A deal that was cut back in November 2012 looms large in the current campaign for Nishi. A provision was included in the pre-development agreement that would exempt the project from affordable housing: “If residential density is greater than 30 units per acres gross, no affordable housing obligation or fees.”
Under the terms of the city’s affordable housing program, one-quarter of the 650 units should have been designated as affordable housing units, or the city should have received in-lieu fees that could have totaled somewhere between $6 and $11 million. Instead, the city has received $1 million, which the council insisted on receiving during negotiations this year with the applicant.
While the legal battle has been engaged on one front by Michael Harrington, the Vanguard believes the bigger issue here is not legal, but rather political. The Affordable Housing Ordinance is a municipal ordinance, written into the municipal code. It can be changed with three votes and the council has the ability to exempt or modify on a case-by-case basis.
One key reason we believed that the Nishi Measure R vote might be more successful was the student housing crunch. A number of students showed up in January and February to advocate for the project, which could deliver up to 1500 beds.
However, when the ballot arguments came out, amid the list of “usual” suspects opposing Nishi like Alan Pryor, Mark Spencer, Pam Nieberg and Nancy Price, was Joaquin Chavez, who is co-chair of Davis Citizens for a Living Wage and Vice President of UPTE-CWA (University Professional & Technical Employees – Communications Workers of America) Local 9119.
On the rebuttal arguments, amid Marilee Hanson, Johannes Troost, Steve Tracy and Susan Rainier, is Duane Wright, another activist.
The affordability issue looms large in the opposition. They argue, “Nishi’s housing will not be affordable nor designed for students as promised. Because the City exempted the project from its low-income housing requirements and millions in alternative in-lieu fees, Nishi’s housing will all be luxury rental apartments and for-sale condominiums. Independent analysis projects rent for an average 1,100 sq. ft. 2-bedroom, 2-bath apartment at over $2400 a month!”
In the rebuttal they add, “Rental units are not ‘oriented towards students…with small units,’ as claimed. Instead, apartments are very large (average is 1,100 sq ft 2-bedroom, 2-bath) and affordable only to the richest students.”
The Vanguard asked Tim Ruff about the cost of the units, but he only referenced the Development Agreement which contains the unit breakdown. The breakdown is as follows: 44 580-square-foot studio apartments; 132 780-square-foot one-bedroom apartments; 88 1100-square-foot, 2-bedroom apartments; 44 1320-square-foot, 3-bedroom apartments; and 132 1600-square-foot, 4-bedroom apartments.
There is no cost breakdown.
Joaquin Chavez told the Vanguard, “With the impending displacement of student families from the Solano Park apartments, the crisis of available housing for UC Davis students will only deepen.”
He argues, “This is a crisis that Nishi will do nothing to alleviate, with its plan for massive, exorbitantly high-rent luxury apartments that will only compound the injury done by the development’s exemption from the city’s affordable housing requirements.”
He added, “Nishi will also impose massive costs on the city in the form of new infrastructure development and traffic impacts on the already-impacted Richards Blvd. underpass. Our city should not approve any project which fails to meet our needs for more affordable housing and will exempt big-money developers from their responsibility for costs borne by the community.”
But others, while concerned about the affordable housing deal, are more circumspect, arguing that, while the affordable housing deal is problematic, there is a large need for more rental units in the city.
While there is a belief by some that affordable housing is being used as a reason to oppose the project, some of the people who have signed up to oppose it clearly hold that issue in high regard.
The overriding belief by those who justify the current project is that increased supply will help to reduce price pressures that are being pushed upward by the extremely low 0.2 percent vacancy rate.
Pushing back against the notion that the city gifted the developers $10 to $11 million on affordable housing was Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis, who noted that “this project IS different than most others in this city in that there is a $10-12 million price tag on gaining access to it.” He is referring to infrastructure for the grade-separated crossing, about which he notes, “The university has committed zero dollars to this and we negotiated this agreement to exclude the possibility of the City paying for it.”
He added, “I am gratified to see so many people concerned about affordable housing in Davis. “
He wrote, “Perhaps they will consider supporting my concept of establishing a parcel tax to create a Davis voucher program – a much more efficient way to get people into affordable housing than relying on one-off in-lieu fees and uncertain tax credits to build affordable-only buildings. Why, with a parcel tax no larger than our open space tax, we could immediately house an additional 85 families within existing units without having to build anything new.”
The mayor pro tem added, “We need a revenue stream for affordable housing and there are few options. We need an efficient means to get people into rental housing. This is not all that complicated. The good news is, it’s a special tax with guarantees on how it is spent.”
While the mayor pro tem offers an interesting outside-the-box proposal, in the longer term, we need to figure out ways to address the rental housing supply, which can in turn increase affordability.
In the meantime, the developer needs to get on top of the issue of affordability and to get us alternative numbers to work with in terms of rental costs, or he risks losing the vote on the strength of the project – the ability to provide 1500 beds to a market that is in desperate need of rental units.
—David M. Greenwald reporting