In May of 2016 UC Davis announced that they would commit in the ten-year Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) to build roughly 6200 new beds on campus. At the time, that was a big step forward as it would take the university from housing roughly 29 percent of all students to 40 percent.
However, activists and the city council continued to press for more. By the end of 2016, the council passed a resolution calling on the university to provide on-campus housing for 100 percent of all new students and 50 percent of the total student population. The university, in response, balked, although eventually they allowed that they would be willing to look for ways to increase their share.
At the same time, the council put together a subcommittee comprised of Rochelle Swanson and Robb Davis, who would work with the university and meet with them behind the scenes. That hard work has begun to pay off. Back in November or so, the Vanguard learned that the university would be coming out with an announcement in January to expand their on-campus housing.
That announcement came this week from new Chancellor Gary May and the campus agreed to increase their on-campus housing from 6200 new beds to 8500 new beds. That doesn’t get the campus all the way to 10,000 new beds which would have hit the 50 percent mark, but it splits the difference which is just under 46 percent of all students housed on on campus.
There are those in the community who would clearly like to see the university go to 50 percent. There are those who believe that the university should be building housing to accommodate their own housing
demands generated from enrollment growth. There are certainly those who believe that the city should not have to adjust its planning processes to accommodate university enrollment growth.
But there are also those who are more practical.
The Vanguard was among those who made the call for the university to increase on-campus housing up to 50 percent. But we also recognized that it was impractical for the university to do it alone.
The chancellor in his announcement indicated that he was encouraged by the city council’s recent approval of housing developments in Davis. Said Gary May, “While we are planning the most ambitious student housing construction campaign in campus history, housing market changes cannot be resolved by UC Davis alone.”
He said, “Providing a greater abundance and diversity of housing should help ease some pressure on the Davis housing market.”
The fact of the matter is that the 0.2 percent rental vacancy rate was problematic for the community. It created pressure and speculative buying that converted single-family homes into mini-dorms and student housing rentals.
It forced students to occupy with multiple students per room and crammed large numbers into small spaces.
It put students at risk for exploitation, with landlords failing to provide basic services and students having little to no recourse.
How serious a problem has this been? The 0.2 percent vacancy rate means that, at any given time, of the 9969 units that were surveyed in the report (accounting for 83 percent of all multifamily housing stock) there are less than 30 units available to rent.
Some will no doubt see the increased number of student beds accommodated by campus as alleviating the need for more student housing in Davis. We disagree.
The reality is that 10,000 new beds was a good goal, and would have helped ease the crunch, but was not going to get the city to their goal of five percent vacancy.
A five percent vacancy rate creates a much healthier market as it allows renters to move from location to location and not be locked into a bad situation. It means that, at any time, there would be several hundred available units for people to move into.
With the university now pledging 8500 beds and another 5000 to 6000 beds in the pipeline in the city, the city and campus could be looking at between 13,000 and 14,000 new beds on the market in a relatively short period of time – with the approved development of Sterling Apartments, Lincoln40 (which was approved by the planning commission last night), Plaza 2555, and the proposed Nishi project which could go to the council by February 6.
The 2300 additional beds promised in the LRDP would be built at Orchard Park and West Village and could come on line as soon as 2020, right around the same time that you might see apartments opening at places like Sterling and Lincoln40, assuming council approves it next month.
One developer told the Vanguard that with a large number of new rental units coming on line, much of it at the same time, you could have a period of time where there is actually a glut on the market as students change their habits from piling into single-family homes and living outside of Davis and commuting.
They believe that the new market forces will force rental rates down and open up single-family homes to families. A key point they made is that many people are buying single-family homes that are in poor shape and then converting them to multi-student rentals. They see this sort of speculative buying as not in the best interest of families or students.
By re-shaping the market then, we can start to change the trajectory of our community.
There will always be a tension between UC Davis and the slow-growth inclined host community of Davis. However, the planning by the university to accommodate up to 46 percent of students on campus is a clear game-changer. Think about it, going from 29 percent to 46 percent is a nearly 59 percent increase in the amount of housing on campus.
Combine that with efforts in the city, and we can end the student housing crisis and turn our attention to other areas of policy concern.
—David M. Greenwald reporting