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All-time high Cal Poly enrollment may add to area housing crunch

Andrew Epperson
Cal Poly's Poly Canyon Village.

Cal Poly students who signed up to live in a private bedroom this coming school year won’t be living alone after all. The incoming class is the projected largest in Cal Poly’s history, and that means more students will need housing in an already tight market. 

With up to 1,200 extra students comes the question: where will these students live? At a recent city-sponsored housing and law forum, San Luis Obispo residents and city leaders questioned why the university wasn't spending more resources on student housing to help alleviate the city's rental crunch. 

Cal Poly Vice President of Student Affairs Keith Humphrey said the university is adding 1,000 extra beds, furniture and expanded wireless internet services to the Poly Canyon Village apartments. The four-person bedrooms will be converted into doubles to accommodate eight students instead. But the cost isn’t cheap.

“And so housing will be spending approximately $7.3 million dollars this year to ensure that we have all the right furniture and wireless access for our students,” Humphrey said.

About $3.5 million dollars will be generated from student rent while the remaining $3.8 million will come from university housing reserves set aside for future renovations.

“We know that living on campus is better for students both personally and academically, so we are committed to housing them,” Humphrey said.

Dorms currently under construction are scheduled to open in the fall of 2018. Then the university will house about 2,600 more students on campus.

As to why there will be more incoming students than ever this fall? Recently Cal Poly changed its admissions policy by eliminating what’s known as the early decision option. That’s when a student applies early and commits upon acceptance, a binding agreement.

But what the administration didn’t realize is that up to 1,200 extra students may actually say yes to their acceptance letter for the upcoming academic year. Humphrey said the early decision option was unfair.

"We felt that did not treat students from low-income backgrounds the same way,” Humphrey said.

A part of Cal Poly’s master plan is to eventually house up to two-thirds of its student body on campus. As soon as the master plan is approved by the CSU Board of Trustees, Cal Poly officials say they have several “aggressive” plans to add additional beds.

San Luis Obispo City Manager Katie Lichtig said at the July 11 Housing Policy and Law Forum - a public meeting held to discuss possible solutions to the city's affordability crisis - that city staff are currently working on finding a third party to conduct a "deep dive" research project on what has transpired at other CSU and UC campus locations in terms of student housing. 

Lichtig said the purpose of the research is to learn “ideas that have been shared about how to have a great either working relationship that is a partnership [between city and university], or to ask others to intercede on our behalf, i.e., potentially the courts…so that we can go forward based on fact, as opposed to ‘I wishes” and hopes and dreams and wants and needs,” Lichtig said.

KCBX News' Greta Mart contributed to this story.

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