Monday Morning Thoughts: Can Outside-the-Box Thinking Help on Housing?

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Photo lifted from Medium Article
Photo lifted from Medium article

Last week, Davis got at least a little clarity on one portion of the housing situation – the university pulled a housing proposal from the Russell Fields in their Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), but left intact their 90/40 plan over the objections of council and many residents.

By 90/40, we mean that the university will house 90 percent of new students and 40 percent of all students.  The council had pushed for 100/50 (all new students and half of all students to live on campus).

In effect that means that the city will have to find housing for roughly 700 additional students over the next decade, plus faculty and staff, not to mention the current crunch that has the vacancy rate at 0.2 percent.

Council has prioritized housing, particularly housing within two miles of campus at infill sites.

We have already seen proposals pop up for student housing at Lincoln40 and Sterling, which critics argue are effectively off-campus dorms.

I got a detailed email highlighting some of the structural problems with how Sterling is being housed – based on that, I would suggest the council look at that proposal carefully to see if it is a good idea to structure the housing in that way.  There are also height, density, and traffic concerns that the council should look into as well.

But, given the shortage of housing, the limitations of Measure R, and the problems of infill – council is clearly going to need to get creative and go outside the box.

In particular, as we are likely to see jobs for young professionals generated by Area 52 and the University Research Park, the council has talked about the need for workforce housing.  Of course, mixed-use proposals or ideas proved to be divisive for the formerly proposed MRIC, so council is going to have to be mindful of that as well.

I saw an article posted on Medium this week that caught my eye, “I’m 31 and moving to an adult dorm.”  (I link it here for the concept, but read the next two articles I link from).

A year ago, the Atlantic wrote about a new co-living space – “Dorms for Grownups.”  Here residents have their own “microunits” which are built “around a shared living space for cooking, eating and hanging out.”

This is an expansion of the Coworking concept, which in this article is a combination of the live-work concept of a “dorm” or “Commonspace” which features “21 microunits, which each pack a tiny kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and living space into 300-square-feet.”

“The microunits surround shared common areas including a chef’s kitchen, a game room, and a TV room. Worried about the complicated social dynamics of so many Millennials in one living unit? Fear not, Evans and partner John Talarico are hiring a ‘social engineer’ who will facilitate group events and maintain harmony among roommates,” they explain.

This is different from a commune or co-op: “Millennials, Evans says, want the chance to be alone in their own bedrooms, bathrooms, and kitchens, but they also want to be social and never lonely.”

In March, Fortune Magazine wrote, “Adult Dorms Could be the Future of City Living.”  This article explains that the cost and scarcity of housing is problematic among young adults.  For venture capitalists, “those rising prices could signal the rise of a completely different kind of housing: adult dorms.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, the concept, known as “coliving,” is being brought to life by startups such as WeWork, an office sharing company, and Common.

Fortune explains, “The setup involves multiple bedrooms clustered around a shared lounge and kitchen—and it sells itself on a sense a community.”

“The theory is that the high price of rent and stress of starting in a new city will drive young adults to coliving spaces, where rooms are fully furnished, amenities are included, and communal spaces full of fellow new grads,” the article explains.

“Prices start from $1,500 a month at Common. WeWork, which is currently testing its coliving program and has not opened it to the public, previously estimated building 70 coliving locations with over 30,000 residents by 2018,” Fortune continues.  “For venture capitalists, the opportunity is doubly exciting since the housing practice would theoretically grow exponentially, showing start-up like profit, unlike investing in real estate which generally reaps in moderate returns.”

Could this represent a low-profile answer for workforce housing in the Davis community?  Older residents will probably scoff at the notion, but it is at least something to start thinking about.

—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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52 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: Can Outside-the-Box Thinking Help on Housing?”

  1. Grok

    By 90/40, we mean that the university will house 90 percent of new students and 40 percent of all students.  The council had pushed for 100/50 (all new students and half of all students would live on campus).
    In effect that means that the city will have to find housing for roughly 700 additional students over the next decade, plus faculty and staff, not to mention the current crunch that has the vacancy rate at 0.2%.

