Limited Affordable Housing Opportunities for Students


Affordable Apartments, Davis CA Davis Vanguard

A month ago a couple of students came forward, during the discussion on Sterling Apartments, to point out the limited opportunities for housing for low-income students.  The issue of affordable housing in general is complex – with an overlapping array of rules and jurisdictions depending on the type of site it is.

According to Danielle Foster, the city’s Housing & Human Services Superintendent, federal assistance including tax credit, HOME Investment Partnerships Program, CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) and other federal grant funds, do not provide for housing for single full-time undergraduate dependent students, as they are seen as temporarily and voluntarily poor and therefore not in the workforce.

However, students are eligible for projects that are built by private developers, without federal assistance, or on land dedication sites, provided they are without federal assistance.  In these cases, there are no restrictions against any type of student household.

A recent newsletter from Mutual Housing California highlighted the growing challenges for students, what they are calling “housing insecurity.”  This is the shortage “of affordable housing, high college costs, and insufficient financial aid” which leads students to attend college in pursuit of a degree “without consistent access to a roof over their heads.”

Some of these challenges were highlighted in the recent discussion of a need for a renter’s rights ordinance.  Mutual Housing notes, “Struggles include a lack of a rental history, skeptical landlords, not having enough savings for security deposits or lacking someone able to co-sign, and insufficient income to afford market-rate rents.”

Students therefore benefit from affordable housing, but those options are limited.  As noted, “The federal government, as a funder of some affordable housing communities, considers college students “voluntarily and temporarily poor.” The reasoning is that college students are choosing to stay out of the labor force and go to college instead. As such, while part-time college students may live in federally supported affordable housing, only certain classes of full-time college students may do so.”

The only full-time students eligible to receive assistance under TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) or CalWorks (the welfare program that gives cash aid and services to needy eligible California families) are those who are either enrolled in a job training program and receiving assistance through a program like JTPA (Job Training Partnership Act of 1982), those who are married and filing a joint tax return, a single parent with a dependent child, or those previously enrolled in the Foster Care Program (ages 18 to 24).

However, as Danielle Foster notes, the city has created a way for students to be qualified to live in non-federally funded projects.  The problem is, “Without Redevelopment funding, land dedication sites are more reliant on federal tax credits as a primary funding source.”

She notes, “This becomes a policy issue for the City Council to consider: how to balance the production of housing (at slightly higher incomes due to less subsidy) that can serve students with the production of housing that serves households and individuals at lower incomes and/or with special needs who might otherwise be homeless.”

The city has developed a two-step process to qualify student dependent households in those projects without federal funding.  They take into account a parent household supporting the students.  In this case, an adult dependent is a person 18 years or older who is claimed as a dependent on another person’s income tax return.

A land dedication site has a number of benefits.  They typically serve extremely low incomes, people making around 35 percent of the annual median income (AMI) or below.  They can typically serve households at or below 60% AMI.

On the other hand, “on-site unit construction of affordable units is typically at 50% and 80% of AMI, with the majority at 80% AMI, based on the City’s ordinance requirements on income maximums.”

A land dedication site can focus on special needs populations, including those at risk of homelessness, seniors, and those with disabilities, while on-site units do not provide this option and would not supply the corresponding services.

Land Dedication sites “are developed by affordable housing organizations that are focused on resident services and support services to respond to the needs of residents, including special needs residents.”

However, on-site affordable units offer benefits as well, including mixed-income apartment complexes which can provide a more diverse community with a range incomes.  Moreover, they “typically do not utilize outside funding subsidies, so there are not restrictions against all-student dependent households like those restrictions that often occur with apartments on land dedication sites that utilize federal funding.”

Finally, “Mixed income apartment complexes ensure construction of the affordable units concurrently with the market rate units, in a timely manner and without city financial subsidy.”

The challenge that the city faces here is several-fold.

First, the city is not bringing a lot of projects online, therefore affordable housing opportunities will be scarce and limited.

Second, with the loss of RDA (Redevelopment Agency) money, the city becomes more reliant on federal tax credits to offset the costs of supplying affordable housing in market rate units.  That naturally limits the opportunities for full-time students to have access to affordable housing.

The city recognized this when they developed their policy for allowing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs, or Granny Flats) to count for part of the affordable housing allotment.  The problem with that program, and one reason it was discontinued, was that there was no affordable housing qualification required for the occupants of the ADUs.

