Commentary: Senior Housing Advantage?

senior-housingFor several days now we have had the argument ongoing about the extent to which the availability of apartments either on or off-campus would fill the need for student housing, and thereby free up home rentals for families and low-income people.

There are some difficulties with the concept, of course.  First, a lot of students prefer to live in houses rather than in apartments or on-campus living quarters, so that hurdle would need to be overcome somehow.  For several years, there has been the need for UC Davis to provide its fair share of housing. West Village in some ways is a good start, but, as some of the statistical analysis has shown, only a start.

Essentially, the city of Davis and the surrounding region has been responsible for finding housing for up to and exceeding three-quarters of the thirty thousand or so students who attend the university. A town of 64,000 people has to provide for nearly 50% of the UCD population. If UC Davis could just provide a larger percentage of housing on campus, in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner, it could be a huge pressure release for growth on Davis.

And now UC Davis is looking to grow by more than 5000 students.

I recap this argument because, in a way, it’s the same argument made by housing advocates for seniors.

As I understand it, here is the argument that advocates for senior housing have used: There are a group of aging residents in the city, they have large homes that they have had for years, but due to more limited mobility and space needs, they really need to downsize into smaller, single-story, detached units.

If Davis were to build this kind of housing, then other residents and families could then move into the houses that were vacated by the seniors.

It is an interesting argument that probably has some merit.  But it suffers from some problems.  I have spoken over the years to a lot of seniors and would-be seniors – the first problem is that many are not so eager to want to move out of their existing homes and downsize.  The second is that many do not want to live in a seniors-only community.

It is here that the idea of universal design seems to run right smack into the notion of downsizing.  The idea of universal design is to create homes that individuals will not have to move out of as they become older.

Rather, it allows residents to age in place.  Hallways become wider to accommodate the need at some point for wheelchairs or other mobility devices, entry-ways do not have steps for ease of entry, and bedrooms will be on the bottom floor as well as the second floor.

This is the multigenerational approach that developments like the Cannery have attempted to incorporate into their design.

In Cannery and in this week’s article in the Enterprise, we see the clash of competing ideas on senior housing.  While the Cannery embodies a multigenerational approach that allows the individuals to age in place, others have advocated for more seniors-only housing.

The Enterprise this week writes, “The senior commission was more than excited by the idea of incorporating universal design into each one of the housing types.”

“We basically gave them a standing ovation because they had included universal design,” said Elaine Roberts Musser, who chairs the commission. “We were thrilled.”

But not everybody is thrilled here.

Mary Jo Bryan from CHA (Choices for Healthy Aging) takes a different approach, criticizing the Cannery project for not including “enough single-story, for-sale houses, the very type of housing she says seniors most prefer.”

Only 19 of the 463 ownership units are single-family, single-story homes.

“That’s all we’re asking for – single-story homes, with a livable design, which they’re doing anyway,” Ms. Bryan told the Enterprise. “A different variety of sizes; they don’t have to be 2,200 square feet. They can be anywhere from 950 to 1,500 to 2,000 (square feet).”

The Enterprise reports, “Rather than targeting seniors for the stacked flats, which would include elevators, CHA has proposed carving out a block of parcels in the northeast corner of the development where a micro-neighborhood with smaller homes could be built for seniors, similar to the Glacier Circle development in West Davis.”

“The problem is, in my estimation, we need to disperse our housing, we need to help us get out of these nice homes in the neighborhoods that are near schools, near recreational facilities, near downtown, near shopping, and help us get to someplace that is more conducive to what we need in our later years,” Ms. Bryan said.

So which approach is better?  The problem is that while, in 2009, responding to the issue of senior housing, staff suggested creating a senior housing survey, to “supplement data already being collected and analyzed regarding the existing and projected numbers of seniors,” “inform policy options and decisions on how many and what types of senior housing should be planned,” and “provide a representative sample of seniors in Davis,” the plan ultimately fell victim to politics.

The bottom line is that the city has not really conducted the kinds of surveys of seniors for their living preferences and, therefore, at this point we really do not know whether most seniors would prefer to downsize into smaller homes that would free up living space for families in the existing homes, or whether most would prefer to move into multigenerational housing with the ability to age in place.

It is an interesting debate that might play out more fully if we eventually get an election on Cannery.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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23 Comments

  1. JustSaying

    “It is an interesting debate that might play out more fully if we eventually get an election on Cannery.”