    It is important to note that the University claims they are only housing 90% of new students because 10% of students choose to live outside of Davis. Therefore by housing 90% of new students, they will be housing 100% of new students who want to live in Davis. I don’t think the University is right on this either, but it is important to note that the premise of the second paragraph above is that the University is wrong when they project 10% of new students will choose to live outside of Davis.

    1. Misanthrop

      How do you know they are wrong about the 10% Groc? I’d like to see UCD prioritize admitting ten percent of the students from the local region. Maybe if they promise to live at home…

      1. Grok

        Misanthrope, you seem to repeatedly misunderstand that having housing available for 100% of the enrollment increase at UCD is somehow a ploy to mandate that 100% of students live on campus. It is not. If UCD gets to the 40% it proposes, or even if it gets to 50% there will still be 10s of thousands of students that live off campus. Some will even live with their families.

         

        1. Misanthrop

          So it seems you are stuck on a difference of 700 students or a few hundred 3 bedroom units over ten years for the city. Certainly manageable if people would get out of the way. No?

          Sorry if I misunderstand what 100% means.

        2. Ron

          Misanthrope:

          I don’t understand the reason that essentially 100% of your comments are focused on what the city needs to do, to accommodate the university’s enrollment plans.

          Again, I would think that someone with your interests would be primarily focused on the LRDP, at this point.  (Prior to finalization, that is.)

        3. Chamber Fan

          Not to answer for Misanthrop but I would argue that we have a say over city policies whereas UCD is a separate entity, UCD has basically completed its LRDP, and now the city needs to act on its own.

        4. Ron

          Chamber Fan:

          My question was directed to Misanthrop, due to his rather unique statements.

          You already stated (some time ago) that you believe the university has “done enough”.

          Your response also overlooks the fact that the university had requested community input, regarding its LRDP. I never figured out why someone like Misanthrop (apparently) wasn’t interested in providing input, if he/she is truly concerned about housing in general.

        5. Chamber Fan

          Since this isn’t a private conversation, I thought I would weigh in, especially given my disagreement with you.  My response does not ignore that the university sought input, the input was incorporated into their report last week.  The next scheduled meeting is an EIR Scoping meeting, which again, indicates that the LRDP has shifted to the next phase.  Whereas the city is in early stages of its planning process for a new General Plan, it makes sense to focus on the city’s portion of the obligation.

        6. Ron

          Chamber Fan:

          You’re correct – it is not a private forum.

          The full council has not even provided a response to the LRDP, yet.  (I understand that this is forthcoming.)  In any case, as you noted, the EIR process provides additional opportunities for input.

          Chamber Fan:  “it makes sense to focus on the city’s portion of the obligation.”

          The city has no “obligation” to accommodate the university’s draft enrollment/LRDP plans.  There is no agreement, regarding this.

          This communication started off with Grok’s statement, regarding the university’s assumption that 10% of students “choose” to live outside of Davis.  (And therefore, that the university’s draft plan to house 90% of students is actually 100% of those who “choose” to live in Davis.)  This assumption was brought up (and challenged) by some council members at the public meeting, last week.

          1. Don Shor

            To provide input:

            EIR SCOPING & INITIAL STUDY
            Prior to issuing the Draft Environmental Impact Report, UC Davis will issue a Notice of Preparation (NOP) and conduct a public and agency scoping process to consider input on the range of impacts and approach to the environmental analysis process. The NOP review period will begin on January 4, 2017 and end February 3, 2017 at 5:00 pm.

            Your views and comments on how the project may affect the environment, and what potential environmental impacts the EIR should consider, are welcomed. Please send your written or electronic responses, with contact information for your agency or yourself, to the following address:

            Matt Dulcich, AICP
            Assistant Director of Environmental Planning
            Campus Planning and Environmental Sustainability
            University of California
            One Shields Avenue
            436 Mrak Hall
            Davis, CA 95616
            (530) 752-9597
            environreview@ucdavis.edu

            OPEN HOUSE
            Oral (and written) comments on the NOP may also be provided at the Open House for the LRDP EIR scoping and initial study.

