Monday Morning Thoughts: Housing Crisis Was Not Anticipated

Yesterday’s column outlined the university’s belief that adding to enrollment could increase revenue by between $38 and $50 million a year to help the flagging university, struggling to find funding coming out of the Great Recession.  The university, we felt, could be criticized for failing to plan for the needed housing.

What becomes clear when we pour through coverage from September 2011 – two months before the Pepper Spray incident – housing was not anticipated to be a problem at all.

The reaction to her speech in which Ms. Katehi would outline a future that included new “innovation hubs” at the university, that would partner with companies in the private sector creating new ventures which would expand job opportunities in Davis and other communities, was overwhelmingly positive.

Don Saylor, a Yolo County Supervisor, said, “I appreciate (Katehi’s) comment ‘Enough is enough,’ and her statement that the university is taking its future in its own hands. I applaud the tone that was set today … and I pledge ongoing support from Yolo County.”

Michael Bisch, then a co-president of the DDBA (Davis Downtown Business Association), called the chancellor’s speech “right on the mark.

“In times of economic uncertainty, you have two choices,” Mr. Bisch said. “You can retract and operate out of fear. Or you can gather your resources and move forward. The course she has set is the right way to go.”

But what catches your eye in retrospect were the comments by then-Mayor Pro Tem Rochelle Swanson.  She said that she believed the addition of 5000 new students and 300 faculty members would have a positive impact on the university and the community.

“In the last few years, we have seen an increased vacancy rate for housing within the city, it has been a real hit,” Ms. Swanson said. “As the economy has fallen, some people have had to choose to leave school. With diminishing family resources and grant resources, where you used to see two people in a two-bedroom apartment, now you see four people.”

Ms. Swanson believed that the then higher than usual vacancy rates for student rentals, combined with on-campus housing that was still being promised at West Village, would allow for enough room for additional students.

Just over two months later – the campus exploded with protests after student protesters were pepper sprayed.

But it is important to remember what those protests were about – in 2009, the UC Board of Regents approved a massive 32 percent tuition hike for 2009-10.  A week after the chancellor’s September 2011 speech, the occupy movement began in New York with protesters protesting the growing gap between the wealthiest 1 percent and the rest of the population.

The students at the time saw huge tuition increases, mandatory furloughs and firing of lower-tiered workers, as well as highly publicized raises for the highest paid administrators in the system.

The state budget meant that UC Davis was subjected to a 40 percent cut in its general funding and a $130 million deficit in 2011.

All of this forms a backdrop to the 2020 Initiative which sought a way to avoid devastating continuations of tuition increases.

The concern at that time was not over-enrollment and scarcity of housing, but rather declining enrollment.

Housing clearly wasn’t the primary concern.  In addition to the belief that enrollment overall was not a problem, there was also belief that the university planned to add 2800 or so beds at West Village and another 1200 beds at Tercero Phase 3, both of which were scheduled to open in 2014.

Ms. Katehi at the press conference acknowledged that “we will need to build more” to accommodate the 5,000 new students she planned to bring in during the next five years, “but not as much as you would think.”

The comments by the ASUCD President Adam Thongsavat at the time sum up the student view.  He called her plan “a positive thing.

“It means we’re growing,” he said. “I understand why the chancellor is doing it. Adding students and faculty will make us a very competitive university.”

He was more concerned that the future would be more uncertain “if UCD has to keep relying on the state for funding that might be cut.”

While all of this was less than six years ago, it illustrates how quickly the world can change.  The year 2011 was in the middle of a long period of time, by Davis standards, where land use issues took the backstage to financing issues.

In less than six years we have gone from a situation where housing issues seemed manageable to the university, and community leaders and student leaders alike were more concerned with funding than homes, to now in 2017 where we see that the landscape shifted very dramatically – to the point where housing is a huge crisis, both off-campus and on-campus.

The vacancy rate in recent years has plunged.  Students are unable to find housing.  And the systems are set up such that neither the university nor the city are equipped to respond to these crises – which neither foresaw quickly enough in 2011.

Food for thought, anyway.

—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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  1. Tia Will

    “In times of economic uncertainty, you have two choices,” Mr. Bisch said. “You can retract and operate out of fear. Or you can gather your resources and move forward. The course she has set is the right way to go.”

    I have heard this “two choices” descriptive used by other developer/investors. Jim Gray, in a presentation to the city council also described a grow or decay scenario. However, from a different perspective, that of medicine, I know that there are rarely only two options, grow or die. Sometimes a broader view is warranted.  Homeostasis, balance, or in layman’s terms, wait and see, frequently offer more nuanced approaches that are less likely to overlook additional factors and complications that may not be readily visible when we are facing a challenge. Waiting may not be out of fear, but rather out of prudence. Improving does not always equate to growth. It is simply more complicated than it may appear at first glance and this would appear to be an excellent example. 

