Regents Approve 540 Units of New Faculty Housing at UC Santa Barbara

Construction on Ocean Road Project Could Start as Soon as Next Summer

Architect's rendering of the planned Ocean Road workforce housing project at UCSB. | Credit: Courtesy

A politically important subcommittee of the UC Board of Regents approved UCSB’s plans to build 540 units of much-needed, long-awaited faculty and employee housing along a long but narrow ribbon of land — 16.7 acres — running along Ocean Road from the beach to Colegio Road. According to a UCSB press release, construction could start as soon as next summer. 

In their May meeting, the Regents committee signed off on the financial and business bones of a proposal in which a private developer assumes the cost of construction, development, and management of what will be one of the biggest housing projects to hit the South Coast. The plan calls for the developer — Greystar — to build 360 units of one-to-three-bedroom apartments for rent and 180 units of two-to-four-bedroom townhouses for sale. The development will occur in two phases. 

Architecturally, the new housing will present a “unified facade” with a mix of traditional Spanish Revival architecture complemented with something described in the Regents’ agenda report as “the more modern UCSB Contextual Revival style.” 

Of greater concern to regent Richard Leib — a UCSB graduate and onetime staff member for former Santa Barbara State Senator Gary Hart — is the extent to which the units are affordable and the extent to which that affordability has been adequately locked in. Leib voted in support of the project but with the proviso that negotiations on these key details continue. According to the business plan, the for-sale townhouses would sell at 20 percent below market rates. The price for rental units would be 10 percent below what the private market is fetching. 

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Dick Flacks, well known former sociology professor at UCSB and affordability housing advocate, said he supported the proposal but worried the affordability thresholds might not be enough. With ranch-style homes going for more than $1 million in Goleta, Flacks expressed concern that many new faculty members will not be able to afford the for-sale units even with the 20 percent below-market restrictions. 

As for the 10 percent below-market limit on rental units, Flacks was blunt in his assessment. “That’s no good at all,” he said. 

Flacks — who has bird-dogged UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang and the campus through his organization Sustainable University Now (SUN) — expressed concern over the university’s decision to partner with a private developer to get the Ocean Road project built. He suggested that the price extracted from such a relationship could be the construction of new housing units that are affordable in name only. 

For Chancellor Yang, under fire to address his campus’s impact on the Santa Barbara housing market, the regents’ vote was occasion for celebration. “Ocean Road will be transformative for our campus,” he declared via press release, “as we integrate the much-needed housing with our neighboring community.” 

In 2010, UCSB — as part of its Long Range Development Plan — had committed to build 1,874 units of new faculty housing by the year 2025; to date it’s built just 125 with another 70 in the development process. This proposal would go a long way to filling what’s emerged as a significant breach.

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