Commentary: Tale of Two Affordable Housing Projects – Why Single Out Student Housing for Being Exclusive?

It was interesting on Monday, listening to two affordable housing projects being evaluated by the Social Services Commission.  On the one hand is the West Davis Active Adult Center (WDAAC), which will be a Measure R vote perhaps next year at this time and features a large land dedication site with 150 affordable units.

On the other hand is the Lincoln40 affordable project which proposes 71 affordable beds.  There are some clear differences in the affordable housing proposals that will lend one project, the Lincoln40 project, to closer scrutiny – in particular, the relatively smaller percentage of beds in that project that are designated as affordable, 71 out 708, whereas the developer of WDAAC is going well above and beyond the requirement and providing 2.5 times the amount of housing required.

But what struck me was a public comment and two commissioner comments.

First there was Eileen Samitz, who once again railed against mega-dorms and exclusive student projects.

She said: “That leads me to my concern for Lincoln40 and the mega-dorms that are being proposed are these four to five bedroom suites (which) are not only not going to be affordable – this is going to be basically luxury housing.  On top of that, this style housing cannot be used, it’s not flexible, by families and workers.”

Two commissioners picked up her comment using similar language.

First, Claire Goldstene stated: “I’m not a huge fan of this project.  I think we talked a lot on this commission of the variety of housing needs in the community, both market rate and below market rate and what concerns me about this project and what concerned me about Sterling is that these are perpetually student housing.”

She added, “This kind of housing concerns me because it seems to me it’s not exactly flexible for the community.”

Then Tracy Tomasky said, “The need in Davis – it is beyond the students.  Student housing is a great need as are needs for other populations.”  She added, “This project is not flexible.  I have a
lot of concerns about the one bath/one bedroom.”

Later a fellow commissioner, Matthew Wise, pointed out: “I understand the aspect that we want a lot of different kinds of affordable housing – we want affordable housing for families, we want affordable housing for older people.  Not every project has to provide every kind of affordable housing for every type of person.”

It was Mr. Wise’s comments that got me thinking – hey, wait a second, how come the student housing project is being criticized for being designed for student housing, but the senior housing project is getting a free ride – that is, for both the affordable and the for-sale units.

Eighty percent of the units, including the affordable apartments, are proposed to be entitled as a senior citizen housing development. The remaining 20 percent of the units (approximately 76 units) would not have age restrictions.

The affordable units are anticipated to be age-restricted, for residents 62 and over.

Unlike Lincoln40, senior housing would be designated as senior housing and would have restricted uses in perpetuity, whereas as much as you think a four- or five-bedroom with four or five bathrooms is likely to be student housing, they can’t actually restrict the non-affordable component to students.  So if a family wanted to live there, they could do so.

In contrast to Lincoln40, there has been criticism that Plaza 2555 is designed to have a mix of housing, but 130 of the 200 units are proposed at four and five bedrooms, with roughly 554 student-oriented beds.

The criticism there was: “This ‘mix’ is not at all a proportional ‘mix.’ It is worse than Sterling, having even more mega-apartments in this Plaza 2555 mega-dorm proposal.”

Never mind that the proposal only called for 65 percent student housing units, whereas citywide among rentals, students account for about 85 percent of all renters.

But the point here is that Lincoln40 drew criticisms not only from a number of non-student public commenters, but also from the commission itself.  There was not a single note of protest from the public or the commission about WDAAC.  Not one.

No one complained that the affordable housing proponent only served seniors.  No one complained that the proposal would lock in senior housing by deed and therefore would not be flexible.  Nope.

Student housing, which serves a humongous need in this community, gets criticized while senior housing, which serves a specific population, does not.

Many of the members of the commission and some of the public commenters continued to point to the university on this as well.  From the start, the push to address student housing has been looking at putting that housing on campus.