  2. Don Strong

    One is struck by the phrase, …”on-campus housing that was still being promised at West Village, would allow for enough room for additional students.” West Village has not materialized beyond the streets and utility cables that came before the recession. It remains a weed patch. What’s up with West Village?

  3. Eileen Samitz

    The problem of insufficient on-campus housing goes far back, since UCD used to complain about the City’s vacancy rate being low for years. This caught my attention since I was starting to notice while UCD complained about this, they were not building any number appreciable apartments for students to transition into from the freshman dorms that they had only been renovating and expanding to some extent.

    So while there may have been a lull in new construction during the recession, UCD was still increasing their enrollment and planning on the poorly thought out “UCD 2020 Initiative”. Common sense alone should have prevailed at UCD when they wanted to bring on 5,000 more students by 2020, that they needed to start breaking ground then with plenty of on-campus housing to accommodate this massive growth. Common sense would also have also made them realize that any parent sending their child hundreds, to thousands, to tens of thousands of miles away to another state or country generally want their kids to live on that university’s campus. These young people would be far from home and allowing them access to on-campus housing for the entire time they attended UCD is the other missing part of the ill-fated “UCD 2020 Initiative”. Studies nationwide prove that students who live on-campus do significantly better in their studies. UC Irvine has also testified to this, which is also a model campus for how to get student housing and  good campus planning done right.

    Meanwhile, UCD continues to flounder and tries to place the blame elsewhere for their failure to properly plan. The chronic complaints of their students about UCD’s overcrowded situation make clear that the campus is not even able to handle the number of students they have now, no less adding thousands more, and is a testimony to UCD’s lack of ability to plan. To make matters worse, UCD then exacerbated the problem by trying to add on the overly-ambitious “UCD 2020 Initiative”. The result is that their students continue to suffer and the impacts spill over to surrounding communities like Davis, Woodland, Winters, and West Sacramento

    It is ironic that UCD continues to fail at good planning, yet they want to be number 1 at everything else. They need to explore how other UC’s are successful and continuing to thrive with good, sustainable planning, while UCD simply stalls.




    1. Howard P

      Am struck with the apparent fact that faculty, staff, and students are not strongly pushing for greater commitment from UCD to providing significantly more housing, and timely fulfillment of that commitment…

      Seems like all want the City to use a hammer that the City does not possess…

      Perhaps faculty/staff/students shouldn’t just ‘think’ about a token # of students occupying Mrak… perhaps, if they are serious (as they should be), a “general strike” of all three groups is in order, instead of whining to the City, which has no power over UCD.

      Several of the posters here, becrying UCD’s housing fulfillment, appear to fit into the faculty/staff/student groups… stop whining and DO something!

      If you ACT, probably many of us will support you, and “watch your six”… but please, those of you who are inherently ‘insiders’, ACT, and stop whining. “If you are not part of the solution, you are a part of the problem”!

        1. Howard P

          And you do not know that I’m wrong… congratulations… two negatives and a positive… in one short sentence… very difficult to parse…

    2. Jim Hoch

      ” Common sense alone should have prevailed at UCD when they wanted to bring on 5,000 more students by 2020, that they needed to start breaking ground then with plenty of on-campus housing to accommodate this massive growth.”

      Those students will find someplace to live and it’s easier to build parking spaces than houses.

      You can just as easily make the case that the City should have done the same.

        1. Jim Hoch

          It’s not a problem for the University. If they accept students they will come. They will live in Knight’s Landing if nowhere else is available. I was just reading about students in Berkeley (UCB/BCC) commuting in from Stockton.

          That is a problem. What we have is an annoyance.

          1. David Greenwald

            I think you’ve illuminated why the university doesn’t have the urgency on housing that the community does.

          1. David Greenwald

            You’ve just undercut your entire argument for the last several months.

        2. Jim Hoch

          ” the urgency on housing that the community does.” Does the community have a sense of urgency on housing? I have not noticed that. Our housing problem is completely artificial and well within our reach to fix. Yet nobody really wants to badly enough to change their attitude. 

          The whole situation could be easily fixed by “tearing down the wall” but this won’t happen anytime soon.

        3. Ron

          David:  “You’ve undercut the argument you’ve made for months.”

          (Sorry if that’s not an exact quote.  Once again, I can’t see your comments when I log in.)

          No – I’ve been saying for months that surrounding communities help by acting as a “buffer” against what you describe as a “crisis”.

          However, I would not describe that as an ideal solution.  The optimal solution is for UCD to build sufficient housing on campus.  But, in all honesty – the “ball is primarily in the student’s (and UCD’s) court”, at this point.


