Board of Education in University Heights on Oct. 24, 2022.
San Diego Unified offices in University Heights on Oct. 24, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

From community colleges to K-12 districts, schools across the county have set their sights on getting into the housing game.

Some of that housing, like one planned San Diego Unified development, is for teachers. The district earmarked more than $200 million in its latest bond measure to make it happen.

Others, like City College’s plan to build towers on the college’s downtown campus, would also incorporate student housing.

The big picture: The common thread is planned partnerships with private developers. The big moves come because schools tend to have plenty of unused land, a rarity in today’s tight real estate market. 

But while some of San Diego Unified’s projects seem to be moving forward smoothly, community colleges plans to build hit a snag in recent months.

San Diego Unified’s Housing Dream

As the Union Tribune reported yesterday, a private developer has already stood up one complex on land owned by San Diego Unified in Scripps Ranch. The joint occupancy deal will net the district at least $40 million over the lifetime of the 66-year lease. 

The development, called Livia, has 264 units, 53 of which are low-income with rents as low as $1,060. Those units will be raffled away to low-income eligible applicants, with priority give to San Diego Unified employees. The complex will also eventually feature a STEAM lab accessible to district students.

And there’s more: That’s not the only housing development San Diego Unified has in the works. It has plans for four more potential locations that include its University Heights headquarters and properties in Old Town and Linda Vista. 

Next up though is the now-vacant City Heights location of Central Elementary. That school was rebuilt adjacent to the new Wilson Middle on El Cajon Boulevard. Over the summer, San Diego Unified solicited bidders to develop housing at the site with plans to include market-rate and affordable units and the district’s school for adults with disabilities. District officials told the U-T they intend, but are not requiring, the units be prioritized for employees.

Related: That’s the same campus district leaders floated as a possible safe camping site for families with children in a details-bare presentation. They’d expressed confidence they could get that done quickly, even potentially over the summer. But now, three months later, district officials say they still have nothing new to share.

Community College Housing in Jeopardy

The Center for Media and Performing Arts at San Diego City College. / Photo by Megan Wood

Community college housing was all the rage last year. Every single district in the county – from Miracosta in the north to Southwestern in the south – made moves to add housing to district-owned land.

Few California community colleges have existing housing, but the mad dash was sparked in part by a law Gov. Gavin Newsom signed last year that allocated hundreds of millions toward housing efforts on campuses. Colleges at every district got a little taste of that money. But big changes to how those projects would be funded has put them in jeopardy.

What’s going on: The short version is that while colleges had initially expected to receive grant funds from the general fund – which still wouldn’t have covered the entire cost – after California’s worrying revenue projections, Newsom and state lawmakers are now asking colleges to borrow money via bond programs.

The rug-pull stressed out community college officials, who sent Newsom a letter that read in part “the revised program structure jeopardizes the viability of affordable student housing projects across the state and our opportunity to address growing housing insecurity among community college students.” City College President Ricky Shabazz was one of the 20 community college leaders who signed onto the letter.

Part of the frustration is that the change would apply to both new projects and those already under construction. “The sudden change creates an acute impact on projects that have begun construction, including one which is set to open in two weeks,” the letter read. An additional concern is that the colleges’ affordable unit-heavy housing projects wouldn’t produce enough revenue to support the revenue bonds they were expected to create.

“Due to the commitment to affordable, below-market rates, rents are not sufficient to fund both construction costs and operating expenses,” the colleges wrote. They also noted that they didn’t have other significant sources of revenue, like tuition, to secure the loans.

Jakob McWhinney is Voice of San Diego's education reporter. He can be reached by email at and followed on Twitter @jakobmcwhinney. Subscribe...

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