Newsom signs bill to restore funds for on-campus housing for Ventura College

Ventura College’s plan to build affordable housing on its Sacramento campus has been delayed, but the project is moving forward and the college’s president is “cautiously optimistic” that the bill signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday means promised funding from the state will be implemented.

Last year, Ventura College won a $63 million state grant to build housing for 320 students as part of a nearly $1 billion award program to 19 colleges and universities. But those projects were thrown into doubt when the 2023-2024 state budget bill restored money to help reduce the state deficit. This legislation eliminated grants and instead required colleges and universities to borrow money for new dormitories, and Sacramento would finance the debt payments.

But there was no guarantee that the state would make all these payments. While UC has access to credit for major construction projects, community college districts operate independently and don’t always have an easy way to borrow tens of millions of dollars.

Senate Bill 142, which Newsom signed Wednesday, calls for the state to borrow money for housing projects at community colleges. This bill doesn’t actually include the funding — it merely expresses “the Legislature’s intent” to include it in the 2024-2025 state budget — but college officials see it as a reasonable stopgap solution.

“This is really helpful. This provides a commitment that they will work with us,” said Lisette Navarrete, executive vice chancellor of the California Community College System. “Now districts and colleges will be able to continue planning or implementing their projects, knowing that there is a commitment from the state to affordability.”

Ventura College had planned to have its campus housing now under construction, but uncertainty about funding slowed things down, since college leaders did not want to spend money that the state might try to reclaim.

The college chose a site — a vacant lot on campus where a swimming pool once stood — completed its environmental studies and hired a project management company, said Kim Hoffmans, president of Ventura College. It is now in the process of hiring an architect.

The project should begin sometime next year and finish sometime in the 2025-2026 school year, Hoffmans said. This is about a year later than originally expected.

“We feel better and are still moving forward with Ventura College, but we are proceeding cautiously,” Hoffmans said. “All these delays drive up costs.”

She added that the project budget has already increased from $65 million to about $90 million. The state will provide no more than $63 million, so the rest will fall to the Ventura County Community College District.

Ventura College plans to build 95 apartment-style units, each with two to four bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. Most units have two students per bedroom.

Rent will range from $500 to $900 per person, depending on the unit. Places will be awarded based on need, to students who cannot afford rent in Ventura.

There will be plenty of qualified students, as apartments in Ventura may be out of reach even for many mid-career professionals. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Ventura was $2,150 last summer, according to real estate firm Dyer Sheehan, which conducts annual surveys of rents in Ventura County.

“It’s a huge need for our students,” Hoffmans said. “Especially during the coronavirus crisis, we realized that for many of them, their home learning environment was not conducive to student success. … Physically living on campus in affordable housing would really help.”

Ventura College won the competitive state scholarship program in part because rents in the city are so high, Hoffmans said. Other factors in its favor: The construction site was available, and the campus is centrally located on major bus routes and close to grocery stores and other amenities, which is important because the college does not have a dining hall.

On-campus housing is rare in the community college system, being offered on only 11 of the state’s 116 campuses. As students become increasingly unable to afford rent, it is likely to become more common in the coming decades. In addition to the Ventura College project, Moorpark and Oxnard colleges each received a $250,000 state grant to study the feasibility of on-campus housing.

State funding is needed to keep on-campus housing affordable, Navarrete said.

“We will not charge higher rents to do these projects, which is what college dorms do,” she said.

Tony Biasotti is an investigative reporter and observer for the Ventura County Star. Contact him at This story was made possible by a grant from the Ventura County Community Foundation Fund to support local journalism.

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