Sonoma State University paying $42 million for Petaluma apartment complex for employee housing

Sonoma State University plans to buy a Petaluma apartment complex to house employees as part of a broad effort to add more student and workforce housing on or near the Rohnert Park campus.

The California State University Board of Trustees on Wednesday unanimously approved the university’s $42 million acquisition of the 90-unit Marina Crossing Apartments under construction adjacent to the Petaluma Marina.

The 2-acre property at the intersection of Highway 101 and Lakeville Highway is about 10 miles south of campus. It’s also close to downtown Petaluma and about a mile from a Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit station.

“We are excited to be able to move forward with this landmark acquisition,” said Sonoma State President Judy Sakaki. “This will allow us to address Sonoma State’s housing needs in an immediate and significant way.”

Sonoma County’s housing affordability crisis, exacerbated by last year’s destructive wildfires, hinders the university’s ability to recruit employees.

In the past year, about 1 in 5 job candidates offered positions at Sonoma State rejected the offers because of the area’s lack of affordable homes, Sakaki said.

“The housing crisis has had a severe impact on Sonoma State,” Sakaki said.

Students also struggle finding housing they can afford, Lopes said. About 30 percent of Sonoma State’s 9,300 students live on campus. Sakaki’s goal is to have half the students living on campus by 2040. The university hasn’t built any student housing on campus since townhomes in Tuscany Village were completed in 2009.

With that in mind, SSU plans to break ground in two years to build up to 600 on-campus housing units for freshman near the Zinfandel Village.

Joyce Lopes, the university’s chief financial officer, said buying the Petaluma apartment community will address SSU’s housing needs four to six years sooner than if the university built it. The apartments will be finished in December and ready to rent in January 2019.

Lopes said the university considered acquiring land to build employee housing but when Marina Crossing, owned by Basin Street Properties, became available SSU decided it was better to buy.

The university said it plans to pay for the Petaluma property with reserves and state bonds. The apartment complex will be owned and managed by SSU’s housing services office. Operating costs are expected to be covered by income generated from rent collected from apartment tenants. Sonoma State faculty and staff will have first priority for the apartments, but if any are left, employees from other area public colleges could be tenants. However, it’s unlikely there will be excess units because Sonoma State staff needs 118 apartments to rent and 174 homes to buy, according to a recent university housing study.

“Most of our junior faculty moves here from out of state. Recruiting skilled faculty is very important to providing education,” Lopes said.

Marina Crossing has five different floorplans from studios to three-bedroom apartments. The average apartment measures 825 square feet. Monthly market-level rents for the property would be $2,200 to $3,500, but the university hasn’t decided yet on the prices.

Paul Gullixson, university spokesman, said the intent over time is for SSU to keep the rents below local market prices.

Amenities included at the Petaluma apartment community include: a pet park; clubhouse; fitness room; bocce ball court; bike and kayak storage; parcel lockers; electric car-charging stations; and an outdoor lounge area with a fire pit and barbecue grills.