I am a bit taken aback that my call for a more evidence-based approach to housing has seen pushback from both sides.
On the one hand, my call for a student housing study has been met with skepticism, really on both sides. As one poster put it, “The 0.2% vacancy rate is not conjecture.” Privately I was saying that we have a 0.2 percent vacancy rate, and no new multifamily housing in over a decade, other than affordable-restricted.
On the other hand, I was told completing a student housing study was a “waste of resources” and that the city lacks the ability to dictate development, and that the bottom line is that we have enough information “to know that we need more and denser housing of all kinds now.”
Then I get accused of trying “to justify Sterling’s single-room-occupancy format” while at the same time, I am accused of presenting “the same old arguments … used by David and other advocates of development day-after-day.”
Yesterday’s column for the first time had a statement from Gerald Hallee of Rancho Yolo that allowed us to know what issues were important to the Rancho Yolo negotiating team. At the same time, it published two letters from residents (and I know there are others) who are clearly against the agreement.
The conclusion one can draw from all the above is: “What is also clear is that the negotiating team does not speak for everyone.” This is important because the only time I had remotely supported this project was when there was the belief that an agreement had been reached between the developers and the residents. At that point, I made the statement to the effect of, that being the case, the council will and probably should approve the project.
The rest of yesterday’s piece calls for an evidence-based approach. Those who cite the 0.2 percent vacancy are correct in arguing that that is justification for needing additional housing. We can go further, as we have before, and point out that at 90/40 (that is, UC Davis providing for 90 percent of new students with on-campus housing and 40 percent overall), the city is going to need to provide additional housing in town – otherwise students will have to move to outlying areas and commute.
Even if the university goes to 100/50, as the city and the Vanguard both support, there is still a need for additional housing in town because the current system has a scarcity in housing, and there have not been new apartments or student housing built in the city for over a decade.
HOWEVER, what a 0.2 percent vacancy cannot do is tell us how many units we need to build to get us to a more healthy 5 percent vacancy rate. To do that, we will need to have some projections about student growth, current scarcity, and likely scenarios for UC Davis housing students.
How many units do we need to build if UC Davis goes to 100/50? How many units do we need to build if UC Davis goes to 90/40? How many units if UC Davis falls short of 90/40? How many units if UC Davis builds no new housing on campus in the next decade?
Isn’t that something that we should know? It’s true that we cannot demand that developers come forward with projects, but, at least if we have a number, that can structure our discussions and our planning. Frankly, I think that the city council can do more than just be passive observers who only act at the final stage to approve or oppose housing.
At the same time, I think there are a lot of community-based arguments that evidence can at least shed light on.
I constantly hear this is a mega-dorm, it is unprecedented, it is massive, it is dense, they are renting single-occupancy rooms by the bed, it is far from campus, etc.
At the end of the day – I get it – people are going to oppose or support projects. I feel that my job is to make sure that we have accurate information and then people can make up their own minds.
I am still assembling data here, but here is what I have found so far.
I’ll briefly take each of these points in turn.
Is the Sterling project far from campus? Of course that’s a subjective assessment, but we can take some objective measures.
By my measure it is somewhere between 1.5 and 2 miles, depending on your point of entry to campus. We know from the Campus Travel Survey that just about 52 percent of all students, faculty and staff live within 2 miles of campus, but that number soars to 70 percent of all undergraduates with 45 percent of undergraduates living within 1.5 miles.
So Sterling would be on the outer edge of where the median student lives. But the most important thing is how students living at that distance get to campus. The answer is that, from 1 to 2.9 miles, they are not driving to campus for the most part.
Just 12.2 percent drive alone and another 2.8 percent carpool. How are they getting to campus? Over half of them bike and 30 percent take the bus.
Sterling may seem far from campus, but it really isn’t. At that distance, a vast majority are not using cars.
The bottom line here is looking at travel patterns, and these are not just one year findings – I looked at past surveys and found similar results. They are robust and consistent across time. Even building within 2 to 3 miles from campus, most students – the vast majority – are not driving to campus and thus are not contributing to the congestion.
As you go out further from campus, the percentage of biking decreases and the percentage taking the bus decreases, while the percentage driving vastly increases, but at 2 miles, that’s not a concern – so, from that standpoint, the travel behavior suggests Sterling really isn’t that far from campus.
Is this some sort of a mega-dorm?
Again, a subjective term that needs to be unpacked.
This week, we made a records request to get the number of units in all of Davis’ apartments.
Here is what we know – Sterling apartments is running at 160 units and 540 beds, which means the average unit has more than three beds.
Is that out of proportion to other apartment complexes?
At least in terms of unit numbers – no.
There are 37 apartment complexes in Davis with more than 100 units. Not all of these are student housing – in fact, there are several senior housing apartment complexes on this list.
There are six that have more than 160 units. There are another seven, including Sterling, that have exactly 160 units. There are 28 that have 120 or more and 16 that have 140 or more.
So, while it would be helpful to see how many of these have three or more bedrooms per unit, on the surface there doesn’t seem to be anything to suggest this is unprecedented.
And, while there are apartments near campus, there are some out by Arlington and Stonegate, others by Covell and Pole Line, and some by Lillard and Cowell that are quite far from campus.
Clearly, we need data on numbers of bedrooms per unit, and also how many bed leases.
But we do know that having bed leases is not unprecedented either. In fact, it’s a growing phenomenon because it allows for greater efficiency in numbers for the landlords.
The 2016 Apartment Vacancy and Rental Rate Survey had a section that specifically discussed what is known as “bed leases.”
They write, “Of the 9,058 market rate apartment units reported by survey respondents, only 11 percent, around 950 units in total, were reportedly rented under bed lease arrangements.”
They continue, “On average, bed-leased units typically contain one bed per bedroom; although some complexes allow multiple beds per bedroom. Sixty-three percent of the leased beds reported by respondents were located in four-bedroom units, while 24 percent were in three-bedroom units and 12 percent were in two-bedroom units.”
So there are other apartments that utilize bed leases and, in fact, there are nearly 600 bed leases in four-bedroom apartments in the city. There is nothing unprecedented about this.
Again, with an evidence-based approach, I would like to better understand how many people versus units there are in other facilities, density issues, but at the end of the day, the structure of Sterling is one that is probably going to come down to taste – does it bother you to have a specifically student-designed apartment building in the city?
Evidence-based approaches can’t answer that. But what they answer is how many similar facilities there are in the city.
—David M. Greenwald reporting