    Why keep promoting an election, this time in order to advance interesting debate? All aspects of the proposed cannery project seem to be getting plenty of discussion and consideration already–maybe more than enough.

    The only ones who want to go through an election on the matter are opponents of any housing development on the property because they think voters would turn down the project. When was the last time we saw a special election topic provide interesting or enlightening discussion?

    Don made an interesting point yesterday about the various viewpoints on the types of housing this development should provide. Some want senior housing, some want student housing, some want “affordable” housing for people who are too poor to buy market priced homes, some want single family houses, some want condominiums, some want rental apartments, some want to mix in “neighborhood friendly” industry.

    All this shows is that people think we need lots more housing in Davis, but only if it’s the specific type in which they’re personally interested. Then, there’s the contrary view that we have plenty of housing already from folks who supposedly plan to fight to stop any more of any type. And, it appears that no one is open to much compromise. Let the city council decide.

  2. Matt Williams

    David Greenwald said . . .

    [i]”In Cannery and in this week’s article in the Enterprise, we see the [b]clash of competing ideas on senior housing.[/b] While the Cannery embodies a muCannery: Bee Focuses on City’s Anti-Growth Reputation, Citizens Concerned About Safety, Connectivityltigenerational approach that allows the individuals to age in place, others have advocated for more senior-only housing.”[/i]

    There is only a clash of ideas if you approach the issue with an either/or mindset. The clash evaporates when you switch your mind to a both/and perspective.

    Item 8 of Tuesday’s Council meeting agenda provides us with a senior housing opportunity in the form of The Mission Residences proposal which is described in the Staff Report as follows, “The applicant is requesting to combine two adjacent lots, remove the two existing dwellings, and construct a five-level (four stories above a basement garage) 14-unit condominium building.”

    This is a perfect senior-only opportunity that suffers from none of the drawbacks you have described. Every unit is on a single floor and fully accessible for seniors because the building will be served by an elevator. Parking will be underground in a secure lot serviced by the elevator. The access to Davis citizens of all ages in its downtown location on B Street is massive. The Delta of Venus is right across the street. Ciocolat just up the street. The Farmers Market is less than a block away.

    The applicant proposes that Mission Residences be age restricted. Staff opposes that.

    The reality is that we can add senior housing to Davis in many ways. Mission Residences and The Cannery are only two such examples.

  3. Mr.Toad

    Five stories! Will it be taller than Mrak Hall? It can’t be taller than Mrak. Joeseph Campbell once observed that “He who has the tallest buildings runs the town. In S.F. its the banks, in Las Vegas the casinos, in Sacramento its real estate, insurance and union pension fund interests, in Washington D.C. its the Washington Monument and across the Potomic in Arlington VA. near the Pentagon its the defense contractors. This is an international phenomenon, in Solo, Java nothing can be taller than the sultan’s kroton.

    I guess this means that in Davis the university no longer runs the town an observation made at public comment by my friend when Sue Greenwald first was elected the city council many years ago. Instead Davis is run by the anti-growth densification elite. It is run by the Nimby’s. This five story senior housing plan downtown will be its first monument.

  4. Silent majority

    It should probably be noted – as reported previously by David Greenwald – that CHA is an astroturf group that was created by the Covell Village partners (especially Bill Streng) to promote an 800 unit senior project on the central part of the Covell Villge site. Lydia Delis-Schlosser provided staff support as an employee of Davis Neighbors, Inc. (AKA the Covell Village Partners and the North Davis Land Company). To give CHA any status as representative of Davis seniors ignores these facts. Their efforts to capture a piece of the project to build one of Streng’s age-restricted microneighborhoods as a demonstration project for what they would like to do on the adjoining property is just another example of the Covell Village partners trying to unfairly profit off of this project.

  5. Eric Gelber

    “Only 19 out of the 463 ownership units would be single-family, single-story homes.” This is a concern, but not only for seniors. I have no doubt that Davis does have a need for more housing that meets the needs of seniors. However, there is a significant difference between seniors-only housing and housing that meets the needs of seniors. Seniors-only housing is, by definition, restricted, exclusionary housing. It excludes families with children and others—including people with disabilities, and lower income and small households—who also have a need for or want smaller single-story, accessible housing and stacked multi-family housing.

    “CHA has proposed carving out a block of parcels in the northeast corner of the development where a micro-neighborhood with smaller homes could be built for seniors…” That’s not a solution either. There is also a significant difference between isolating special-needs or affordable housing on the edge of a development and distributing housing types throughout. As a diverse and inclusive community, Davis should strive to meet the housing needs of all residents—but not through the development of either segregated, age-restricted units or marginalized, isolated enclaves.

