Sunday Commentary: Council Can Take the Next Step Toward Solving the Student Housing Crisis on Tuesday

A simulated view from Olive Drive

Only in Davis is the approval of apartments for students a controversial act.  The city council, since last spring, has been step by step doing their part to alleviate the student housing crisis.  Last spring, the council approved the Sterling Apartments.  In February, they approved Nishi, pending a Measure R vote.

On Tuesday, they can take the third step in this process by approving the Lincoln40 project.  There could be a fourth apartment project as well, as in May the council is scheduled to take up Plaza 2555.

While all of these have been labeled by dissenters as mega-dorms, what they all represent are relatively small and compact housing options for students.  Each has their own unique characteristics, along with strengths and weaknesses.

These four projects by themselves will not solve the student housing crisis.  But they do add about 4000 additional beds to Davis which, combined with the university pledge of 8500 beds, will add 12,500 or more beds to Davis in the next ten years.  That is enough to accommodate all university anticipated growth over that time AND more importantly alleviate at least partially the housing crunch that has kept vacancy rates below half a percent over the last five years.

Lincoln40 has a number of strengths.  First of all, it provides 708 beds in a location that is currently underdeveloped.  The current spot features 14 units of existing apartments and 10 cottage single-family homes.  The developers went to great lengths to make sure existing residents were not displaced without alternatives and, because of that, you will not hear complaints from existing residents about this project.

Second, it provides that housing within walking and biking distance of the university.  The location means that very few students will travel to campus via single-occupancy motorized vehicle, and travel estimates show that over 90 percent will walk or bike from less than a mile from campus.  As we have noted before, what building student housing near campus does is take students, who were previously commuting from out of town and clogging up the roadways, and get them out of their vehicles.

Third, both Lincoln40 and Nishi are the first projects to provide onsite affordable housing options for students.  The proposed affordable housing program includes 57 beds at 50 percent of AMI (area median income) and 14 beds at 60 percent of AMI.  That will enable 71 residents to have housing at below market rates of roughly $670 per bed.

The market rate estimates are roughly $850 per bed for double-ups and $1000 for single beds.  That puts Lincoln40 right around the average cost to rent a bed in Davis.

The apartment complex will be covering amenities like electricity, water, cable, and internet.  That means that students are only asked to pay for their own food.

According to a March 7 memo from A Plescia & Company, the economic analysis shows that the current project with the 71 subsidized affordable units as well as 708 total units is fiscally viable.

They conclude that “the requirement of some payment for off-site infrastructure, community enhancements, and provision of 10 percent of the beds for affordable housing does not render the proposed Lincoln 40 project infeasible.”

The project comes with some concerns from the perspective of some.  The proposed project would be leased by the bed, not by the unit.  For some that is a problem.  Frankly, I don’t understand why.  Bed rentals create consistency in the ability to fill each of the beds in the complex and therefore to maximize occupancy in the building, while at the same time providing control over students overfilling the rooms.

Moreover, if one tenant has a problem with their lease, has to leave, or is a problem, it does not impact the ability of the other residents to live there.

The project is designed for and marketed to students.  Students in Davis make up a vast majority of the renters, somewhere between 65 to 85 percent.  Moreover, the market pressures are coming from students.  So filling a student need with near-campus housing would seem logical.

There are always concerns about traffic impacts, especially at the intersection of Olive Drive and Richards Boulevard  Staff believes that the EIR has adequately addressed the issue with expert analysis and potential mitigation measures down the road.

The belief is that the project would not “exacerbate the traffic and circulation situation at Richards Blvd. and Olive Drive intersection.”

The city is also looking into an overcrossing.  Some believe that the overcrossing should be constructed prior to the development of the project.  Staff writes that “the construction of the overcrossing is a separate City decision…  It is not part of the proposed project.  It cannot legally be required of the proposed project to bear the full cost of the overcrossing construction.”

Staff notes that “this project will also pay its fair share.”  The applicant has agreed through the Development Agreement “to contribute additional funds to the improvement of the overcrossing.”

The city is looking into grant funding for the remainder of the costs and is optimistic that they can achieve this.  But they are not willing to wait for that grant application to be approved prior to moving forward with the project.

