Facing down campus housing crisis, UC Berkeley moves ahead with 1,400-bed student housing project

The University of California Board of Regents approved more than $7 million in predevelopment funding Thursday for the latest student housing project to enter UC Berkeley’s pipeline, a development that would add 1,400 beds to the university’s thinly stretched portfolio.

The funding will go toward site surveys, design and other preliminary work for a proposed 1,400-bed project at 2200 Bancroft Way, a 0.8-acre, Regents-owned site across the street from the southern edge of UC Berkeley’s campus. UC Berkeley expects to return to the Regents in the fall of next year to request approval for a full budget for the project, which, pending various approvals, could begin construction in the fall of 2025 and open by fall of 2028.

The additional 1,400 beds would join the university’s existing 3,500-bed student housing pipeline, per a report provided to the Regents’ Finance and Capital Strategies Committee. For decades, growth of UC Berkeley’s enrollment outstripped the pace at which the university added new housing, and today it can house just 21% of its 45,000-person enrollment, the lowest proportion of any campus within the UC system.

The dynamic has created what observers describe as a housing crisis within a housing crisis, wherein UC Berkeley students must scramble to find student-appropriate housing in Berkeley, a city already struggling with its own broader shortage of homes. Rents for student-aimed units in Berkeley have soared, with some three-bedroom apartments, for example, renting in 2022 for as much as $9,150 a month.

The 1,400 beds proposed at 2200 Bancroft could also allow for the university to make repairs to aging housing stock, work that could require some student housing to shutter during the academic year. The project could provide “future surge space required to move student beds from facilities undergoing renovation or redevelopment” should the university choose to pursue that work, the report said.

UC Berkeley previously identified UC-owned sites at both 2200 Bancroft and 2302 Channing Way as candidates for residential redevelopment, though it said initially it was targeting 1,200 beds at 2200 Bancroft and 2302 Channing. Plans have not been unveiled for the Channing site.

Preliminary documents note that most rooms within 2200 Bancroft would be triple-style, or shared between three students. The project, which would replace an existing office building and surface parking lot, will also include lounges, laundry facilities, fitness space and a dining commons. Dan Mogulof, an assistant vice chancellor at UC Berkeley, said via email Friday it was too early to disclose additional details about the project. 

The university’s 2021 long-range development plan, a document that should guide its physical growth through 2036, gave the university the green light to add close to 11,800 beds for faculty and students. But the plan is facing a serious legal challenge from an opposition group that sued the university over impacts related to the growth of its enrollment. Because that litigation is ongoing, UC Berkeley may not be able to rely on the environmental review done as part of the LRDP to grant streamlined approval to individual development projects like the one now proposed at 2200 Bancroft, Mogulof said.

“The uncertainty makes it extraordinarily challenging to prepare environmental review documents for any particular project at this moment in time,” Mogulof wrote in an email. “However, if this situation persists we will evaluate our options when a given project is ready for environmental review.”

UC Berkeley is continuing to move forward with the planning process for housing projects in the interim, he said. It appealed the lawsuit in question to the Supreme Court, which has yet to decide the case; if the Supreme Court does not rule in UC Berkeley’s favor, the university will conduct project-specific environmental review to advance projects like 2200 Bancroft.

Achieving housing goals set by the university for itself in 2017 — to guarantee housing for two years to undergrad students and a year each to transfer and graduate students — will require the construction of approximately 9,000 beds, per the committee report, a benchmark the university remains thousands of beds short of even with the addition of 2200 Bancroft.

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