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Supervisors consider adding student needs to state-required housing plan

Plumas County Supervisors directed planning department staff to include student housing as a special need for the draft General Plan Housing Element update and CEQA Addendum.

The student housing language addition to the draft will be brought back for the Board of Supervisors’ reconsideration and possible approval at a later date.

Supervisors turned down a request from Plumas Crisis Intervention Resource Center for three items of concern for inclusion in the housing element at the regular meeting Tuesday, Oct. 1.

While members of the Plumas County Planning Commission approved the draft recommendation in late August, more information was brought to the supervisors’ attention Oct. 1. This included letters from Feather River College and PCIRC.

Plumas County Planning Director Tracey Ferguson explained in detail the draft housing element before supervisors for potential approval. This was part of a public hearing and comment period required by planning and supervisors before approving or denying the housing element.

More student housing

More housing for Feather River College students is necessary and should be included in the document, said FRC President Kevin Trutna.

Trutna sent a letter to planning when the draft was being written and then was available to present the recommendation to supervisors.

In his letter Trutna stated, “The draft housing plan (housing element) does not mention the unmet need for college student residential housing, one of the limiting factors for Feather River College in Plumas County.”

Trutna went on and said that FRC thought the appropriate place to add student housing was in the special needs group under the community profile part of the report.

Trutna also explained existing student housing facilities and numbers for supervisors to consider.

On campus dormitories have 64 apartments that house 160 students.

The Meadows Apartments on Bucks Lake Road have room for 27 students.

And the Pines Apartments on Central Avenue have 24 rooms for 46 students.

These numbers do not include rooms required for staff, Trutna said.

“Capacity is set at 233 students, but with adding extra bunks in some larger rooms, FRC currently has 250 students living in student housing,” Trutna explained.

Turning to the unmet need for FRC students, Trutna said that it’s difficult to track the exact data. “The needs gap is estimated to be about 70-plus students based upon a waitlist reaching 65 names this summer,” he said.

FRC managed to find housing for 25 of those students leaving 40 students who couldn’t be served. Trutna said at the end of summer FRC had received 40 or more inquiries about student housing, but then they didn’t turn in applications when they learned of the waiting list. “We estimate the unmet need to be 70 or more resident students,” Trutna said.

Student housing is for those students working toward their associate’s degree. “It should be noted that the bachelor’s degree students are older and have reported their own difficulty in finding housing, as they have families and have an average of about 26 years old, much older than the traditional-aged student population of the associate degree,” Trutna said.

In an effort to help solve FRC’s student housing problem, Trutna, Trustee Guy McNett and others have met with county representatives or attended specific meetings. McNett was present when the Plumas County Planning Commission discussed the housing element at a special meeting Aug. 29.

Plumas County Administrative Officer Gabriel Hydrick was also quick to say that he and Trutna have met in an effort to help solve the problem.

Pointing out that he is not a voting member of the board of supervisors, Hydrick said that he is still in favor of including student housing under special needs within the county.

Trutna said that he would continue to work with county officials to find solutions.

FRC not alone

While FRC’s plight in finding available and affordable student housing is acknowledged, it’s not alone in the struggle. And the problem isn’t recent.

Supervisor Lori Simpson said that her father accepted a position as a sheriff’s deputy and moved to Plumas County in 1965. He lived in a motel in Quincy and his family couldn’t follow until he eventually located a place they could all live.

Those described as paraprofessionals in the Oct. 1 meeting also have a difficult time finding affordable housing.

Plumas District Hospital has the same problem, said Darren Beatty, PDH facilities director.

Ferguson said that, under the California Department Housing and Community Development that oversees the housing element update required of Plumas County, special needs groups are recognized. She saw no reason why the county couldn’t add student housing to the list of special needs groups.

What are special needs groups

Within the state and therefore the county’s housing element plan, special needs groups are identified.

These include categories of households that because of their physical or economic condition “require particular housing, space or support service.”

It is essential, according to the plan, that it precludes barriers to residents whose housing needs are not normally met by the private sector. “Special needs households may have difficulties in finding affordable housing due to constraints by lower incomes and a lack of housing that is suitable to their special needs,” according to the draft plan.

These can include housing for the elderly, persons with mobility and/or self-care limitations, family size and families with a woman as head of the household. Farm workers, the homeless and families with insecure incomes are also included. This also includes people who need to seek emergency shelter.

Additional support

Roger Diefendorf, executive director of the Plumas County Community Development Corporation said he was in support of the housing element.

Diefendorf said that new tasks might include an affordable trust fund for first time housing buyers. He also said it might be time for a rehabilitation program scrapped a number of years ago to fit within the scope of the housing element.

In the past the rehabilitation housing program was done under the Housing and Community Development program known as CDBG. This is a Title 1 program launched in 1974 and provides annual grants to cities, counties and states to help develop stronger communities by providing “a decent house, a suitable living environment, and expanding economic opportunities.” It is aimed at low- and moderate-income groups.

Diefendorf described the previous program oversight as being onerous. He did say he has hopes that recent changes have made it more workable.

Diefendorf also touched on Section 8 vouchers for low-income housing. He said the problem is that there are plenty of vouchers that help assist landlords, but there is a lack of housing to fit the requirements for Section 8.

PCIRC recommendations

While supervisors listened as Ferguson listed PCIRC’s recommendations for inclusion in the county’s housing element, they decided not to include any.

PCIRC recommended the county make surplus property available for the seniors or homeless and low-income groups.

The nonprofit agency also recommended parking lot accommodations for the homeless while they were waiting for housing to become available.

And PCIRC’s letter recommended the inclusion of tiny houses as an option for meeting housing needs.

