Courtesy Pedro Avila
Santa Rosa Junior College’s student housing project intended to accommodate 352 students with affordable and sustainable on campus housing was delayed one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with an expected move-in date of Fall 2023, according to SRJC President Dr. Frank Chong.
“It was a timing issue, there’s just too much uncertainty around COVID and a lot of my staffs’ energy and attention had been devoted to trying to keep the college running remotely during this time, and to try to add more projects on is just a lot,” Chong said. SRJC’s Student Housing Workgroup is dedicated to the project and intends on ensuring it’s done well. According to Chong, he had hoped it would be done by fall 2022, but would rather the college take the time to have it done right.
Affordable housing will be inclusive for SRJC students; including local, low income, international and any students in need of housing. According to Chong, studies have proven students living on campus have greater success and retention rates.
The project aims to build the SRJC community. “[There are] Other benefits of building community, getting to live with classmates, they’d get the residential experience that very few community colleges offer. There are only 12 community colleges in the state right now that have student housing out of 115,” Chong said.
The college is planning to house homeless students in need. According to Chong, the foundation director “J” Mullineaux is searching for donors in the community to sponsor a room for students who can’t pay rent.
“I think the rental market from what I hear is loosening up,” Chong said. “In terms of housing I’m not hearing a lot of students complaining about right now that it’s a real tight housing market in Sonoma County.” The Press Democrat reported that Sonoma County’s population has declined by 4700 people since the 2018 fires. The largest exodus of any county in California.
SRJC student Susan Swenston said, “I am incredibly disheartened to hear about the postponement of student housing. Housing in California as a whole has been terribly expensive and unaffordable for many. As someone who is balancing JC classes and part-time employment under the JC, I cannot afford my own living space, as much as I would love to have it. If student housing could be affordable for someone like me, that would be a dream come true.”
Pedro Avila Vice President of Student Services expressed his dedication to the project and recognized the postponement will impact current students. “There’s a delay, so it’s definitely going to affect those students that are currently here or the ones that are going to be coming to us in the next year or so.”
The college is actively trying to keep the project on track and recognizes the housing issues students are struggling with. Avila empathizes as an immigrant who suffered from housing insecurity first hand. “When we first got here we lived out of the garage of one of my dad’s friends. So when I arrived in Sonoma County, and I saw the issue students were having with housing insecurity, this was a project that I personally took on, and I want to see it through.”
SRJC Student Resource Center is still providing the food pantry, loaner computers and housing referrals to those in need. According to Avila, SRJC is also offering Cares America Emergency Grants and has given out $3 million over the last year. They’re giving up to $2500 based on student need for the semester. This includes anyone who’s been impacted by the pandemic; whether it’s lack of food, housing, technology or anything related to COVID-19.
“So I just want students to know that this is something that we take very seriously and we’re working very hard to get it done as soon as possible. But without putting any risk on the college or taking any money away from students,” Avila said.