My view is that is the right call.  The housing crisis calls for the immediate building of housing.  Students should not have to live in their cars or under otherwise housing insecure conditions, waiting to alleviate a traffic delay that might cause people to have to wait an additional 30 seconds at most at an intersection.

The city will do its best to get the overcrossing approved, but the student housing crisis demands action now.  We must prioritize housing for students over convenience for drivers.  Besides, I believe that more student housing will alleviate rather than exacerbate traffic issues by getting more students out of their cars and onto bikes and buses.

This week, the Vanguard noted a study – granted, one done in LA for the Community College District, showing that its student population was 55 percent housing insecure, with 18 percent considered homeless.

Unfortunately we do not have numbers for Davis, but what we have heard anecdotally and very consistently from students should be downright alarming to anyone who cares about students.

As one person stated last spring during the Sterling discussion: “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.”

Another 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.”

Others warned that the lack of housing “is risking homelessness for students.”  This person 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.

The only answer the opposition to apartment complexes has is more housing on campus.

I agree that the university must do more.  I have consistently pushed for the university to go to the 100-50 plan.  The university has made progress going from 6200 units promised in May 2016 to 8500 units promised back in January.  We have estimated they need to get to 1500 more.  They are therefore 85 percent to where we want them to go.

But adding another 4000 to 5000 in town IN ADDITION to the university will make a big difference for students.

One problem is affordability.  Not only do projects like Lincoln40 and Nishi have roughly 300 affordable beds for students at $670 or less per bed, BUT they have the potential to improve the vacancy rate, bringing it closer to the more ideal five percent.

But for those who believe that on-campus housing is the solution and that we should focus our efforts there – it costs, by the university’s own estimates, 60 percent more to live on campus than off campus.

So if we care about affordability and student housing, then we have to support the building of new capacity in town.  We are talking about four apartment complexes, three of which are infill and two of which are redevelopment – they are making more efficient use of existing developed properties.  Lincoln40 is one of those.

Anyone who calls Lincoln40 luxury housing is not aware of what it costs to rent housing in town.  It is that simple.  If we build these four apartment complexes, we can solve student housing needs for the next generation of students.  If we don’t, then we are consigning students to living in their cars and commuting to campus.

Is that really what we as a community want to do?

—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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19 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: Council Can Take the Next Step Toward Solving the Student Housing Crisis on Tuesday”

  1. Tia Will

    I am going to preface my comments by saying that I support both Lincoln40 and Nishi. Now let’s talk about your comments:

    1, “Only in Davis is the approval of apartments for students a controversial act.”

     I believe you win this week’s prize for hyperbole. Are you really postulating that no other college town has ever had any controversy over housing students ?  

    2. “That is enough to accommodate all university anticipated growth over that time AND more importantly alleviate at least partially the housing crunch that has kept vacancy rates below half a percent over the last five years.”  

    This is only true if the university sticks to the current plan for both admissions, and revised housing plan. I would remind everyone that the university’s track record on sticking to their projections and plans is less than stellar. The students still need housing, but let’s not pretend the university’s history is one of an honest broker.

    3. “you will not hear complaints from existing residents about this project.”

    True as written. But you did not mention the possibility of complaints from the adjacent neighbors who will have to deal with any undesired consequences. I support the project because  I believe that the needs of the students outweigh the concerns of those having to deal with the downsides, and because I think the developers are making a good faith effort to address those concerns. What I do not agree with is failing, consistently to mention them, or the city staff’s glossy portrayal as though all issues are resolved or that none existed.

    4. “Bed rentals create consistency in the ability to fill each of the beds in the complex and therefore to maximize occupancy in the building, while at the same time providing control over students overfilling the rooms.”

    Maybe I can help you understand from a different perspective. Rentals by the bed lessen your ability to have control over whom you room with. True this is not a problem if you are lucky enough to have a group of five or more friends who want to live in that location. But if you are placed with an incompatible “roommate” you are essentially hosed if they refuse to collaborate and are not interested in moving themselves. I’ve experienced this personally.

    5. “Is that really what we as a community want to do?”

    It is certainly not what I want to do. But there are some other things I want.

