Since UC Davis announced the start of their LRDP (Long Range Development Plan) process in late 2015, the biggest issue in the community, bar none, has been student housing and how to accommodate expected UC Davis enrollment growth.
While many have argued that student housing is an issue for UC Davis, and while the council to a person on Tuesday argued that the university needed to do more on housing, as Will Arnold put it, the city had to do more.
He said that “even in the best case scenario in which UCD tomorrow agrees to our request which they’ve given no indication that they plan to do, and then they keep their word on that promise which they’ve never done before, the best case scenario is that the current dismal state of housing stays exactly the same for the next ten years and beyond. That is unacceptable.”
Students have come out in favor of housing projects before, as they did with Nishi, but, as one councilmember told the Vanguard following the meeting, this time it was different – the voices were stronger, they were more desperate and the council, hearing those voices, felt compelled to act even on what they acknowledge to be an imperfect project.
As Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee put it, “You can sense the desperation.”
Cindy, a Davis renter, said, “Students and other Davis renters suffer from a severe housing shortage. This shortage causes a lot of rent increases and low to non-existent vacancy rates. I struggle from April to August to find a place to live in Davis and I had to prepare myself to be homeless if I could not find a place.”
She said that she finished up in December and, because of the lack of vacancy rates in Davis, “it was impossible to find a landlord to rent from month to month, so I will be responsible for lease payments until August.” She added that “while we all want the university to provide more housing on campus, any opportunity that the city has to increase the supply of rental and high density, the city should do so.”
Sara Williams, a fourth-year student at UC Davis and Chair of the ASUCD External Affairs commission, noted that she has four jobs to pay her rent. “Students are half the population here, we think that this project is good not just because it offers housing but because they were responsive to other members of the community,” she said. “This is challenging with any community – you have issues that you have to weigh. Students are here and need housing – it’s in the benefit of all residents to do so.”
Don Gibson, representing the Graduate Student Association, said they are in favor of this project for three basic numbers. First, the 0.2 percent vacancy rate. “That’s less apartment space to even fill half of the speakers in this room.” He continued, “Next number 13 percent, 13 percent was the approximate increase in rent from this time last year because landlords have all of the power in the city of Davis.
“Last number, 540, 540 beds for students that is desperately needed for our growing student population,” he said. “When choosing to support this project or not, think of what you do if you choose to turn down this project. Where will those 540 students go. Woodland, Sacramento, Dixon, they won’t be living here in Davis. That’ll be forcing far more commuters and think about the environmental cost when you have people forced to drive every day.”
Victoria Morin, a sustainable environmental student at UC Davis, said, “We have learned specifically that planning needs to meet the needs of the community without comprising the needs of future generations or the ecology system.”
She said, “I have been appointed by the ASUCD as an undergraduate student representative to speak on behalf of the students and advocate for the needs of the crisis they are facing.” She noted she is one of 30 students who live at an affordable rate on the UC Davis campus and they get many applications daily for students to do so. “The campus population is increasing at a tremendous rate and I urge the city council to recognize the needs of the students.”
Emily Goo, a third year at UC Davis, is studying sustainable environmental design as well as economics. She said, “I’m part of a very vulnerable demographic in the city of Davis, it is easy for people to exploit students as we come into this housing climate, as there is not enough housing and many students of my age do not know how to deal with housing.”
Daniel Nagey, an ASUCD Senator, said, “Not only does (Sterling) provide affordable housing, it’s in a good location for students with lots of bus lines. It alleviates a lot of tension and stress on the housing market right now.” He said, “Renters (landlords he meant) can capitalize on the fact that there aren’t a lot of housing spaces – so they can charge double or triple the amount that they should be charging.” He argued this would reduce that “tension” and work toward “affordable housing in Davis which is a really big need.”
Part of making education affordable, he said, is making housing affordable because “without affordable housing, students will spend all of their hours working and not studying to afford their house. Then the whole point of attending college is moot.”
Josh Delavai, President of ASUCD, noted the sustainability boost from students not having to commute from out of town. He noted that the university has not carried their weight in this discussion. “I wanted to assure everyone that student pressure is not focused solely on the council and the city level, but with campus housing and their obligation to provide housing as well. It’s a multifaceted approach.”
Georgia Savage, with ASUCD Office of Advocacy, said housing was voted the most presenting issue in the UC System. “We are in the process of urging the university as well as you all to build more housing. We are still in the process of negotiating our LRDP with the university.” She argued that “from a student perspective, not passing this project is risking homelessness for students, which I would argue is a significantly more present issue.”
She called the 0.2 percent vacancy rate “not only really ridiculous to students, but also really scary.” She noted that community members “do have secure housing and a guaranteed place to sleep next year.” The vacancy rate does not allow some students to live here next year.
Samantha Chiang, ASUCD Senate President Pro Tem, noted that students comprise half the residents in Davis, “yet we are consistently left out of housing conversations that concern us due to the difficulty of getting involved with city council as a student. Despite this obstacle, many students have turned out today taking time amid midterms to support this crucial housing initiative.”
She also noted their work on pushing the university on the LRDP. “I want to assure (you) that ASUCD has done its best, we authored Senate Resolution 7 earlier this year to encourage the university.”
“THEREFORE LET IT BE FURTHER RESOLVED THAT, the ASUCD believes both the City of Davis and UC Davis should plan and/or prioritize projects that provide affordable housing options to students, staff, and community members in order to combat this housing crisis and its current and future repercussions,” she read from the resolution. “THEREFORE LET IT BE FURTHER RESOLVED THAT, the ASUCD joins with Davis City Council in strongly suggesting UC Davis include an equal weight ’50/100′ housing plan in the EIR.”
However, she said, “The university alone cannot bear the burden of housing. Students are not issues, we are a vibrant part of this community. I’ve heard so much rhetoric that this would profit the university, but in the meantime, students are being used as pawns. Each day that we wait for the perfect project and the perfect time is another day that our students suffer from housing and security. We are the ones (who) truly feel the brunt of the 0.2 percent vacancy rate.”
She said that many students are “forced to start their housing search in November of their first year, only to not find a house and be forced to couch surf in the following year. We cannot be pawns in the game between the city and the university – we are consistently advocating on both ends to increase housing.”
Samuel Kennedy, representing ASUCD’s External Affairs Commission, once again highlighted the 0.2 percent vacancy rate in Davis. “That is a symptom of a very unhealthy housing market and it creates a visceral reality for students who need housing and who are striving to pursue their education, but are in danger of being homeless soon.”
There were many more speakers from the student community, but these give a flavor to their concerns and the problems that they face. Many have attempted to put this issue on the university, but from the student perspective, they view themselves as pawns in a struggle between the city and university – which leaves them vulnerable to exploitative rents, lengthy commutes and, yes, even homelessness as mentioned by several speakers.
—David M. Greenwald reporting