer, rents and manages the building itself.

More than 150 students began moving into the building at the corner of University and Milvia last week, according to Cody Nichelson, a spokesman for Landmark. “We build with students in mind, but we welcome everyone,” Nichelson noted. The company builds apartments in university towns all over the country, with features such as study rooms, computer lounges and proximity to campus. Studios at Stonefire start at $2,970 a month, and two-bedroom apartments rent for $4,125 to $6,780 a month.

Editor’s note: This story was updated Aug. 10 to add information about Stonefire.