    1. I want decision making to be made based on fact, not hyperbole and emotion.

    2. I want the recognition by the media, the developers, the City Council and staff, that housing for students does have some negative consequences for others, and I want developers held to mitigating those to the best of their ability ( not backed off from when promises become more expensive than anticipated – the bait and switch approach currently being exemplified by The Cannery). The good news is that both Nishi and the Lincoln40 have been responsive so far and have made suggested changes.

    3. I want a collaborative approach to development that avoids costly lawsuits and an adversarial process that pits residents against each other through mutual name calling and demonization. I believe that this is possible and think both Nishi and Lincoln40 have taken at least baby steps in that direction although both were initiated by developers drawing up their own idea first without near neighbor input and then pitching it to the community and only then asking for feedback.

    1. David Greenwald

      “ I believe you win this week’s prize for hyperbole”

      I’m not postulating anything than making a blanket statement about the nature of the community and the extent of the controversy over some apartment proposals.

      1. Ron

        From Tia, above:  “Are you really postulating that no other college town has ever had any controversy over housing students?

        If so, this seems pretty strange – given that you’ve pointed out other examples, yourself (e.g., your alma mater – San Luis Obispo, as I recall).

        1. Tia Will

          In this case, your recollection is about as accurate as your interpretation.

          My pre-med education was at UC Santa Barbara. It was the absolutism of the statement that I was objecting to. Note the actual quote: ” Only in Davis….” when it is clear that other communities have also had problems.

        2. Ron

          My apologies to Tia:  I was actually just repeating her question to David, and pointing out an example which showed that other college towns (including David’s alma mater, as he previously mentioned) are experiencing the same type of issues and concerns regarding the impacts of housing that’s specifically designed for students.

    2. David Greenwald

      “This is only true if the university sticks to the current plan for both admissions, and revised housing plan.”

      I agree.  But that’s for the most part out of our hands.  If UCD doesn’t follow through or increases admissions even more, it will only exacerbate the existing problem.

      1. Tia Will

        If UCD doesn’t follow through or increases admissions even more, it will only exacerbate the existing problem.”

        And potentially force us into exactly this situation “x” years down the road only with them holding an even stronger hand since we have demonstrated that we will build for the students regardless of what they choose to do.

    3. David Greenwald

      “But you did not mention the possibility of complaints from the adjacent neighbors who will have to deal with any undesired consequences.”

      As I understand it, there were a few, but not many.  They had one of the better and most thorough outreaches I have seen.

      1. Tia Will

        They had one of the better and most thorough outreaches I have seen.”

        Agreed, which is a large part of the reason that I, one of the neighbors who will bear significant disruption am supportive.

         

    4. Howard P

      “Collaboration”… two primary definitions:

      https://www.google.com/search?ei=mmulWqClKYPdjwTMuojAAw&q=collaboration&oq=collaboration&gs_l=psy-ab.3..0l10.21869.22557.0.23227.3.3.0.0.0.0.338.471.0j1j0j1.2.0….0…1.1.64.psy-ab..1.2.470….0.Js3rvU4NodY

      one implies synergy (good!)… the other, treachery (usually under threat of coercion … one party believes they have the “stronger hand”… the weaker one can ‘sell out’ their neighbors for personal gain, or to protect themselves from loss)… “collaboration” is at least a two edged sword… [think Vichy France, Quisling, Ben Arnold, etc.]

      1. Tia Will

        Howard

        I agree that there are two meanings. However, if the choice is essentially no collaboration   with the strong possibility that one will simply be dictated to, I will take my chances that the synergy model will prevail.

  2. David Greenwald

    “Maybe I can help you understand from a different perspective. Rentals by the bed lessen your ability to have control over whom you room with. True this is not a problem if you are lucky enough to have a group of five or more friends who want to live in that location. But if you are placed with an incompatible “roommate” you are essentially hosed if they refuse to collaborate and are not interested in moving themselves. I’ve experienced this personally.”

    That’s true, but it also makes it easier to get out of a bad situation – in both directions.  As I said, students actually prefer the individual leases because they are no longer held accountable for others mistakes.

    1. Tia Will

      but it also makes it easier to get out of a bad situation – in both directions.  As I said, students actually prefer the individual leases because they are no longer held accountable for others mistakes.”

      That is only true if you have somewhere else to go if things go south, which is not invariably the case.

       

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