            Wednesday, January 25, 2017 from 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM in Ballroom A of the UC Davis Conference Center at the intersection of Old Davis Road and Alumni Drive.
            DOCUMENTS
            NOTICE OF PREPARATION WILL BE POSTED IN EARLY 2017.

            http://campustomorrow.ucdavis.edu/app_pages/view/153

            UCD Conference Center map

  2. Tia Will

    “Older residents will probably scoff at the notion, but it is at least something to start thinking about’

    I definitely qualify as an older resident ( much older) and I see this is a great idea. It really is not so very novel when you consider that many upper class men and graduate students already organize their lives this way by packing into apartments and mini dorms which lack the privacy since to make the situation affordable for some they room share. Deliberately designing more privacy into a similar setting does not seem to me to be a radical idea and is one we should consider.

  3. SODA

    My daughter rented such a space in Chicago for 3 months a few years ago. She wanted to live there and work out of her company’s Chicago’s office but couldn’t afford the high rents or the hassle of furnishing. It was called cohabitation and it included cleaning of common spaces. It wasn’t as private as you cite so agree the article’s concept would work longer term. She met a number of interesting people including several from other countries.

     

  4. South of Davis

    David wrote:

    > A year ago, the Atlantic wrote about a new co-living space – “Dorms for Grownups.”

    > Here residents have their own “microunits” which are built “around a shared living

    > space for cooking, eating and hanging out.”

    The Pacifico Apartments in town that have been sitting MORE than half empty for MORE than ten (10) years (over 50 rooms/beds sitting empty an unused for over a DECADE) were built as microunits with shared living space.

    Robb posted a link a while back that after the total failure of the shared living space idea in town that the city was going to spend ~1 million to renovate the property and convert much of the space back to standard (non shared space) apartments and rename the place Symphony Apartments.

    P.S. I was looking for info on the property but could not find the link that talked about the renovation that Robb posted a while back if anyone has the link it would be great to post it since I would like to see it again and others may like to read about a failed shared housing project in town.

    1. Grok

      There has not been a “total failure” of shared living spaces in town. J street Co-op, Sunwise Co-op I house at Slater’s Court and many fraternities and sororities  are examples of successful shared living spaces. Meanwhile in Berkeley, the Berkeley Student Co-operative houses 1,300 students successfully.

  5. Misanthrop

    So many ironies so little time. At least you are finally admitting Measure R is part of the problem although its bigger than any other problem. As for the city adding housing for 700 students over a decade it would be totally manageable if we accepted the reality that we are going to play a constructive roll. Of course even if you disagree with 10 percent living elsewhere it still isn’t going to be zero so 700 is the high end on students.

    These micro units you describe might work for some but they don’t sound good for family formation so they aren’t the answer for many faculty and staff.

    Here is an out of the box idea, we get rid of Measure R and start building and keep building all sorts of housing until we have a heathy balanced housing market. We do most of the building on undeveloped land so that we don’t have so many infill conflicts. Local developers will make a killing but isn’t that better than out of area developers who will take the money out of the community and give little back like the developers at Sterling.

      1. Misanthrop

        Yes. because I have been thinking out of the box on this for a long time. My out of the box thinking is based on simple Econ 1 supply and demand. Davis in its infinite wisdom has tried to defeat this classical economic model and all its done is it has failed to address its reality that people are coming here in ever larger numbers because a UC education is a product with insatiable demand.

  6. Tia Will

    Hi Soda

    There are a number of living situations in Berkeley that are essentially modeled on this concept without being formally designated as “adult dorms”.  Both of my kids rented spaces  in very old large Victorian houses converted into these kinds of senior student housing. Both preferred it at the time to either on campus type dorm housing or having their own apartment. I recognize that this is not universally successful as pointed out by SOD. However, I do think it would be worth looking into what makes for a successful project and what the potential pitfalls are and considering it as a possibility.