This therefore becomes a policy challenge for the city council to look at this coming term.

—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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40 thoughts on “Limited Affordable Housing Opportunities for Students”

  1. tribeUSA

    Are not campus dorms generally much less expensive than Davis commercial apartments? As I understand it, cost of apartments in Davis has everything to do with high-priced land and intense competition for available units (i.e. extremely low vacancy rates)–UCD dorms do not have these market factors that add to cost for the renter.

    Was good to hear about the UCD plan to increase its student housing stock; but as I remember it the dorm unit increase was just a small part of it–why not a further increase in the number of modest dorm units planned? Seems to me this would help out a large number of UCD students, particularly those from low-income families.

    1. The Pugilist

      I think part of what the Vanguard needs to do is explain the difference between Affordable Housing and affordable housing.  This article is about Affordable Housing, you’re comment is about affordable housing.

      1. South of Davis

        David wrote:

        > However, students are eligible for projects that are built by private

        > developers, without federal assistance, or on land dedication sites,

        > provided they are without federal assistance.  In these cases, there

        > are no restrictions against any type of student household.

        Can you name a single apartment in town (or any town) that will allow a “low income” student (who is still claimed as a dependent on their parents tax returns) to legally move in to a “low income unit”?

        It was about 10 years ago that I read about a big Orange County apartment manager getting in trouble for leasing the “low income” units to UCI students from Beverly Hills and Newport Beach to avoid having any real “low income” (aka “poor”) people living at the complex.

  2. South of Davis

    tribeUSA wrote:

    > Are not campus dorms generally much less expensive

    > than Davis commercial apartments?

    The “dorms” on campus require that you also get a meal plan and are a LOT more expensive than an apartment.

    The on campus apartments (managed by Tandem and Carmel Partners) are more expensive than all but the “top 10%” most expensive “luxury” apartment in town.

  3. Tia Will

    as they are seen as temporarily and voluntarily poor and therefore not in the workforce.”

    I cannot help but wonder how much money is spent on simply determining and monitoring who is and is not eligible to receive benefits on the national, state, and local level for certain benefits. All done so that we can determine who is appropriate to receive funds and who is not. Not to make any funds actually available but just to determine who is worthy of receiving them through a patch work of programs.

    Temporarily and voluntarily poor does not mean that they do not need the basics necessary to live in our society. The arbitrary nature of what we define as our “workforce” is astounding to me. Do we believe that anyone becomes a member of our “workforce” without education appropriate to the position they will eventually hold ?  Does anyone believe that there are not people who work extremely hard, but are not counted as members of our “workforce” because we have not defined the work that they obviously do as worthy of a wage ?

    It is not just our student housing that needs reform although it certainly does. It is the very way that we view community contribution as more than just what can be traded for money that needs to change. We are willing to pay countless clerical types to check forms to ensure that only those who are “non voluntarily poor” receive funds. And yet we are unwilling to compensate individuals seeking to obtain the knowledge, training, and skills to be a contributing member of our society for their efforts.  Go figure !

    1. South of Davis

      Tia wrote:

      > I cannot help but wonder how much money is spent on simply

      > determining and monitoring who is and is not eligible to receive

      > benefits on the national, state, and local level for certain benefits.

      Most “low income” housing is just a way to 1. payback wealthy land owners for their big campaign contributions by overpaying for their land, 2. Payback union construction companies for their campaign contributions by overpaying when the projects are built (100% more than average is typical) and 3. Give friends high paying low work jobs with the high cost of managing the properties each year and giving units to the “politically connected poor” 300% more than average it typical.

      Because the politically connected who get the high paying jobs managing “low income” housing don’t work very hard we have situations where the Pacifico low income apartments have sat MORE than half empty for MORE than a DECADE (10 years).  We can’t forget that many low income apartments (and all UC owned apartments in the state) don’t pay ANY property tax and every year the city or UC owns an apartment unit the average $200/month per unit in property taxes are not paid.  Most “low income” and UC owned apartment also don’t pay any parcel taxes.

      It is rare that the fiscal conservative right and social justice left agree on anything but I’m pretty sure that most on the right would be happy if we saved money taking apart the money suck that is the modern world of “low income housing” and most on the left would be happy if putting 90% of the savings in to the Section 8 program resulted in double the number of poor people getting subsidized housing.