There are certainly some advantages to it.  But there are questions about affordability on campus.  When I spoke to the students last spring, the on-campus housing was deemed by them to be far more expensive.  Some of that was avoidable – the university, unlike a private rental, did not allow for bedroom sharing and if they did, the students didn’t get the full reduction in cost.  The university also appears to fund some of their programs with rental fees.

On Monday, Eileen Samitz argued that the only way to have long term affordability was to put the students on campus, but programs like LincolnLift appear to hold the promise of subsidized housing in perpetuity.  That would seem like something we should explore, even if we believe that perhaps 71 units is not nearly enough.

The discussion and the very glaring difference in the tone between Lincoln40 and WDAAC leads me to wonder if the real problem here is that people simply do not want student housing in town and that the whole push for the university housing is only a guise to get as many of the city as possible on their side.

I don’t know.  What I do know is that WDAAC got a virtual free ride from the commission while Lincoln40 was scrutinized for some of the very things that were just as apparent in the senior housing counterpart.

—David M. Greenwald reporting



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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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60 thoughts on “Commentary: Tale of Two Affordable Housing Projects – Why Single Out Student Housing for Being Exclusive?”

    1. David Greenwald

      Good find – as outrageous as the rates are, they are paying itbecause the alternatives are worse.  No wonder students are sleeping in their cars and on our friend’s couches.

    2. Howard P

      Note also that there is one bath/bedroom.  i.e. one of the characteristics of “mega-dorms”… perhaps the “new reality” of marketing student housing.

      Funny, the “new reality” of community acceptance, on or off campus, would prohibit old style dorms, like Becket/Hughes, Struve/Titus.  The “community” wants housing that is on-campus/off-campus (mixed on that!), affordable, attractive, and with all amenities.  Engineers look at that as “too many boundary conditions”.  Not solvable by equations.

      I.e., no traditional dorms… if a project like traditional dorms, with large common bathrooms, dining commons, two to a room, simple construction, simple aesthetics, etc. were proposed today it would go seriously down in flames from a “community” or marketing standpoint, and likely, both.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          I really don’t understand the objection to one bath, one bedroom. We have three bedrooms, 2.5 baths in our house. It’s nice never having to do the pee pee dance even with six of us.

          The water conservation angle is bs. People take a shower, people go to the bathroom, brush their teeth. They don’t base it on how many bathrooms they have. The biggest uses of water are things like dishwashers, washing dishes, outdoor use, and washing machines – none of those are contingent on bathrooms. It’s a non-issue.

  1. Eric Gelber

    I know I am in the minority, but I have been critical of seniors-only housing because it is segregated and exclusionary. Not all seniors need the amenities of senior housing and not everyone who could benefit from such amenities  (e.g., smaller homes, accessibility features) are seniors. Senior housing was included as an exception in state and federal fair housing laws as a means of perpetuating discrimination against an otherwise protected class–families with children.

    While senior housing may be lawful under specified conditions, it is not necessarily good policy. The fact that one form of restrictive housing may be lawful is not an argument in favor of additional types of segregated and exclusionary housing models.

    1. Howard P

      Good point Eric… one is not issued a walker or wheelchair when they turn 65-85.  My father-in-law, at age 94, needs neither, but can’t drive.  Lives in his own home, still goes upstairs on his own, to bathe/dress, but not as quickly as he did 20 years ago.

      Not all seniors are ‘mobility-challenged’, and some students need special mobility assistance.

      Talk about “profiling”!  Sounds like this commission is “profiling”…

       

    2. Don Shor

      I think the Measure R vote should double the amount of land Taormino is proposing, and zone the remainder for very high-density housing with no restrictions.

  2. Ron

    Still wondering when, exactly, students or anyone “expected” to be able to completely support themselves (including tuition, rent, and general living expenses) while attending school full-time, and prior to starting their careers.

    Some students are able to stay at their family home, until they graduate. It’s also often possible to attend a local community college for the first couple of years, and subsequently transfer to a university.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          It’s an investment in the future. Most people make the best call they can on the institution and then try to make the financial part work. What need to do is make that more difficult for them than it needs to be – and that’s exactly what both the city and university have done.

