The growing demand for housing among Cal Poly faculty and staff is in the process of being answered.
“There’s only one long-term solution, which is to build more housing for our faculty and staff,” Cal Poly Corporation CEO Cody VanDorn said.
The Cal Poly Corporation is planning for a $65 million housing project to be finished in 2025, located at Slack Street and Grand Avenue.
The corporation conducted a survey conducted earlier this year that revealed 50% of respondents and 72% of renters expressed interest in a Cal Poly-affiliated housing program.
Cal Poly Corporation spokesperson Aaron Lambert noted that numbers from their survey results may change throughout the course of the housing project.
Cal Poly employees are paying above market rate for housing
Cal Poly employees pay an average rent of $2,176 per month — $356 more than San Luis Obispo’s market rent average of $1,820 per month.
According to the survey, the respondents make an average household income of $127K. That’s well over San Luis Obispo’s overall median household income of $58,546, as reported by the Census Bureau in 2020. Still, only 33% of employees surveyed expressed satisfaction with the cost of their housing.
In addition to paying above the norm of the market rate, San Luis Obispo’s housing market is the second least affordable small metro area, according to the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
With juggling the lack of housing and the tall price to pay, 73% of employees anticipate the need for assistance in finding a place to live, especially when looking for an affordable and convenient place to live, according to the survey.
Psychology professor Laura Cacciamani bought her house with a family in Atascadero in 2018.
“Our home value has already gone up to $150,000 since we bought it four years ago,” Cacciamani said. “The housing market is even worse than when it was when I bought a house.”
Cacciamani said that housing is integral to her job, noting that living in San Luis Obispo is simply too expensive (even in 2018) and restrictive to meet the needs that she wanted in a home for her family. When she did find a home that she wanted, it was still incredibly competitive and she had to engage in a bidding war.
“There were already five offers on the house,” Cacciamani said. “It wasn’t even on the market yet. I don’t even know how it was possible.”
Cacciamani said she enjoys the 18-minute commute from her Atascadero home to Cal Poly over the Cuesta Grade, an uphill strip of Hwy 101. But she said living in San Luis Obispo would be easier for her financially, especially with the rising inflation of gas prices.
“I’m going up the grade every day, going straight up a hill for like 10 minutes — which is a lot of gas,” Caccimani said. “That is going to be a new financial burden, the fact that gas prices are over $6 a gallon in most places.”
Cacciamani said that living outside San Luis Obispo can “limit” her work at times.
“The housing market is terrible — it’s the worse thing about SLO county, which is sad,” Cacciamani said. “It’s amazing to live here. It’s amazing to work here, I love working at Cal Poly. The cost of living is just absolutely absurd.”
While 41% of employees who took the survey said they live in San Luis Obispo currently, others live in Atascadero, Los Osos, Arroyo Grande and other surrounding cities.
Lack of housing poses major roadblock to recruiting and retaining staff
According to VanDorn, without an accountable source of housing or a program that introduces Cal Poly employees to potential areas and places of housing, retaining employees becomes harder for Cal Poly and jobs for employees.
When considering continued employment at Cal Poly, 73% of survey respondents said owning a home is a critical consideration and 64% said housing costs were an important element.
“If not having found [a] house, I would have been forced to find employment elsewhere following [academic year] 2017-2018,” a comment in the survey read. “I may still need to find a different position in the coming years in a more affordable part of the US despite now being a tenured professor here.”
Not only do Cal Poly employees have to consider the type of housing and cost of it, but the proximity to the campus is another factor that plays into “satisfying” housing.
“The median home sales prices are generally higher for those highly concentrated markets compared to the less concentrated,” the study stated.
These highly concentrated markets tend to be the housing closer to Cal Poly’s campus because a lot of those searching for housing are Cal Poly students or employees wanting a convenient commute to school or work.
Cal Poly has the highest number of employees out of all major industries in San Luis Obispo County. Its 3,000 employees surpass the number of employees in county government, healthcare companies and other areas.
In addition to providing positions and occupations for potential employees, Cal Poly’s employment trends are stable — with the average Cal Poly employee participating in the survey staying at the university for about eight years.
Cal Poly Corporation’s market analysis shows that a lack of housing can hurt San Luis Obispo’s economy, which is centered around higher education, tourism, wine and agriculture.
How the housing program can help
The only available housing set aside for faculty is the Bella Montana condo complex off of Highland Drive, created five years ago.
With the three-year project in progress, VanDorn has suggested short-term solutions in the meantime, specifically with online resources that can connect faculty with others to find housing.
“I think there are more solutions we can have in the next six months, next 12, next 24 months before we actually bring some of that housing on campus,” VanDorn said. “We as a corporation will have to provide some level of assistance to make that happen.”
VanDorn said a primary focus in developing this housing program is talking with current faculty and staff throughout the design and construction process to better accommodate their needs.
Unlike Bella Montana, which has a focus on three-bedroom condos, the new project will be predominately one and two-bedroom units. The project will start with 200 units despite the demand for 700 to 800 units among faculty and staff.
“If you fill 200, it’s really not going to satisfy the need for faculty and staff,” VanDorn said. “I think this is really clear that it’s going to become wither two or three faculty and staff housing projects that make up that program here on campus.”
In addition to talking with the Cal Poly employees, the corporation will be involving the surrounding community.
“We need to make sure the community, specifically the residents on Slack Street, understand what the project looks like and what it is going to mean long-term for that particular neighborhood,” VanDorn said.
VanDorn said the project is predicted to be one of many, hoping to ameliorate the housing demand from Cal Poly staff and faculty through building more housing and creating programs that connect staff and employees with realtors.