UC-Irvine: A singularly successful faculty housing model?

Like UCLA,the University of California, Irvine (UC Irvine) is one of the 10 public universities that comprise the university system of California. Though it is relatively new (founded in 1965!) UC Irvine is already considered to be one of the top universities in the US. It is located on a picturesque campus in Orange County, not far from the upscale city of Newport Beach. Like many new universities, UC Irvine doesn’t have a very big endowment: US $241 million at the end of June 2010, less than a quarter of the UBC total of CAN $1.1 billion (but then UBC was founded in 1906). But just like UBC, UC-Irvine has been endowed with a substantial parcel of land.

Indeed, in 1960 The Irvine Company sold the University of California 1,000 acres (400 ha) of land for one dollar to establish a new campus. The University purchased an additional 510 acres (210 ha) in 1964 for housing and commercial developments. Much of the land that was not purchased by UCI is now held under The Irvine Company. The University intended for the UC Irvine campus to complement the neighboring community, and the two grew in tandem. The city of Irvine, designed by the university architect and The Irvine Company around the university as a master-planned community, was eventually incorporated in 1971.

Housing is a top priority for UC Irvine, as it is surrounded by expensive communities like Newport Beach and Tustin. More than a third of all UC Irvine students live in university accommodations on campus; 3,300 are housed in freshmen dormitories, another 4,000 undergraduates live in apartment or community housing, and there are more than 1,500 private units reserved for graduate students and their families. In comparison, about 9,000 UBC students live on campus, 26% of the total.

Housing is also important for recruitment —the Assistant Provost estimates that 300 of the 1,000 faculty would not have been hired without the incentive of the university’s housing program. For that, UC Irvine set up a separate, non-profit body—the Irvine Campus Housing Authority (ICHA)— 26 years ago to build and manage rental and for-sale housing. Unlike UBCPT (The UBC Property Trust), it is not required to yield its profits to the University endowment. The role of ICHA is similar to what Whistler has done to administer their below-market workforce housing.

According to UC-Irvine officials, ICHA is viewed as the singular successful faculty housing model. ICHA developed “University Hills”, which was created as an academic community in residence to provide affordable housing to eligible full-time UC-Irvine employees (over 800 attractive single family homes to date and they are still building). The project is generally regarded as the most successful on-campus housing program of its kind in North America.  They claim that the boundary conditions that make ICHA successful are roughly the following:

1. All the housing is non-market built on land leased from ICHA – a non-profit corporation.
2. The building is done by ICHA and sold at cost. There is a lottery during each phase of building that gives first priority to new faculty.
3. When a home goes on sale by a faculty member the university has the first right of refusal to purchase a home at an indexed rate. This is the most important aspect to keep the home affordable from generation to generation.
4. Part of the land lease is a cheap monthly payment and requires that ICHA receive 10%, 20% , or 30% of the sale profits depending on your lease payments. This is important to maintain the community over time.

There are restrictions on resale and appreciation, and units, which rent or sell for about half market rates, are protected from being deemed taxable benefits. New faculty recruits are assigned new housing through a lottery, though a few units are held back for special hires. The university doesn’t subsidize the program but doesn’t make any money off it either.

Encouraging people to maintain and repair their properties has been a challenge because appreciation rates are fixed; deferred maintenance is an ongoing issue and there are questions over who should pay for major repairs such as new roofs. And turnover is also much lower than was anticipated, 3% against a projection of 7%.

The housing authority keeps a list of faculty who want to buy and facilitates connections between buyers and sellers. If there are no buyers, a home can be purchased by UC Irvine or the general public; the latter has never happened, though the current housing crunch in California may change this. That said, UC Irvine hasn’t suffered from the crash as badly as UCLA; prices were close to market in 1990 and still are today.

Like at UCLA, faculty at UC Irvine are eligible for loans with favourable rates through the University of California loan program. Without this help, the housing authority wouldn’t be building homes; about 700 academic staff have received the loans.

And like UCLA, UC Irvine’s experience with housing –though relatively successful– demonstrates the complexity of providing home-ownership.

What do you think?
The UC Irvine visit raised some interesting questions:
• If appreciating is fixed, how do you ensure people keep-up their homes?
• What do you think about the idea of a separate, independent housing authority to manage housing on campus?
• Do you think UC Irvine has any other elements to their housing model that UBC should explore? If so, what are they and why?

3 responses to “UC-Irvine: A singularly successful faculty housing model?”

  1. We need affordable housing for students and staff more than we need a shiny Skytrain or another cluster of apartments that are being snatched up on the market faster than you can blink. I hate to break it to you, but this UBC Line issue is way beyond the scope of our little UBCtown. Fact is, Broadway is Vancouver city’s busiest west-east arterial, and the number of buses serving it (9, 17, 99) just don’t cut it anymore. It’s not just UBC students using the 99 in rush hour, but business people, residents of Kits, and basically anyone who needs to get from the western part of Vancouver onto the Canada Line/Skytrain.In fact (if I may dare to say this), it may be because of the amount of space city planners have given to BOV lanes that cause this congestion. Take away the busiest route (99), and replace it with a system that is grade-separated from other forms of traffic (UBC Line). The result: faster travel time from end-to-end as opposed to the current bus system, more lanes for automobiles, local students being able to live at home as opposed to having to shell out money to live on rez, and an improved transit system mirroring Vancouver’s busiest west-east arterial.

  2. Regarding the question “If appreciating is fixed, how do you ensure people keep-up their homes?”.
    This looks to me not a major challenge.
    For example, we may employ the system that most condominium complex are doing: charge monthly maintenance fee that includes saving toward later main repairs. This seems especially applicable if a group of housing units are built at the same time.

  3. […] contrast, UC Irvine did also set up –26 years ago– a separate, non-profit body—the Irvine Campus Housing Authority […]

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