A few months ago I hinted that new forces were starting to organize on the housing issue. We saw a small hint of that on Tuesday as a number of students and recent graduates came forward to speak, even though most of them knew that Trackside itself wasn’t going to provide them with student housing.
We saw more of this last spring when Sterling came up. I know some people believe that the students were organized by the developer or developer interests, but listen carefully to the stories, the personal stories, and you realize that there is a deep anxiety in students over where they are going to live and what is going to happen after they graduate from college.
I have been talking with students and student groups for much of the past year and these are the stories I hear over and over again. They can’t find a place to live so they end up living in their car or crashing out on the couch of their friends. They pack in several to a room so they can share the rent and reduce the costs.
The dynamics here are changing and changing quickly. On a non-student housing project, enough students came out to speak on Tuesday to basically fight the neighbors to a draw in terms of numerical numbers.
There are student groups that are organizing on campus. Regional housing groups that are gathering momentum to provide affordable housing options for students and young professionals.
The students are talking about housing, housing and more housing. The 0.2 percent vacancy rate and soaring rental costs are driving students to organize, to speak. And it is not just focused on city
housing issues – the university is going to face increased action on campus as well.
As one person told me this week: “The students are awakened on housing and they are going to be a force.” The coming council campaign will be about housing.
Some have suggested that Nishi should wait until November when they can get more students to vote, but my sense is that if they can put forward a proposal that the left-activist types can back, with affordable housing, that it might not matter. The housing situation is so scarce and desperate that students are going to come out and vote like they rarely have, and that will make for very interesting dynamics – not only with Nishi, but with who gets elected to council.
One of the interesting policy discussions, probably in my view more interesting than the debate over design guidelines, will be the infill versus peripheral growth issue.
Ron Glick once again on Tuesday raised the idea that the problem here is that, because we have Measure R, all of these projects have emerged as infill projects and Measure R has forced developers – or incentivized them in any case – to seek maximum density.
Now of course Mr. Glick sees infill as a negative for the community, while others believe that denser housing is a very positive thing for the community and can lead to smart growth principals that help reduce VMT (vehicle miles traveled) and get people out of their cars – especially if you can couple it with a jobs/housing balance.
A community discussion or debate over the type of housing that comes with infill seems necessary. Because, as I have suggested in previous efforts, the housing crisis is so stark and so grave, we are going to be under tremendous pressure to either grow up with greater density or grow outward.
At the same time, there were some suggestions that what we need is a Measure J/R for infill projects.
But, just as I believe the neighbors at Trackside misread where the community would come down on issues like design guidelines and even general opposition to high density infill, I think those who push forward the notion of a Measure J/R for infill are misreading where the community – and in particular the younger segments of the community – are headed on housing in general.
You can certainly attempt to bottle up housing, as we have on the periphery for some time, but at some point the pressure may get too great and people may see pushback from students and younger families – if there are any left.
My biggest concern going forward is whether the middle will hold in Davis. Or whether Davis eventually becomes a community of students, those under 25, and the retired, those over 65, with not much in the middle.
We have seen the debate over student housing with some pushing for more housing that is one to three bedrooms and traditionally configured. However, the people I have spoken to don’t believe that, even if Lincoln40 or other proposed projects went to more traditional configurations, it would mean families would be able to live and rent there.
The problem that you face is that the average three-bedroom apartment in town is roughly $2300 a month. You can rent a one bedroom for perhaps $1600. But a two-bedroom is going to be in the $1800 to $2100 range.
New apartments are actually going to probably be a little more expensive than the average apartment. So what does that mean? A single parent or even a two-parent family who is making around median income in this city – around $70,000 annually – is not really going to be able to afford that high a rent. Those who make more money will probably even be looking to lower rents, or even purchasing a home in Dixon or Woodland.
We are getting to the point where the only single parents living in Davis are either living in affordable housing like New Harmony or the few available spots that still take Section 8 vouchers.
Sure, you can design some three-bedroom apartments at places like Lincoln40, but who is going to rent there? It is mostly going to be students – that’s where the demand is coming from. Something on the order of 85 percent of all renters in Davis are students or those who live with other non-family members. And it makes sense, whereas families would have to pay the full cost of rent, students can double up in the rooms and therefore vastly lower their rent.
My hope is that by building some of these student apartments, you can get students to not take up single-family homes and open some of those for families. But more and more I think, without finding ways to build affordable housing – either subsidized or by design – we are going to be a community with fewer and fewer families.
—David M. Greenwald reporting