Ashbaugh said the plan would initially be targeted toward neighborhoods in Alta Vista and Monterey Heights, the Highland Drive area, and Cuesta and North Chorro streets. | Daniel Dempster/Mustang News

Lindsy Mobley

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Can there be too many student-populated neighborhoods in a college town?

For San Luis Obispo city council member John Ashbaugh, the answer is “yes.”

Over the years, the houses surrounding campus have mostly been rented out to students instead of being owned and occupied by families, Ashbaugh said.

“We find that the character of the neighborhood very much changes when they become occupied primarily by students,” Ashbaugh said.

To fix this, Ashbaugh is trying to implement a program to increase the amount of permanent household owners in the Cal Poly area, leveling out the student and permanent resident populations.

The plan would work like this: The city would buy homes as they come up on the market and sell them back to people who agree to live in them as permanent owners, not renters.

Ashbaugh didn’t think the program would have any large costs. According to him, it wouldn’t cost much because the city would both buy and sell the homes, making it a self-funded system.

Ashbaugh’s plan is one of many city council and others have come up with to help balance student and permanent resident populations in San Luis Obispo. The idea of some sort of stabilization program has appealed to many in the city.

The possibility of implementing a stabilization program is being considered by a group of Cuesta Community College, Cal Poly and city administration members, along with the University Police Department and San Luis Obispo Police Department.

San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx is on board with implementing a stabilization program. The city council is interested as well, she said.

“The difficulty that arises when you just have one group of people in a neighborhood is that it becomes like segregation,” Marx said. “And the city’s policy is that it’s healthier for everyone if there’s integration in neighborhoods.”

Ashbaugh said his stabilization plan would initially be targeted toward neighborhoods in Alta Vista and Monterey Heights. It could also be extended to the Highland Drive area, Cuesta and North Chorro streets, he said.

He thought the plan would be implemented in neighborhoods with at least 60 percent owner-occupied homes, as opposed to tackling neighborhoods with a large student population.

“In many cases, there are neighborhoods where there is such a penetration of student rentals — virtually 70-100 percent, something like that, I would say — I wouldn’t target any of our money with that particular neighborhood,” Ashbaugh said.

Ashbaugh said on-campus housing could fix the student population problem too. According to him, projects such as the Grand Avenue Housing Project would help level out student population in the neighborhoods.

On the other hand, Marx said these new residence halls added to the problem. Placing more student housing near permanent residents in the neighborhoods could also create an “Isla Vista phenomenon.”

Ashbaugh saw the program offering homes not only to Cal Poly faculty and staff, but to other potential owners. But, according to Ashbaugh, Cal Poly faculty and staff should be able to have first pick.

There would be some exceptions for renting. For example, if a faculty member were to get a sabbatical year and go abroad, they could rent out their place for up to a year as long as their intention was to come back, Ashbaugh said.

Marx is aware of other programs similar to the stabilization program outside of San Luis Obispo.

“There are programs that other universities and cities have instituted to encourage working-aged people, permanent residents to live in neighborhoods that would otherwise be dominated by the student age group, specifically programs that would encourage Cal Poly and Cuesta faculty and staff, to live in these student-dominated neighborhoods,” Marx said.

Ashbaugh believes the program would be simple and easy to comply with. Whenever the city would buy a home, the owners wouldn’t be coerced or condemned to sell for a lower price, he said.

“It’s all done with the best of intentions and under a grant of authority that is worked out between the university and the city and the neighborhoods,” Ashbaugh said.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated Ashbaugh plans to implement his program in neighborhoods in Monte Vista Place. It has been changed to say Alta Vista neighborhood.

Clarification: A previous version of this article made it seem Ashbaugh’s program was the only stabilization program idea. The article has been revised to clarify his program is one of many stabilization program ideas. Both Marx and city council support a general stabilization program, not necessarily Ashbaugh’s. 

Join the Conversation


  1. This is blatant discrimination against students. If they don’t want students living in single family homes, they should allow developers to build more dense housing in the downtown area and around campus. Instead the city fights all development so students have no choice but to move into the peripheral neighborhoods.

  2. So the city is going to artificially inflate rental costs, leading to more predatory property management firms, reducing the appeal of Cal Poly, as well as forcing students to live in surrounding cities such as Atascadero and Grover Beach, increasing traffic and pollution in the area. Sounds like a great plan!

  3. This has got to be the worst idea ever. It isn’t a problem for neighborhoods surrounding Cal Poly to be 100% student housing. In fact, it not only makes sense for students to live close to Cal Poly, it causes problems when students and slo residents are mixed. Students and families clearly have different priorities and those can often be conflicting. Letting student live near to other students (off-campus) can have all the same benefits, if not more, than letting students live together on-campus. If they go ahead with this plan, why not start renting out dorms and PCV apartments to slo residents too?!