      1. Alan Miller

        So very, very true SOD.

        If only the majority of people understood that political buzzwords like “green” and “affordable” are used to cull initiative and political acceptance by the sheeple masses to funnel money to the connected, and it’s all a scam and the joke is on all of us.

      2. quielo

        Section 8 is popular on the right as well as it’s primary purpose is to subsidize landlords and raise rents. Note that during cost cutting endeavors by the right Section 8 is never on the table. Section 8 is designed to give all landlords an alternate renter, “the government” instead of having to lower prices. it works similar to other price support programs even thought it’s often helpful to individuals, as are the peanut and cheese programs, it’s reason for existence is to help landlords and raise rents. If section 8 were discontinued there would be a significant drop in rental rates in most markets. I donlt believe section 8 has much impact in Davis but perhaps in Sacramento.

        1. hpierce

          Disagree as to the primary purpose (originally), but you are absolutely correct as to the results [and likely the reason there hasn’t been much ‘reform’/scrutiny]… think they call it “unintended consequences”, or “collateral damages”…

        2. quielo



          “Disagree as to the primary purpose” not sure how it was presented but the current results were easily foreseen. Likely both parties approved but for different reasons. It would be interesting to discontinue it in a selected market and see the results.

  4. Edison

    I continue to be puzzled why the Vanguard and some members of the Davis community seem to think that the availability and affordability of housing for students is the responsibility of the City of Davis.  As someone told me this weekend, UCD’s problem is overpopulation; i.e., the university keeps enrolling too many students while other campuses like UC Merced are literally begging for students.  UCD’s track record in building on-campus housing commensurate with enrollment growth is absolutely dismal.  I’m not referring to freshmen dorms, of which there is almost a sufficient supply, but on-campus housing to accommodate students for all four years.  The UCD model of evicting students after freshman year to find housing on their own is very different from what I’ve observed in the Midwest, where at many universities students can affordably live in campus residence halls all the way through senior year if they wish. UCD’s model is deeply flawed in every respect.   There seems to be plenty of money for performing arts centers (Mondavi) and art museums (the soon-to-be open Shrem) and an International Student Center, but not nearly enough for on-campus apartments.  There also seems to be plenty of money for an every expanding cadre of highly paid administrators, who do nothing to help produce housing. I’ve also been told by students that UCD is not a very good or effective landlord.  I also wonder why students come to  UCD when they know–or should know–that they will find a difficult housing situation after freshman year.  No one is forcing them to attend UCD; there’s plenty of other good universities available.

    1. South of Davis

      Edison wrote:

      > No one is forcing them to attend UCD; there’s

      > plenty of other good universities available.

      People go to UCD because they were not smart enough (or didn’t have parents rich enough) to get in to a better school (like Cal or Stanford).

      With that said the people that “do” go to UCD are smart enough to know that going to UC Merced or Sac State because the housing situation is better is a bad idea…

      1. JR

        Are you really that dense to think maybe, just maybe, someone would want to go to UC Davis because they like UC Davis for what it is and did not want to attend UCB or Stanford because of many other reasons beyond financial ability or intellect? Your disdain for the university is disturbing.

      2. Don Shor

        People go to UCD because they were not smart enough (or didn’t have parents rich enough) to get in to a better school (like Cal or Stanford).

        Excuse me? What a weird statement.

      3. hpierce

        Hell… I qualified for both Stanford and UCB, but wanted to live apart from my home in San Mateo… if I had chosen either, would have been pressured to live at home by Mom (I was an only child)… chose UCD as about the right distance away… close enough to take Greyhound to get home, or for my parents to visit, but could find my own way…

        1. South of Davis

          hpierce wrote:

          > I qualified for both Stanford and UCB

          Were you just “qualified” for Cal and Stanford or were you actually “accepted” to Cal and Stanford?

          I’m sure it has happened, but it is my guess that UCD has admitted more Gay Republicans than undergrads that decided against going to Stanford and having guaranteed good student on campus housing (and getting the classes they want) for all 4 years.

          UCD is still a great school even if it is not as great as Cal and Stanford and since it is the best school most undergrads got in to going to a lesser school to save a few dollars on rent is a bad idea.


