SJSU in the News: San Jose State Responds to Housing Shortfall With "Reservations" at Nearby Hotel

Mystery no more: SJSU students offered rooms at San Jose’s Clarion Hotel

Originally published by the San Jose Mercury News August 3, 2011.

By Lisa M. Krieger

Evicted San Jose State students can cancel plans for couch-surfing — they’ve got reservations at the Clarion Hotel, with a pool, hot tub, spa, cable TVs and weekly maid service.

“Just three miles from campus, the Clarion Hotel is a resort-style property,” according to a long-awaited letter from SJSU’s housing office, emailed Wednesday to the 100 former dorm residents whose housing was in limbo.

The university ran out of space in its dorms when 4,000 freshmen opted to enroll this fall, up from 2,760 freshmen last year — so older students, told to leave, suddenly found themselves homeless, with an offer to shack up at a mystery hotel. School starts in three weeks. The university has been scrambling since July to find a willing hotel — but needed a commitment from students ahead of time.

At their new home on North Fourth Street, students will face the inconvenience of a commute that interferes with campus social life and library hours.

And while each room has a mini refrigerator, there’s no cafeteria. Instead, the Clarion, a “business class” hotel, offers The Island Grill (“steak and seafood with an island twist”) or tropical drinks in front of 42-inch plasma TVs at The Bamboo Lounge. But neither one is included in the university’s meal plan.

“They’re welcome here, absolutely,” as long as they are over 21, said Martin Garcia, a bartender at the The Bamboo Lounge, adding that disc jockeys spin records on the weekends.

Students, however, won’t have the same privileges as other hotel guests. For instance, room service won’t deliver icy daiquiris or fresh towels.But the announcement will come as a relief to those who feared sleepless nights at the Roach Motel. Will the news be so welcomed by Clarion guests? The hotel manager did not return calls for comment Thursday.

It’s an economic marriage: The hotel’s average occupancy rates between 40 and 60 percent.

Leasing motel space is a creative solution to a problem posed by the university’s decision to require all freshmen to live in dorms, except those from local families. Studies show the new students do better when they live on campus, forming lifelong bonds with fewer worldly distractions.Stanford, with lots of space and money, guarantees a room all four years. Santa Clara University doesn’t promise a room, although it has recently been able to accommodate everyone.

But most urban schools, such as San Francisco State, don’t guarantee campus-sponsored housing for all returning students. UC Berkeley promises only two years for new students and one year for transfers. The popular San Diego State has merely 3,700 beds for more than 30,000 students, with freshmen and transfers getting first dibs.

But SJSU’s last-minute change angered some families, who said the school shouldn’t have required on-campus housing when there wasn’t enough space to accommodate everyone — even those who reserved dorm rooms months ago. Parents also preferred the convenience and safety of dorms with security systems, regulations and tight oversight.

Other families were upset by the school’s request to commit before the school had a commitment from a hotel. Meanwhile, San Jose’s off-campus housing market is tight, with rents rising — and time was short.

The last time SJSU faced a housing crunch was a decade ago, when there weren’t enough dorms and the tech bubble caused off-campus rents to skyrocket. But back then, local hotels were too full with business travelers. So the school instead appealed to alumni to rent out rooms.

Things eased up with the 2005 construction of the Campus Village housing complex, adding thousands of beds and transforming the school from a commuter to residential campus. Then enrollment dropped, and some rooms gathered dust.

When UC Santa Cruz ran out of space, it took a similar approach, renting out rooms in a downtown Holiday Inn, near the beach and bustling Pacific Avenue. This strategy was problem-free, except for one cross-dressed male student who took a dip in a bikini in the hotel’s hot tub.

Since then, UC Santa Cruz converted the hotel into its own University Town Center, offering students 108 beds on the fourth and fifth floors of the building.

Increasingly, universities are striving to keep students near campus. At UC Berkeley, more than 1,300 new beds have been added in the past decade, including an off-campus Craftsman-style student apartment building in 2002. “Over the years, we’ve tried to build more and more housing to accommodate as many students as possible,” said UC Berkeley spokesman Bob Sanders.

But new dorm construction at SJSU during such tight fiscal times is impractical.

Instead, students are invited to a hotel “open house,” planned this month. “We will look forward to seeing you at the Clarion Hotel,” said SJSU’s email.