        4. David Greenwald

          But you’ve undercut the urgency of your message by allowing that.  I don’t agree with you, I think the pushing student housing out of town creates a lot of problem with traffic and carbon impact.  But I do think that Jim’s point is why UC is not willing to go any further.

        5. Ron


          Again, the “urgency” is felt by those most impacted (e.g., students).  And yet, other than complaining at the council hearing (e.g., regarding Sterling), it seems that they’ve been remarkably quiet when it comes to confronting UCD.  (Very little activity has been reported on the Vanguard, at least.)

          Depending upon point of origin, method of transportation, and which exits are used to access campus, it’s possible that commuting from other communities would have FEWER direct impacts on the city of Davis (compared to megadorms in Davis, located far from campus).

          Again, these are not ideal solutions, compared to housing on campus.

        6. Jim Hoch

          “But I do think that Jim’s point is why UC is not willing to go any further” It does not help that every time they propose something there is a screeching noise from certain parts of Davis that gives them the excuse to do nothing. Having worked for large organizations I can assure you the siren song of “do nothing” is highly alluring. Many people have long and successful careers based on a graduate level expertise in mixing “do nothing” with CYA. 

          That puts the ball in the City of Davis’ court. Presuming that yelling at UCD will be no more successful in 2017 than in years past, what to do?

        1. Jim Hoch

          The people who pay for the freeway are different than those that pay for the houses.

          UCD likely makes a profit on parking spaces and takes a loss on housing. They may understand that part clearly.

    1. Howard P

      Nah… too many sugary drinks in the ‘commissary’ (vending machines)… other than that… where would the faculty/staff folk who acknowledge the problem, live?

      Or, are they given a “hall pass” so as to take no ‘risks’? So much for scruples…

  4. Colin Walsh

    2 thoughts on this:

    1) I think the #1 unanticipated thing was that UCD would so vastly under deliver on the housing planned in the 2003 LRDP. Not only was the staff housing not built, a large block of the originally planned West Village apartments where not built. Also, Orchard Park was closed and is still years away from being rebuilt.

    Instead the University housed students through a no-build model. They doubled and tripled up students in rooms that where not designed for it and they master leased existing apartment complexes in the City. The master lease component of UCD’s strategy not only denies the City tax revenue from the properties, it also lowers the number of students allowed to live in the apartments because the University more tightly regulates how many students can live in each apartment.

    Further, master leasing apartment complexes in the City also removes these apartments from the open market and prohibits anyone but students from renting them.

    2) In retrospect, it is a little shocking to see city leaders historically rooting to lower the vacancy rate. Presumably this is for the benefit of apartment owners who will be able to raise rents and maximixe profits at the expense of students and other renters. I doubt Davis has ever had a high enough vacancy rate crisis to justify this.

    In conclusion:
    The University fell behind in building student housing and the no-build approach has only pushed the problem down the road. The University now needs to aggressively build more student housing to make up for past deficits as well as provide for the increase in enrollment.

    1. David Greenwald

      I did ask Rochelle Swanson about the quote and she believes there was a typo that never got corrected and that she said “decreased” vacancy rather than increased vacancy.  It’s six years after the fact, so I don’t know, but pass that tidbit on.

      1. Colin Walsh

        “decreased” does not make a lot of sense in the context of the time the statement was made.

        The at the time most current UC Davis Apartment Vacancy and Rental Rate Survey showed a 4 year trend of increased vacancies.

        2007    0.7
        2008    0.8
        2009    3.2
        2010    3.4

        It also does not make a lot of sense in the context of the Enterprise article you are drawing from that states

        “As a result of the higher-than-usual vacancy rate for student rentals, and the new on-campus housing that is coming on line, Swanson predicted there will be enough room for the additional students.”


        1. Don Shor

          No, I was startled by Rochelle’s comment at the time, given the history of our vacancy rate prior to that and the fact that we had only a briefly higher vacancy rate at that time.

          There has never been a time when Davis has had a healthy apartment vacancy rate per industry standards. But it’s never been this bad.

        2. Colin Walsh

          Keep in mind that the 2011 survey was issued in December of 2011 and the statements in the article are from September 2011. Therefore at the time of the statements in the article the 2010 data was the most current available. So at the time of the statements in the article the known Vacancy rate was at a 5 year high. It would be factually inaccurate to describe as a decrease in the vacancy rate.

    2. David Greenwald

      The other point I think that bears repeating having covered Davis City Politics at that time – housing issues were really off the radar.  I’m not sure anyone was really attuned to a looming housing crisis.

      1. Colin Walsh

        Off the radar is probably an exaggeration, but they certainly held a different weight. After all the Vacancy rate was at a 5 year high and the University had public plans to build significantly more housing than was actually built.

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