        2. Barack Palin

          Hpierce, besides your dad and I both working for the same company we have something else in common, I grew up in San Mateo.  Went to school at Parkside, Bayside and graduated High School from Aragon.  My dad used to run the San Mateo Boy’s Club.

        3. South of Davis

          BP wrote:

          >  I grew up in San Mateo.  

          We are probably going to see a lot more “San Mateo Kids” moving to Davis, since even homes in Shoreview (the dumpy neighborhood of little homes east of 101) are now selling for around a million dollars and homes in Baywood (the nice neighborhood between downtown and Hillsborough) are selling for over $3 million…


        4. hpierce

          Ahh… Aragon High… was a Hillsdale High student… your X-country course was my favorite (I was the guy who took 6th or 7th spot in the scoring)… but in my day, your tennis team was also my favorite… good game, but generally a strong win for us… [actually played varsity in that sport, usually singles].

          I’ll remember to put those things (our commonalities) in perspective, moving forward…

          [Grew up in San Mateo Village, close to Bay Meadows racetrack… lived 250′ or so from 101, and did not experience a 5% decrease in lung capacity each year… hell, I was on the X-country and tennis teams! ] [meant for another poster]

        5. Barack Palin

          SOD, I used to own a home in Shoreview.  We always referred to that area as the slums of San Mateo.  To think those homes are now worth a million dollars. You seem very familar with the area, did you live there too or nearby?

        6. South of Davis

          hpierce wrote:

          > Ahh… Aragon High… was a Hillsdale High student…

          Any idea if the SMUHSD really did hire a “prison architect” to “design” Aragon and Hillsdale (or did the San Mateo High kids just say that to make them feel better knowing they got stuck with the dumb kids who came across the bike bridge from Shoreview every day)…

        7. hpierce


          yeah… I grew up in a 850 SF, 2 Br, 1Ba, one car garage house… when Dad passed in 2002, I sold it for $450 k.  He bought it for $9100 in 1955.  It was a real ‘stretch’ for him.

          Used to work in Millbrae (late 70’s)… then, a serious “fixer-upper” (lowest available cost) was ~ $120k.  Bought a 3 Br, 2 Ba, two-car garage house (needed TLC, but not a true ‘fixer-upper) in Davis for $71 k in 1980 [when mortgage rates were ~ 12%]
          … recently sold it for $425k.

          We should realize that “affordable housing” does not necessarily mean “home ownership”… came to Davis to live in ’79… 0.25% vacancy rate… then, it was not a huge stretch to buy instead of renting (which we did for a year, in a 5-plex).  Am thinking that’s not so true now…

        8. Barack Palin

          Hpierce, my three kids were all Knights.  I lived near Kehoe Ave. on the other side of 101 about 300 yards away, no lung problems here either.

        9. hpierce

          Yeah, Kehoe… many of my friends lived on/near there… when I was an intern there (SM) was somewhat involved in PW projects… if you were ~ 60 now, perhaps I actually knew you… went to College Park JH…

        10. hpierce


          Did not apply to Stanford or Bezerkley… wasn’t “qualified”… only had SAT score of 1580 (1600 was ‘goal’), and was a National Merit Scholar [finances were not a consideration, as to tuition].

          Graduated 9th in a class of 425… clearly not Stanford nor Bezerkley material… even though my HS guidance counselor urged me to apply.

        11. hpierce

          At the risk of going further off-topic (but love the exchange), Hillsdale, Aragon, Crestmoor, etc. were built in the late 50’s/early 60’s… unlike SM High and Burlingame High (and as I recall, Capuchino) the 50’s schools had steel I-beam supports (earthquake  design considerations, not ‘brick and mortar’), and “flexible” interior walls so classroom space could be easily re-configured.  It was a bit weird, from one year to another, that rooms were not the way they were a year before.

        12. South of Davis

          hpierce wrote:

          > yeah… I grew up in a 850 SF, 2 Br, 1Ba, one car garage house…

          > when Dad passed in 2002, I sold it for $450 k.  He bought it for

          > $9100 in 1955.  It was a real ‘stretch’ for him.

          To bring things back to student housing if you have an area near a good school and don’t allow much development you are going to see the price of housing skyrocket.

          My father in law grew up in Palo Alto (across the street from “Gracie Wing” that most people know as “Grace Slick”) and three recent sales on the street were $4 million, $5 million and $14.5 million!