No one from PCIRC was present to add further information about these recommendations.

Discussion

While Thrall agreed on one hand that student housing is an issue, she said that for every positive there’s a negative.

Thrall’s concern is for residential housing for people who come here to live and pay taxes. While FRC students would be paying rent to the college or landlords and they shop here, they’re gone within an anticipated amount of time. “I’m more responsive to those who live here and pay taxes than students,” she said.

She added the employees, those who work for a living come first and she couldn’t see taking away a site for student housing needs.

Ferguson pointed out that by including student housing in special needs in the housing element is a point of documentation. It is an indicated need and can be left at that. It doesn’t mean that Plumas County must respond to meet that need.

Simpson said she believes FRC should use its own land for providing housing for students.

Pointing to a past request, Simpson said the college wanted one of Quincy’s motels for student housing. Simpson wasn’t in favor of that suggestion. She wanted to see the motel remain as such so the county had the TOT (Transient Occupancy Tax) and not eliminate it. “I don’t blame the college, but the college needs to step up,” in finding its own solutions.

Trutna said that some of FRC’s land isn’t available for student housing development. To build on the existing hillsides is cost prohibitive in meeting ADA requirements.

Trutna said that new land recently purchased is within the airport flight path. He added that if there are other options, including it being noted on the housing element, it helps FRC apply for more grants.

When considering PCIRC’s proposals, Simpson exclaimed “What surplus land?” In past years the county has been selling off much of its surplus and unneeded property.

Simpson said there is a process for surplus land. Settlemire said that it has to be for a specific purpose. And the land has to be offered to local government agencies first.

In considering parking areas for the homeless, Trutna said that he testified in Sacramento against students staying in college parking lots. There must be adequate facilities to meet student needs and additional security.

Trutna referred to Assembly Bill 302 that was being considered by the state legislature. It would require community colleges to allow students to stay overnight in college parking lots in lieu of a more traditional living arrangement.

Thrall stated that PCIRC’s recommendations were “everyday crap like we deal with all the time.” First, she didn’t think those recommendations belonged in the housing element. They could be presented to the board at other times for consideration.

She also pointed out that there are a lot of things to consider concerning tiny homes. Just because one is suitable in Durham didn’t mean it would work in Plumas County.

Plumas County Building Director Chuck White was asked for his opinion on tiny homes and parking lot use.

White said there are a lot of rules and regulations that his department has to follow and there’s a lot to do surrounding tiny home construction.

Building hasn’t come up with snow load requirements to keep snow from flattening a tiny home. He also said they needed to develop foundation requirements. He didn’t want to see a tiny home sinking into the mud.

He also didn’t want to see his department “ham strung” by new proposals.

He then listed some of the same objections Trutna shared when considering parking lot home sites.

SIDEBAR:

A look at student housing in state

Providing student housing isn’t the norm at community colleges throughout California.

Feather River College is only one of 11 community colleges out of 114 that offer housing opportunities to its students.

“When you look at the price of a four-year school versus a two-year school — especially a community college — the difference is staggering. But what you may not realize is that much of that price difference isn’t related to tuition or education fees at all — it is for housing,” according to “The Pros and Cons of On-Campus Housing for Community College,” a feature in the Community College Review.

That’s true and FRC administrators can help control those prices for dorms and facilities that it owns. For private dwellings the cost is whatever the landlord requires — that is if a house, cabin, apartment or room is available.

FRC’s President Kevin Trutna told the Plumas County Board of Supervisors on Oct. 1 that the college is restricted when it comes to building additional student housing on site.

The FRC campus is rimmed in part with hillsides. And it is expensive to continue to build on those locations, Trutna said.

Flat land, now used for the expanding agriculture programs, is within the flight path for the airport. One supervisor suggested that FRC could appeal for a zoning change to allow for construction. But would that limit the original use of the land?

And where would the college get the funding for what might be a major construction project?

In Orange County at the Orange Coast College, an 800-bed apartment complex is being constructed, according to “Should Community Colleges in California Start Building Student House?” Felicia Mello writing for the Times of San Diego and other publications.

Following the Tubbs Fire in 2017 that wiped out much housing in Santa Rosa, the junior college responded with plans for more dorms, according to that same feature.

Sierra College in Rocklin provides living accommodations for 100 of its students and according to Mello has that many more on the waiting list. There, students pay $925 a month to share a double room, but that also includes a meal plan for the cafeteria and near-by restaurants, according to Mello’s research.

“Every community college has land, either on their existing surface parking lots or in the air above their temporary classrooms,” according to Dana Cuff, a professor of architecture and director of UCLA’s City Lab. “And secondly, the zoning restrictions that apply elsewhere don’t apply.”

Cuff is studying community colleges in relationship to providing affordable housing.

And in the Los Angeles Community College District one out of every five students is homeless, according to Mello’s research.

To meet the housing demand, some colleges are using parking areas to build new dorms on, Mello said.

And then there was potential legislation as backed by Assemblyman Marc Berman of Palo Alto recently.

Reacting to the number of homeless community college students, Berman said, “This number is not only shocking and alarming and tragic, but it’s a call to action.”

Berman also called the community college student housing issue a crisis.

“The goal isn’t to have community college students, or anybody, sleep in their vehicles,” he said. “We should be able to provide housing for residents at every income level. But we are far away from that goal in California today. The reality is that students are sleeping in their vehicles right now,” according to Vanessa Rancano in a story in the SF Homeless Project web site.

Trutna didn’t indicate that lack of housing was creating a situation where any students attending FRC was living in his or her car, but the general lack of available housing is keeping some students from attending the school.

Trutna did not discuss how FRC would fund further dorm construction if it did settle on campus sites.

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