        2. Ron

          Again, I mentioned a method in which some students might ultimately earn the same degree, while avoiding significant expenses.

          No one is trying to make things more difficult.  Some are trying to ensure that the city’s needs are met, and that costs and impacts associated with UCD’s plans are not unnecessarily foisted upon the city.

          And, let’s not forget that much of UCD’s recent growth plans are the result of its pursuit of International students, who can pay $42K in tuition. Students from California may be at a disadvantage (both in terms of acceptance at UCD, and in resources). (I can repost information from recent state audits if needed, which criticized UC’s enrollment practices.)

           

        3. David Greenwald

          “Again, I mentioned a method in which some students might ultimately earn the same degree, while avoiding significant expenses”

          Some will do that and some will not.

          My point is that our obligation is to not make their experience more difficult than it needs to be.

        4. David Greenwald

          “costs and impacts associated with UCD’s plans are not unnecessarily foisted upon the city.”

          I largely reject this argument.  As the growth and university data posted a few months ago shows, there is a symbiotic relationship between the city and university.  The university has actually be fairly steadily growing for the last four or five decades and one of the reasons the housing crisis has emerged is that the city stopped building multifamily market rate housing 12 years ago.  And that threw the equilibrium off.  The town immensely benefits from the university as its largest employer and provider of culture and character.

        5. Ron

          David:  “And that threw the equilibrium off.”

          The recent recession played a major role, in that.  (Across California.)

          Some are trying to ensure that the limited spaces available in the city are not overwhelmed by UCD’s needs, especially considering that UCD has thousands of acres (and opportunities to densify existing sites).

          The city does not exist solely for the purpose of continually responding to UCD’s enrollment plans. The costs and impacts to the city (including the impact on non-student renters) regarding that approach have already been discussed, even if you choose to “reject” those realities. (That’s why a formal agreement is needed between the two entities, at some point.)

           

        6. Howard P

          Some are trying to ensure that the limited spaces available in the city are not overwhelmed by UCD’s needs,  let’s call that ‘talking point #9’

          … especially considering that UCD has thousands of acres (and opportunities to densify existing sites).  Let’s call that ‘talking point #10’

          The city does not exist solely for the purpose of continually responding to UCD’s enrollment plans.  Let’s call that ‘talking point #4’

          … let’s not forget that much of UCD’s recent growth plans are the result of its pursuit of International students, who can pay $42K in tuition.  Let’s call that ‘talking point #7’

          That’s why a formal agreement is needed between the two entities, at some point.  Let’s call that ‘talking point #3

          So, now you and certain others can make it easier for yourselves and others, by just posting “#9, #10, #4, #7, #3”.

          After all, they show up in many posts, by several folk, ‘almost’ as if they were cut and pasted. Several posters, almost word for word.

          We’ve heard them, we’ve evaluated them… let’s simplify.

        7. Howard P

          Ron, I suspect the “master list” that you and others ‘work from’ is far more comprehensive, dogmatic, and far more fully shared with certain posters.

          Publish it, with your own numbers.   Will make life and discussion easier…

          Think David’s list, if he has one, is his and not disseminated.

           

        8. Ron

          Howard:

          Most (if not all) of “my” list is in response to (and points out the consequences of) David’s “list”.

          Only “one side” is proposing/supporting significant changes to existing zoning and plans.

        9. Ron

          Howard:  I don’t speak for others.  However, I frequently do take note of and agree with the postings of some other commenters. Seems like (once again) you have no actual point to make, and yet choose to comment.

  3. Ron

    From article:  “No one complained that the affordable housing proponent only served seniors.  No one complained that the proposal would lock in senior housing by deed and therefore would not be flexible.  Nope.”

    I understand that senior housing is a category which can legally exclude other age groups.  If a developer submits a proposal for this type of housing, “complaining about” that fact to a local commission is pointless.