          In the Claremont area south of Cal almost all the recent home sales are in the $2 million to $4 million range.

          > We should realize that “affordable housing” does not necessarily mean

          > “home ownership”… came to Davis to live in ’79… 0.25% vacancy rate…

          > then, it was not a huge stretch to buy instead of renting

          With interest rates so low today it is still not a stretch to “buy” vs renting (If you can scrape together a 3% down payment and qualify for a FHA loan you can “buy” many condos in Davis for LESS than renting a condo in the same complex).

          P.S. Congratulations on the high SAT score, in the 1970’s you would have easily got in to Stanford (back when more than 30% of the people who applied got in) and Cal (when over half of the people who applied got in).  I have mentioned this before that my (4.0 #3 in her class) sister who went to UCD got in to Cal (her SAT score in the 1400’s was not good enough for Stanford or Harvard) but she transferred to UCD at the last minute when after meeting a lot of Cal girls at early summer pre-rush events realized that a large number of the Cal sorority girls were from the Piedmont “country club set” who looked down on poor kids who’s parents never graduated from college (she fit in great at UCD where many of her sorority sisters were from working class families in Woodland, Fairfield and Torrance)…

      4. hpierce

        BP… contact me @ [am just waiting for the moderator to declare a ‘foul’ as to “off-topic”, and he’d be right to do so]… College Park got renamed to Trumbell, as the district had to close that school [earthquake hazard and enrollment issues as I recall], but there was an “endowment” that required the District to have a school named after the family.  Bowditch was Foster City as I recall… same district…

  5. Tia Will

    People go to UCD because they were not smart enough (or didn’t have parents rich enough) to get in to a better school (like Cal or Stanford).”

    Wow! What a sweeping and appearance based statement. Better in what way ?  If your interest is in veterinary medicine, you will do just as well and possibly better in terms of pursuing your career if you attend UCD as an undergrad as you will if you attend Cal or Stanford. If your goal is to have a “name” school on your resume, you will do marginally better if you attend Cal or Stanford. Will your education be better or serve you better in the long run if you attend a “better name school” ? The answer is, it depends.

    I remember what I was told by a senior resident when I was doing my oncology rotation at Stanford after having graduated from UCD and doing the joint Stanford/ Kaiser residency program. He told me “Don’t be intimidated. The Stanford residents are going to be able to talk a better talk than you. They will be able to cite more studies and more authors than you. But in the middle of the night, when a patient is in trouble, you are the one who is going to know what to do. He was right. Time after time, the practical knowledge of the UCD and Kaiser trained residents determined the actual patient care, while the Stanford residents tended to shine on rounds and in conference. When ranking educational institutions there is a difference in looking better and actually being better. This is an important differentiation for students to make when selecting schools and should also be an important differentiation for administrators and policy decision makers to make when deciding on the direction in which to lead an institution.

    1. South of Davis

      I point out the FACT that almost no one (less than 1%) of the kids that gets in to Cal, Stanford “and” UCD in High School will decide to go to UCD as an undergrad and Tia responds that Stanford Med school grads don’t what to do in the night when a patient is in trouble (how sad that as a 60 something woman she is still so upset that she didn’t get in to Stanford that she needs to bash the smart kids that did)…

      P.S. For the past 20 years (even before I had kids) a hobby of mine has been the study of who gets in to “top 25” colleges in America

      1. Don Shor

        This is one of the most bizarre series of comments you’ve ever made on the Vanguard, and that’s saying a lot. I suggest you stop disparaging UCD and making unprovable assertions about three universities that have very little in common.

        1. South of Davis

          Don wrote:

          >  I suggest you stop disparaging UCD

          I am not “disparaging UCD” since it is a “top 2%” school.  I am just pointing out that since it is such a good school few kids who want guaranteed 4 year housing on campus in a nice setting with an “eating club” can just say “I’m sick of living in a Davis mini-dorm and I’m going to transfer to Stanford”.  Most smart UCD kids will have the option of transferring to Sac State or UC Merced to get cheaper housing but that would be a bad idea (so I guess you could say I am “disparaging” Sac State and UC Merced)…

      2. quielo

        I don’t really understand the point of this thread. UCD is a great school. Is it better or worse than the London School of Economics? Who cares? A friend of mine was accepted at both Cal and UCLA and chose UCLA. So what?

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