By Sean Raycraft
Who is most hurt by the Davis housing crisis? As far as I can tell, its the most vulnerable. The unhoused, the working poor, and students. Over the last few months, I have been collecting stories, listening to friends, coworkers and community members about the housing crisis in Davis.
I work at a unionized grocery store, where I serve as shop steward. The economic class of my members ranges from working poor all the way to middle class homeowners in other parts of the region. But no matter who you are in my industry, you can’t afford to live near your work. Here are a few stories I have collected over the last few months.
C.S. (Not his real initials) is a co-worker who got a job working nights at my store to pay some bills after struggling academically to make the transition from Junior College to UCD. C.S. is in his mid-twenties, black, and from the east bay. He ended up owing the University over $2,000 in missed tuition payments and fees. Soon, he found that one retail job was not enough to make ends meet, much less make a dent in his debts, so he took another retail job at Target. He now works 40-60 hours a week and still can’t really get ahead. He walks 40 minutes each way to both of his jobs because he does not have the money for a car. He ended his gym membership so that he could save 50 bucks a month. Why? Because he was too exhausted to work out after his shifts, and who can reasonably blame him? He wears the same, broken glasses to work every day, because he can’t afford new ones, and he has long since run out of contact lenses. Recently, he put off going to the doctor for a full week with terrible gut pains because he could not afford the copays for an urgent care visit, and couldn’t afford to take a shift off and still make rent.
Until recently, C.S. rented a room in a south Davis three bedroom apartment for a reasonable rate of $525 a month plus utilities. He had many roommates, and someone crashing on the couch in the living area who was paying a portion of the rent. That was until he found out his share of the rent for that apartment was going up by $200 a month, starting September 1. This was sometime in early June. Paying $725 a month in rent for a room was not going to work for C.S., so he tried hard, every day, all summer to find a place to rent that would fit his price range, especially considering that the landlords did no improvements to the apartment. They just simply, arbitrarily decided to charge more for the same, because they can.
Everywhere he went, he ran into roadblocks to securing housing. Some apartments demanded two years of pay stubs to prove income, some just took his money for applying and never got back to him. Others ran credit checks (that they charged him for) and denied his application, saying he owed too much money, or didn’t have a sufficiently high credit score. Most prospective landlords demanded first and last month’s rent, plus 150% of the monthly rent in a security deposit, UP FRONT. Needless to say, my friend C.S. doesn’t have thousands of dollars sitting in a bank account for such an occasion. How many unhoused people have 2,000 dollars in their checking accounts?
As of the time of me writing this, C.S. is couch surfing, looking for a place to rent, in a city with a 0% vacancy rate. He is looking at living in parts of West Sacramento or Woodland. I asked him, “How are you going to get to work? You can’t afford a car, and you can’t walk that far, and biking at night is dangerous.’ (C.S. doesn’t own a bike either). He said “I’m going to have to take a Lyft to work and back every single day.” “Isn’t that going to cost you more than ten bucks each way?” Him: “What else can I do?” It’s damn expensive being poor.
C.S.’s case may seem extreme, but if you are to ask around town, you will find stories of students crammed into mini dorms, declining quality of life for all citizens, skyrocketing rents and abusive, greedy, absentee landlords.
I have another co-worker, who has worked at the other Safeway for years, makes a strong Journeyman clerk rate of 21.90 an hour plus benefits. He and his wife have lived in Davis for more than a decade, have two small children and two incomes. His wife works for a municipal government in the bay area, where she makes a comparable amount. They have lived in the same apartment for many years, but this year, the management team wanted to replace their kitchen counters. What the management team did not tell them was that the rent for their modest two bedroom apartment was going up $400 a month, from $1,150.00 to 1,550.00 per month. He and his wife are suddenly having to make hard choices about if they can afford to live in Davis, and raise their children here. I’m sure he would love to have his scuffed counters back at this point.
The housing crisis is not confined to the working poor and lower middle classes. A friend of mine, who is a single mom of two, with a young autistic child and a teenage girl recently lost her housing after her landlord decided to sell the unit, and was promptly served a 30-day notice by the new owners. Try as she might, she could not find housing in Davis. She is a unionized nurse at UC Davis Medical Center making good money. A few months later, a similar thing happened to her mother, and now they both live in Woodland…. together. IF you ask DJUSD teachers about finding housing in Davis, they will tell you it’s near impossible to do so on their salaries. Teachers are backbones of our communities. I could continue with stories of homeless students living in cars and showering at the gym and the horrors of mini dorms, but I think you get the point.
Davis is a great place to live, and people want to live here. In the grand scheme of things, this is a great problem to have as a city, but its also a problem that needs to be addressed by our elected officials and the community as a whole. Unscrupulous, greedy landlords are sucking the life out of students and the working poor of our community, engorging themselves on student loan debt, and seasoning their Lucullan feast with the tears of students and the working poor.
No matter who you are, no matter how much you or your family makes, the housing crunch will affect you and your community, and not in a good way. Over the next several years, UCD will be adding thousands of students, and not coming close to providing enough housing for them. I fear this will make an already bad situation worse, forcing students to live off campus, exacerbating the high rents, abusive landlord practices, mini dorms and overcrowded apartments.
The recent passage of the housing bills will help, but it’s certainly not enough. Let’s hope our elected officials are up for the challenge.
Sean Raycraft is a lifelong Davis resident and Shop Steward.