  7. Don Shor

    The university should develop an RV park on Old Davis Rd. Provide sewer, water, and hookups, and then let the students and others who want to live there provide their own houses. Mini, mobile, RV, yurt, whatever.

    1. MrsW

      I agree. Also, doesnt have to be an eyesore. Would be a start and could provide housing releif much much earlier than what has been proposed so far, from a construction perspective and a political perspective.

       

      1. Tia Will

        BP

        “Eyesore ” is the eye of the beholder. I consider many of the current proposals for housing and many of those already being built at The Cannery as “eyesores” . However, I do not believe that my aesthetic preference should be prohibitive for what is and is not found acceptable for housing options.

  8. Misanthrop

    There are a number of living situations in Berkeley that are essentially modeled on this concept without being formally designated as “adult dorms”.

    Tragically, Oakland had some informal “adult dorms” too.

    In Davis we call these arrangements mini dorms and they are resisted by the neighbors.

    1. South of Davis

      Misanthrop wrote:

      > Tragically, Oakland had some informal “adult dorms” too.

      I’m surprised there have been so “few” deaths in co-ops and warehouses over the years.  In the 80’s and 90’s (before the dot com boom) I had many friends that lived in south of market warehouses yet even with all the unsafe electrical systems and drunk guys spinning donuts on motorcycles in the middle of parties I can’t recall a single death.

      I first spent the night in a Cal “co-op” ~1980 (after seeing DefLeppard open for Blackfoot at the Oakland Auditorium) and even as heavy metal and punk rock kid who started going to ‘Days on the Greens” in 70’s I was blown away at the heavy drug use.  About 20 years later I went with a friend to visit his little sister who lived in a Cal co-op with the famous “Cal naked guy” (you can Google him) and was scared that the drug use in the co-ops seemed as high as it was in the early 80’s.

      I know Tia has said she is happy with her co-op neighbors, and the “adult dorm” Turtle House brings in good money for another Vanguard poster, but I don’t think that many in Davis (of all ages) want more co-ops or adult dorms in town.

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/06/uc-berkeley-co-op_n_4892793.html

  9. MrsW

    If I were the mayor of Martinez or Suisun, I would be exploring providing graduate student family housing for both Berkeley and Davis near the Amtrack station.

    Some other thoughts–

    I am a little concerned that our housing policies and the lack of housing contribute to keeping young people immature, by not fostering ownership.

    I like the idea of cooperatives, but I dont think Americans are good at cooperation. I am only being a little bit tongue and cheek here: I don’t think you could drop the vast majority of American Millineals into a cooperative housing situation without some kind of conflict resolution training 🙂

     

    1. South of Davis

      MrsW wrote:

      > If I were the mayor of Martinez or Suisun, I would be exploring providing

      > graduate student family housing for both Berkeley and Davis near the

      > Amtrack station.

      I just went to the Capital Corridor web site and tickets between Davis and Martinez are $16 each way (or $261 for a monthly pass)…

      1. hpierce

        Suspect that the difference in rent between identical apartments in Martinez and Davis is far greater than $250/mo.   But, admittedly, finances aren’t the only reason that wouldn’t work real well for 17-24 year olds, unless their entire ‘life’ is classes, studying, eating and sleeping.

        Might work for some faculty and/or staff…

        1. South of Davis

          hpierce wrote:

          > Suspect that the difference in rent between identical apartments

          > in Martinez and Davis is far greater than $250/mo.