    In any case, I suspect that the senior housing proposal does not have a great deal of support, and is subject to a Measure R vote.

     

  4. Roberta Millstein

    I have heard plenty of people complaining that the WDAAC is primarily for seniors, including here on this blog.  Maybe it didn’t happen the other night, but it’s happened elsewhere.  The main difference is the legal difference.  Aside from that, I think if one is committed to a diversity of housing, that principle holds for both projects.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      The point I was making in the column is that NO ONE offered criticism of the affordable project at the Social Services Commission meeting – not members of the public or commissioners, they raise those objections on Lincoln40.

        1. Roberta Millstein

          Well, for one thing, it’s not clear to me that it is legal.  However, I am not objecting to it per se, just pointing out that your argument for it seems to be solely based on the consistency of arguments of others.  And that just proves… nothing.

  5. Eileen Samitz

    It is interesting that David did not mention what the cost of the “low income affordable” 71 student beds would be at Lincoln40. The developer stated a double room occupancy would be at least $670 –  $800 for a bed. That’s supposed to be a “low income affordable student bed”? Seriously?  You should have seen the look on the Commissioner’s faces as they were  clearly shocked about this high cost for a doubled-up room and where there are quite a few restrictions for a student to qualify to get access to such a “low income affordable” student bed.

    So then, what will the market rate student beds cost at Lincoln40? Clearly it will a minimum of  $1,000+ per bed particularly for a single-room occupancy student bed at Lincoln40 and may well cost as much if not more than on-campus. PLUS, the market rate housing will increase year after year in the City, where on campus the increases can be controlled unlike in the City.

    Also, 71 out of 708 beds is only 10% , not 35% affordable housing that should be provided. The Social Services Commissioner’s did not miss that issue, but this article sure does. To their credit, the Commissioner’s made clear it was not enough. It is clear that this developer is going to make enormous profits hand-over-fist with this shoe-horned in luxury student housing project long-term if it goes forward as proposed. Yet, he is trying to get away with 10% affordable housing.

    Further, as Roberta points out, senior housing is a legal category for affordable housing. So I find it pretty bad form that now the Vanguard is anti-senior housing, and anti-family and anti-workforce housing, but in high praise of exclusionary by design housing for students only.

    Further, the magnitude of what we are talking about with this exclusionary mega-dorm housing is 5,000 – 6,000 student specific beds of luxury student housing, which is nowhere in the ballpark of the senior project proposed.

    1. David Greenwald

      This wasn’t a column about the costs of Lincoln40.  It was a column comparing the discussion of the charcerteristics of development to another.  I find it telling that if you propose senior housing you get far less pushback (Eric’s point notwithstanding) than if you have a student housing proposal.  And look again, the comments here have trended heavily towards discussion the student housing rather than the senior housing component.  That’s my point.

      I do agree that there are details that need to be worked out with the proposal.  This was really a first cut at moving from in-lieu fees to an on-site affordable housing proposal and I assume that the final product will look different from the original proposal.

  6. Eileen Samitz

    David,

    You continue to ignore the primary issue. The student housing mega-dorms are exclusionary by design. So mega-dorms do nothing to help provide needed rental housing for non-students.

    Lincoln40 “details” to be worked out need to start with a redesign to 1-, 2- and 3- bedroom apartments which offer an incusionary design for students and non-students. Not shoe-horning 708 students into expensive 130 luxury apartments “suites” with a bathroom per bedroom. Plus, Lincoln40 is trying to short-change its affordable housing requirement in a BIG way.

    Also, I find it interesting that all of a sudden you don’t want to talk about the actual costs of this mega-dorm housing.

  7. David Greenwald Post author

    So Eileeen writes: “The developer stated a double room occupancy would be at least $670 –  $800 for a bed. That’s supposed to be a “low income affordable student bed”? Seriously?  You should have seen the look on the Commissioner’s faces as they were  clearly shocked about this high cost for a doubled-up room and where there are quite a few restrictions for a student to qualify to get access to such a “low income affordable” student bed.”