  4. As if demand for student housing wasn’t bad enough in SLO? As Lone Ranger mentioned, this is clearly a policy targeted against students that will inevitably shrink an already overcrowded market. What should also be highlighted is the unintended effect this will have on recently-graduated young professionals who don’t yet have sufficient income to purchase a home. Make it more difficult to find affordable rental housing, and you’ll reduce the incentives for these individuals to contribute locally rather than jump ship to the Silicon Valley.

    1. Yeah, you think there’s already a lack of young professionals in the age range of 25-40? Wait til this happens.

  5. Hey i have an idea! Lets alienate half the town income and make finding a place more difficult than it already is. Also, isla vista is like 2 square miles and these neighborhoods are no where even close to that size. And of course UPD wants to be involved in this; anything to make their jobs even easier than they are. Dealing with drunk college students is too difficult.

  6. This is so stupid to do transfer student who are older should not be living on campus, it has NO nurturing factors for an adult student over the age of 24. Living on the out skirts of town defeats the whole purpose of coming to college here, due to this being a non cultured area. This whole issue of not begin able to find a place off campus has me wanting to leave this school.

  7. San Luis Obispo is a college town and it has been since 1901. Everyone who lives there knows this. Everyone who buys a home there knows this. It seems to me that this would be a detriment to the community and particularly to Cal Poly students and their families. I graduated from CP more than 30 years ago. My parents bought a home as an investment. Are you telling me that if I am a homeowner and I want to sell my home, I HAVE to sell it to the City, at a price they set, so they can then flip it for more money? This is an infringement on property owner rights and free market. Since when is the City in the real estate business? My son goes there now, lives in a house in the Highland neighborhood and everyone gets along just fine. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! This is a horrible idea!

  8. so hold on, the city doesn’t want college students living primarily around the campus because it would cost less to rent a house than living in dorms? And wait, when does a city buy and sell houses? Are they going to start issuing mortgages too?

  9. Yes, Punish the students (in a way that does not solve the problem) for the university’s greed in accepting more and more students

  10. This is ridiculous. What makes them think that working people and families want to live among the students? Are they saying they’ll force teachers and staff to live with students? They’re going to buy up houses and dictate who they will sell them to? Is that even legal? Housing is already extremely limited near campus. How far would they like to force students to commute? Building more on campus housing doesn’t happen over night. As houses come on the market how do they plan to be able to purchase them? Likely they would be paying a high price for houses near campus. Look at the market. Not many go up for sale. It’s a solid rental business for the people who own these homes. Lots of people would like the opportunity to own a college rental property.

    1. Im curious, should it be okay to make the working people commute long distances to get to work in San Luis for the sake of the students? Working people and families may not want to live on Hathway, but they also do not want to live in the surrounding cities if they can avoid it. San Luis has multiple housing problems they need to address and find a way to fix. This particular one will piss off the students, but when they are not the ones who vote or really stimulate the economy to its fullest, the students are not going to be San Luis’s biggest priority.

      1. This isn’t fixing the problem. It’s shifting the problem onto a specific population. And you must be insane to think that student’s don’t really stimulate the economy to its fullest. Have you actually been in downtown SLO during summer, or even winter break?

        For years the SLO county and city refused to approve housing projects in and around the city. For years the city has refused to allow dense, urban style housing (read “apartment buildings over two stories). For years the city and country have stuck their head in the sand. Now, all of a sudden, they realize we have a huge problem that a blind ostrich could have spotted twenty years ago.

        And instead of fixing the problem, they plan on shifting the burden onto a group of residents who aren’t represented (because they aren’t registered to vote in the county). I wish all the students at Poly registered to vote here. Imagine a city council made up of poly students, led by a student mayor!

        Yeah, they’d probably do as poor of a job as Marx and her goons, but at least the shoe would be on the other foot.

  11. John Ashbaugh and Jan Marx are CLEARLY completely clueless about (among many other things) real estate economics. The reason why neighborhoods surrounding Cal Poly are filled with college students is… because… college students want to live 1. near school and 2. around other college students. Conversely, families don’t want to live near these schools because 1. they are overpriced, and 2. there are plenty of family-friendly neighborhoods to choose from. No amount of pushing and shoving is going to convince a family to move to Monte Vista Place, a street which is notorious for parties. On the flip side, students will pay a premium to live in that environment. Real estate economics. It’s not rocket science.

  12. So the plan is to target neighborhoods that are currently at least 60% owner occupied, and how will this help unless they know something we don’t. Cal Poly is already so over crowded due to Armstrong’s last two years of growth beyond that anticipated by 2022, why expect a lot more homes to become rentals? I believe they are overly optimistic that it won’t affect property values, would you pay the same for a house with restrictions as one without? I wouldn’t, might require me to sell in a down market due to a job transfer with no ability to rent it out.

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