  6. JustSaying

    We already have several monstrosities across from the park, obviously much too tall for the neighborhood onto which they’ve been imposed.

    We might be excused for not anticipating the magnitude of these buildings and the potential impact on adjacent houses and yards and the viewscape from the previously beautiful park. But, now that the they’ve been built, I hope we’ve learned our lessons about densification by height in an existing short neighborhood.

    Put five-story buildings on the town’s periphery, not in central Davis (and next to the student housing starved campus!). The fact that the trees are taller than the buildings is one of the quirky things I like about our town.

  7. Davis Progressive

    “There is only a clash of ideas if you approach the issue with an either/or mindset. The clash evaporates when you switch your mind to a both/and perspective. “

    i agree a little bit here, but the debate was framed between cannery and cha, so from that perspective, the clash makes sense.

  8. medwoman

    As a senior who does not favor either the Cannery or CHA approach, I would be interested in a poll of seniors designed to rate our preferences amongst the various options that have been presented ( age in place in large single family dwelling, age in place in smaller single family homes, age in place in multigenerational lots with detached home, downsize to some other type of home from where we raised our families whether age restricted or multigenerational). I don’t know if this has been done in our community recently.

    But without polling broadly and recently, I think we are left with exactly what David said “I have spoken over the years to a lot of seniors and would-be seniors – the first problem is that many are not so eager to want to move out of their existing homes and downsize. The second is that many do not want to live in a seniors-only community.”
    While this is fine as an anecdotal statement, I would like to see how these attitudes have changed with the changing economic and social changes over the past 10-20 years which have seen remarkable changes in how we structure our lives compared to how our parents did.

  9. Mr.Toad

    There is a big senior housing project being built on 5th street right now. Is there so much demand that we need to let that component of the housing issue derail other needs? I doubt it right now. Does the proposed one on B street need to be that tall? The Bourne project on 4th and D isn’t that tall and seems a much better fit to downtown.

  10. Jim Frame

    [quote] But, now that the they’ve been built, I hope we’ve learned our lessons about densification by height in an existing short neighborhood.
    [/quote]

    While I don’t find the layout of the Central Park West homes personally appealing — too many stairs! — I don’t find them out of scale with the neighborhood. Although much taller than the 1-story buildings they replaced, to me they fit in with the character of an arterial street fronting an urban park. I particularly like the formal entry to the northwest unit, which kind of wraps around an oak tree on the alley. I don’t know if that entry gets used much — the garage entry is probably more practical — but it looks nice to me.

    That stretch of alley is on my regular walking route to downtown, so I see it almost daily. Same with the B Street frontage.

    I’d be much more skeptical about 5 stories on B Street at this point.

    (Disclosure: I worked on the CPW project.)

  11. Mr.Toad

    The Davis Vanguard fixation on apartments as a solution needs some push back. First the idea that new apartments are going to empty out students living in rental housing is not realistic. New apartments, because of current building codes, are not competitive with older units, be they existing apartments or houses. By focusing on the renters you neglect the speculators who own the houses. Interestingly past council members and anti-housing advocates Hon. Sue Greenwald, Hon. Mike Harrington and Hon. Bill Kopper all own rental housing in Davis. So did the late great Hon. Jerry Kaneko although I never heard him oppose housing construction or raise anybodies rent either. Although I’m sure that there are many variables in their world view that makes these people oppose new housing projects it is noteworthy that they have an economic interest in the status quo.

    My point however is that by focusing on the apartment component you don’t address the speculators. There will remain a market for their rentals even if you built apartments until the market were saturated, because, I suspect, the marginal return is such that it would cease to be profitable to build more apartments long before it would cease to to be profitable to invest in rental housing in Davis.

    Cannery has thought about the state of the art with housing for people with special needs and the market mix to make it work. They are investing their own capital in their project and have won praise for their design from SACOG officials and seniors. All this second guessing and demanding this type of housing or that type of housing is not only unrealistic due to market realities but also often contradictory. As an example, demanding dense housing conflicts with single story housing. With so many people demanding so many different things its hard to see anything ever winning a majority vote, a prospect that works well for existing speculators who profit from tight housing supplies in Davis.