    And this is the problem – people have no clue how much rent costs these days.  A single bedroom market rate would be about $1200 and if you double up, you’d save maybe 20% off that.  This is much cheaper than that.

    So the way they calculate this stuff is by formula.  They take 100 percent AMI (Average median income) and they divide it by 12 and then multiply it by .3.

    60% AMI

    1 person: 32,297.5

    32,297.5/12= 2,691.46

    2,691.46*.3= 807.4

    50% AMI

    1 person:  26,906.25

    26,906.25/12= 2,242.19

    2,242.19*.3= 672.6

    So when you say it’s not affordable, how is it that you want to make it more affordable?

    The good news here is that they actually provide a lot of the amenities, so I was told that other than food, almost all of the costs are wrapped into that rate.  And most importantly, they are tying the rate to AMI in-perpetuity and AMI rises at a much slower rate than rent has over time, so the deal will actually get better.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      So here’s the other part you are missing:

      Yes they are paying for rent but:
      1. Internet and cable are free
      2. Electricity is covered
      3. Water is covered
      4. Sewer and Garbage are covered

      So for me, I pay $1200 in rent, but I probably pay another $500 to $600 for those bills, so that would be like paying $1800 whereas the LincolnLift folks are just paying their $670 or $800.

      Are you still going to argue that’s not affordable?

      1. Ron

        David:  “So for me, I pay $1200 in rent, but I probably pay another $500 to $600 for those bills, so that would be like paying $1800 whereas the LincolnLift folks are just paying their $670 or $800.”

        Based upon your prior comments, I believe that you’re comparing an entire Affordable house, vs. an Affordable shared room at Lincoln40.

        1. Ron

          You can’t compare all of the utilities costs in that manner, either.  For example, the costs to provide city services for an individual apartment dweller (in a shared room) is not equal to the costs for an entire house. Same thing for electricity.

          Of course, this can start drifting off into a related subject, in that megadorm dwellers would not be charged based upon usage of water or electricity, thereby providing no financial incentive to conserve.

  8. Eileen Samitz

    David,

    So now, you are advocating that $800 is “affordable” for just the 71 “very low income affordable qualified LincolnLift” double-occupancy beds proposed for students at Lincoln40. Wow…

    And also that $1,000 – $1,200+ “is affordable” per bed for all other students for all the other 637 market-rate student beds at Lincoln40. Do you think that most students consider that “affordable”?

    So now you and the Vanguard are advertizing for, and trying to justify expensive Lincoln40 luxury student housing. Wow….

     

     

     

    1. Don Shor

      Affordable housing by lottery at The Cannery:

      Target monthly rents reportedly will be between $417 and $834 for one-bedroom apartments, between $500 and $1,000 for two-bedroom apartments, and between $578 and $1,156 for three-bedroom apartments. These rates are based on 2016 rent limits and are subject to change in 2017.

      http://www.davisenterprise.com/business/developers-architect-picked-for-affordable-apartments-at-the-cannery/
      Utilities, internet, cable, etc., presumably not included.

  9. Eileen Samitz

    Don,

    And your point is?

    Do you think a student who would need to qualify for the legal requirements for “low income affordable income” can pay $800 for a low income “bed” in a double occupancy room? This is not equivalent to a private apartment.

     

    1. Don Shor

      Do you think $834 per month plus utilities etc. is affordable for a one-bedroom apartment for someone who would need to qualify for the legal requirements for “low income affordable income” for the lottery to live in The Cannery?
      I am saying that your “wow” at David is misplaced. Housing in Davis is expensive, even when it is deemed “affordable.” That’s why we need to start building more housing.
      Yes, those units will be considered affordable, and some students will likely share them at those rates. That’s where we’re at now with a 0.2% apartment vacancy rate. That’s why we need more supply. Much more supply. That’s why you really need to stop opposing all of these projects. We need to break the logjam and get stuff built.