          According to the link below the rents are a little “more” expensive.  I don’t see many people going to school in Davis moving to Martinez (town nicknames “where the sewer meets the sea” and “the place where it always smells bad”) even if the train ride was free.

          http://www.bestplaces.net/housing/city/california/martinez

        2. South of Davis

          hpierce said:

          > To be clear, I said I suspected… did no research…

          Since I have been hearing about such absolute CRAZY rents as you get closer to the Bay Area I “suspected” they might be even higher so I took a look.  I noticed that hpierce wrote “suspected” and was not in any way trying to give him a hard time.  Woodland with a Yolobus pass (even with the express sticker) will get you a cheaper apartment and cheaper ride to Davis than Martinez with a monthly Train pass…

        3. MrsW

          I was actually thinking more along the lines of development and not really price, though I was assuming (dangerous word) that Martinez would be no more expensive than Davis.  I think graduate students are good neighbors and Martinez’s downtown would benefit from having more people, at more times of the day–especially families.  But really, the bottom line is that Davis’ lack of housing is an opportunity for other municipalities.

  10. Misanthrop

    “If I were the mayor of Martinez or Suisun,”

    Woodland is already providing housing for Davis that Davis should have built itself. If I were a rich man la de da de da … I would look at building housing for UC related people in Dixon.

  11. Frankly

    This adult dorm concept is perfect to help perpetuate the declining birth rate with millennial snowflakes as they can party together and hook-up every now and then without all the hassle.

    But when you think about the REAL reason that ideas like this are even proposed… it is the previous generations that rejects the building of more housing to keep supplies constrained so they can hoard their home value.

  12. Ron

    From article:  ” . . . plus faculty and staff”.

    Just wondering how the plans for single-family dwellings (for faculty and staff) at West Village impacts this. (To be built soon, under the current LRDP).  (In the city itself, there’s the Cannery, Chiles Ranch, Grande, existing stock of re-sale housing, etc.)

    The bigger concern is housing for students, on campus.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I think they are adding 475 faculty and staff units to West Village. The estimates I have seen is somewhere on the order of 2000 additional faculty and staff to serve the 7000 additional students.

      1. Ron

        Thanks, David.

        Does the new LRDP address any of that?  Also, any “breakdown” of the number of faculty, vs. staff?

        Of all the groups (students, faculty, and staff), I think that staff members are the most likely to choose to live outside of Davis, regardless of what’s built in Davis.  (Less costly, more “bang for your buck” on a more limited salary, compared to faculty members.)

        If anyone is “advocating” for a more major (primarily single-family) development than we have right now, e.g., the Cannery, Chiles Ranch, Grande, (and West Village on campus), I don’t really know what else to say. (Of course, housing in the city can’t be “reserved” for the groups you mentioned, regardless.)

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          I didn’t delve that deeply into it, but the LRDP does not seem to address additional faculty and staff.

          I don’t see a lot of push for more single-family homes right now. There is a looming senior housing project with a market component, but most of the push right now seems to be for more student housing. A lot of people, myself included, would like to see if more on-campus housing along with apartments would open up some of the SFH’s that are right now being used for student rentals.

        2. Misanthrop

          “A lot of people, myself included, would like to see if more on-campus housing along with apartments would open up some of the SFH’s that are right now being used for student rentals.”

          Wishful thinking but unless new housing is cheaper to rent than old housing don’t count on it displacing renters.

  13. SODA

    Has anyone toured the new Wlliwcreek models at Cowell and Drummond?

    Very small footprint 2-3 story single family homes. Think around 6-700K. Very urban and modernly furnished for models. When was it before the PC. Must have passed over or under my radar. Think there will be 35 units. Very dense and interesting concept.

      1. South of Davis

        David wrote:

        > there was some disagreement with the neighbors but it seemed to settle quickly.

        We know people on Koso that signed the petition to change the driveway location who are still not happy but they didn’t bother to sue anyone.

        https://www.davisvanguard.org/2015/07/residents-call-for-safe-streets-in-villages-at-willow-creek/

        P.S. Any idea if this “Willow Creek” project is owned by the big Davis Real Estate guy that owns the “Willow Creek” Horse Park just north of the Davis city limit?

        1. hpierce

          Google it… Dan Dowling is not a “player” in the current Davis Willowcreek project at the end of Koso, unless he is an investor… different entity… from Bay Area…

          You can verify by asking for ownership info from Yolo Co assessor…

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