SAN MARCOS — At its April 23 meeting, the Palomar College Governing Board considered a proposal to build housing at the school’s San Marcos campus.
Brought forward by the Chicago-based Scion Group, the firm presented the findings of a survey it had distributed to the Palomar College student body — as well as focus groups it organized — to gauge student and employee interest in campus housing.
The results, said Scion Group, shows sufficient interest to build about 750 beds on campus for students.
“The survey was sent to all of your students by way of an email link from the college,” said Ann Volz, a real estate consultant for Scion Group. “And we can’t close that survey until what we have is this statistically appropriate response that gives that proven confidence factor. So (we kept it open) until we reached that, and I think we even left it open a little bit longer because we got the reasonable response rate so quickly.”
According to a presentation given by Aejin Yoon, a project consultant for Scion Group, units would cost students a range of $750 to $1,000 per month.
Yoon said that the focus groups she organized bore out that cost was a major concern for Palomar’s students.
“A lot of stories were shared regarding the homeless students on this campus and how the (campus) community is feeling very sad and sharing the frustration of theirs,” said Yoon. “And some students that we met in the focus groups were sharing with us some stories that there are fun events going on at campus, but they can’t even think of going there because they have to hit the road because 15 minutes of traffic can turn into two hours easily.”
Palomar College’s Institutional Research and Planning department data says that 45% of its student base is classified as economically disadvantaged.
During the question and answer portion of the presentation, trustee Nina Deerfield expressed concern about the cost of the housing proposal, asking whether students would be able to afford it.
She said the students she has spoken to have told her they are looking for housing prices “way below” the amount estimated in Scion Group’s projections.
Campus housing at neighboring Cal State University San Marcos costs students $8,200 to $8,800 for a standard double-bed dorm room, or over $900 per month.
Palomar College President Joi Lin Blake, in response, stated that the housing costs could be covered if students take out additional loans.
“One of the things, if the district decides to move forward, is we’ll be working with our financial aid office because the financial aid receipts will increase because housing is part of that package,” Blake said. “So, for example, the student awards are going to increase because student housing would be available. That’s what they do at the universities.”
Blake also said having housing on campus would help students who have long commutes from places such as Borrego Springs and Ramona.
“They could come stay here during the week and then go home,” said Blake.
Peter Hofman, an analyst for Scion Group, said that the campus housing would be funded at a 1.2 debt service coverage ratio for Palomar College.
Hofman explained that number is a typical real estate industry standard for developers working with clients to finance projects.
“(T)ypically when going out for a public private partnerships, the developers are looking for at least the 1.2 coverage, which indicates a little buffer between breaking even and cash flowing on the project,” Hofman detailed.
Volz said that a realistic timeline, were the community college to decide to build campus housing, would be having the units on campus by 2022 or 2023.