  10. Eileen Samitz

    The problem is that you and David are advocating for a massive amount of expensive luxury and exclusionary student housing which will not help the students and especially not help families or local workers. You guys need to stop trying to convince others of this this fantasy that these expensive, luxury and exclusionary mega-dorms are any kind of a “solution”.

    1. Don Shor

      You guys need to stop trying to convince others of this this fantasy that these expensive, luxury and exclusionary mega-dorms are any kind of a “solution”.

      Econ 1. The solution to a 0.2% apartment vacancy rate is to increase supply.

  11. Eileen Samitz

    No Don. Mega-dorms will not help improve the vacancy rate, particularly for families and local workers whom the mega-dorm student specific housing do not help, and because UCD will continue to increase the number of incoming students, so no rental housing will get “freed up”.

    1. Don Shor

      because UCD will continue to increase the number of incoming students,

      Do you have any evidence that they plan to increase their enrollment to numbers greater than what is in the LRDP? If not, your statement has no basis.

  12. Sharla C.

    $670-800 is affordable if your only other option is living in your car.  $670-800 is affordable if WiFi, water, etc is included.  A room in a house, sharing a bathroom with 4-8 others plus the cost of utilities is more expensive. Living in Sacramento, paying rent, and paying for commuting and parking is more expensive.  This is not understood by people living comfortably in homes they purchased decades ago.

    1. Ron

      Sharla:   To clarify, I believe you’re referring to the “71 low-income/Affordable beds” (in shared bedrooms), and not the other 637 market-rate beds.  (In other words, 10% of the beds.)

      Not sure why some seem to be arguing against sufficient Affordable housing at this proposed development. Perhaps its some folks in comfortable homes that you referred to, who don’t understand.

      1. Don Shor

        Not sure why some seem to be arguing against sufficient Affordable housing at this proposed development.

        Every unit of mandated affordable housing in a private development makes all the other units more expensive. You realize that, right?

        1. Ron

          Don:  The market determines the price that developers will charge (for “free market” units), not necessarily their costs.

          If costs were the sole determination, there’d be some VERY inexpensive housing options, in Davis and elsewhere throughout California).

          You realize that, right?

          1. Don Shor

            This is honestly one of the funniest things you’ve said, Ron.
            The cost of housing in Davis is higher in part because a significant percentage of units have to be priced below market. Therefore other units are priced higher. That is one of the reasons the Davis housing market is more expensive for renters.

        2. Ron

          Don:  “Therefore other units are priced higher.”

          Again, not necessarily.  Developers would not “lower their rental price”, if they suddenly did not have to include Affordable housing.  They would still charge the same market price, to renters.

          The market determines the price that developers/owners will charge renters.  Developers will get whatever price they can for a unit (regardless of costs).

          Your line of reasoning suggests that rental housing built long ago (when costs were much less) should cost renters much less, as well.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way, as you already know.

          If expected costs exceed expected profit, then the proposal wouldn’t be built.

           

        3. Mark West

          “If expected costs exceed expected profit, then the proposal wouldn’t be built.”

          Exactly, and that is the reason that so few apartments have been built over the past decade.  The Affordable requirement is just one of the long list of demands that Davis places on developers which drives up the cost of all developments.

        4. Ron

          Mark:  Those same requirements exist today, and yet we have several megadorm and other market-rate proposals including the approved Sterling development, Lincoln 40, Plaza 2555, Oxford Circle, University Research Park, Nishi 2.0, Trackside, a probable apartment at the former skilled nursing facility on Pole Line,  . . .

          Also, there’s the Cannery, Chiles Ranch, Grande, Willow Creek, the proposed senior development, . . .

          Much more likely that the recent housing crash and related recession had more to do with a lack of proposals (in Davis and statewide).

          There’s no shortage of interest these days, from developers. Also, many of those “demands” (and resulting quality of life) are what make Davis desirable to both residents and developers.

          Affordable housing ensures that those qualities are available to a range of populations.

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