  12. David M. Greenwald

    “The Davis Vanguard fixation on apartments as a solution needs some push back”

    Can we call this something else, like the Don Shor fixation?

  13. JustSaying

    Not sure that the CPW houses could be considered “not out of scale” when they’re so much taller than every other house on the block as well as the street (arterial or otherwise) for blocks north and south. Seems as though that’s pretty much the definition of the term, “out of scale.” Maybe they would “fit in with the character of an arterial street fronting an urban park” in some other place on a block with three- and four-story existing buildings.

    This is a development that would require special payments to the neighbors for depriving them of sunshine if attempted in Japan. Granted that everyone’s beholder eyes see different things, and I’m glad you like to look at the alley views everyday. I’m also pleased we seem to agree on that another tall building on the street isn’t appropriate.

    PS–I also don’t approve of the “densification” projects like the one on Brown Drive that plopped another level (1-1/2 stories) on top, providing a lookout into all the neighbors’ yards and homes.

  14. Don Shor

    [quote]My point however is that by focusing on the apartment component you don’t address the speculators. There will remain a market for their rentals even if you built apartments until the market were saturated[/quote]
    I agree. So let’s just build until the market is almost saturated. I also don’t think apartments are relevant to the issue of a shortage of senior housing. I don’t know if we have an actual shortage of senior housing.
    [quote]demanding dense housing conflicts with single story housing. [/quote]
    Also true.

  15. Jim Frame

    [quote]Maybe they would “fit in with the character of an arterial street fronting an urban park” in some other place on a block with three- and four-story existing buildings. [/quote]

    My recollection is that the west side of B between 3rd and 4th has been slated for taller buildings. If the city’s website search function weren’t so piss-poor I might be able to find the planning document, but as things are now I can’t locate it. Does anyone have a link to the B Street specific plan, or whatever it’s called?

  16. JustSaying

    “As a senior who does not favor either the Cannery or CHA approach, I would be interested in a poll of seniors designed to rate our preferences amongst the various options that have been presented….”

    I’ve actually changed my mind on the value of the city doing any studies about seniors’ housing desires (or anyone else’s attitudes, for that matter). It might be a little interesting and grist for more arguments, but what purpose will be served? The number of units that will be built using any city survey as a basis would be close to zero.

    Let the developers pay for surveys if they want, let the anecdotes roll, and let a few, varied houses and apartments get constructed. If people buy them, we’ll have plenty of bases to decide on whether to approve more.

    Much more likely, of course, we won’t be building many more of anything. For sure, we’ll still orgue that what we want is what everyone should want (ala the aforementioned Shor Fixation). This is Davis, remember.

  17. JustSaying

    “My recollection is that the west side of B between 3rd and 4th has been slated for taller buildings.”

    You’re probably correct, given your involvement and your walking habits. But, don’t try to convince with this kind of logic. I imagine I’d be against building a Great Wall between central Davis and the edge of the campus as well. Guess I’m already way behind the curve on these plans, but thanks for the info.

  18. Jim Frame

    [quote]But, don’t try to convince with this kind of logic.[/quote]

    Not trying to convince, only saying that there was a public process — a contentious one, of course — that led to the CPW project as part of the B Street planning effort. I attended at least one of the outreach meetings; I don’t think the 3-story issue was terribly potent except as an indicator of the neighborhood impacts that come with higher density (traffic and parking in particular).

  19. Matt Williams

    JustSaying said . . .

    [i]”We already have several monstrosities across from the park, obviously much too tall for the neighborhood onto which they’ve been imposed.

    We might be excused for not anticipating the magnitude of these buildings and the potential impact on adjacent houses and yards and the viewscape from the previously beautiful park. But, now that the they’ve been built, I hope we’ve learned our lessons about densification by height in an existing short neighborhood.

    Put five-story buildings on the town’s periphery, not in central Davis (and next to the student housing starved campus!). The fact that the trees are taller than the buildings is one of the quirky things I like about our town.”[/i]

    JS, the issue you have raised is a separate one from whether the residences, if they are built, should be targeted for seniors or made available for all age groups. Since the topic of David’s article was senior housing I steered my comments away from the design aspects of the proposal.

  20. JustSaying

    You’re right, Matt, I got sidetracked when I read your mention of another too-tall building proposed for B Street. I should have agreed with your point that we can have a variety of options pursued successfully without it being a clash.

    On a somewhat related note, there’s lots of discussion about “universal design” for seniors. Seems that “universal” would work for everyone, so why the distinction?

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