If you believed that Nishi would come down to issues like traffic impacts on Richards or connectivity promises to the university or even air quality, you may end up being right, but the early battle seems to be on the issue of affordable housing.
Opponents of Nishi are arguing that the city gave away millions to the developer in affordable housing commitments. Supporters can counter that adding 1500 beds to the city, at a time when the city is facing a student and rental housing crunch, will only help affordability.
As we noted on Sunday, the opposition argues, “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 to the argument in favor 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.”
Proponents note, “The project will provide 440 multi-family rental units oriented towards students at the edge of campus obviating the need for car travel for residents.” They add in their rebuttal to the argument against Nishi, “Students, seniors, and workers need affordable, small, efficient multifamily units in the core area within walking distance of campus and downtown. This reduces costs of living, car trips, traffic, and our carbon footprint.”
The developers argue that, without the rental units and the up to 1500 new beds, rents will continue to skyrocket in the city. UC Davis continues adding up to 1000 additional students each year, increasing enrollment as well as market demands.
The argument that proponents are making is that, with the additional supply of housing, Nishi will put pressure on older rental units to lower their rents in order to compete with the new supply from Nishi.
This links into the article the Vanguard published on Monday highlighting council candidate responses to the need to resolve the rental housing issue. As was pointed out in the comment section, the answers focused mostly on working with UC Davis to expand their commitments to student housing, but for the most part failed to address the city’s end of the equation.
Councilmember Brett Lee noted, “We have several proposals before us – most of the problems I have with them are size and scale. They can be scaled down. There haven’t been any large apartment complexes in quite some time.”
However, interestingly enough, the biggest issue before the voters this spring is Nishi, and none of the candidates mentioned Nishi as a possible solution to alleviate some of the rental housing crunch.
Large “A” – Affordable Housing Requirements
Meanwhile, the lawsuit filed by Michael Harrington continues to demonstrate confusion on Affordable Housing requirements (large A this time, rather than general affordability).
The city’s explanation of the Affordable Housing Contribution comes out of a November 2015 staff report which states, “The current affordable housing ordinance exempts vertical-mixed use rental housing and stacked-flat condominiums from inclusionary requirements. This was reflected in preliminary draft deal points presented with the predevelopment agreement in 2012.”
The November 27, 2012, agenda includes a note, “If residential density is greater than 30 units per acres gross, no affordable housing obligation or fees.”
Opposition notes that there is no clause in the pre-development agreement indicating a deal on Affordable Housing. It should also be noted that the city has revised its Affordable Housing policies at least twice since 2012.
The question of the legality of these actions is unclear. As the Vanguard has noted, the city’s Affordable Housing ordinance is a local document that can be changed and altered with three votes.
In July 2013, the city council by a 3-2 vote approved a measure to allow accessory dwelling units to count toward Affordable Housing obligations – with no requirements that those ADUs adhere to affordable regulations.
This allowed the city to include 35 of the 40 ADUs at Cannery to be counted toward meeting Affordable Housing Element requirements.
A little over a year later, in September 2014, the council voted 3-2 to rescind that decision.
Clearly, it takes just three council votes to change the Affordable Housing ordinance. The question for the courts is whether the city is correct that the Nishi project is exempt from the city’s Affordable Housing ordinance, but, even more importantly, does it even matter if it is? After all, if a council can take a simple vote to alter the ordinance at their whim, perhaps they do not need to alter the ordinance, but rather simply agree to a provision of Affordable Housing on a site-by-site basis.
That was the explanation I was given a few months ago – the council has the authority to alter the applicability of the ordinance as it sees fit.
If this is accurate, then the Affordable Housing ordinance is relatively toothless. The ordinance can force a developer to adhere to Affordable Housing requirements, but the city council can do that through the development agreement anyway.
The city council or community, if it really cares about large “A” affordable housing, can pass an Affordable Housing ordinance at the ballot box. This would force the city council to adhere to the ordinance or go back to the voters for changes, or it can write Affordable Housing requirements into the next version of Measure R.
Short of that, three votes on the council seem sufficient to change the ordinance as the city council sees fit.
—David M. Greenwald reporting