For over a year and a half, the Vanguard community has been discussing the issue of student housing, the LRDP (Long Range Development Plan) and the low housing vacancy rate. With some notable exceptions, however, that conversation has not involved UC Davis students.
On Friday, the Vanguard had an hour-long interview with three student leaders. Daniel Nagey is an ASUCD Senator, Sara Williams is the External Affairs Commission Chair and Georgia Savage is the director of the Office of Advocacy and Student Representation (OASR).
Due to the length of the interview and volume of material, I have broken the article into two parts. In the first part we will cover on-campus housing concerns and the second part the LRDP and off-campus housing.
The biggest concern, according to Georgia Savage, is “finding affordable housing,” and she noted that the “vacancy rates across the UC system, not just Davis are concerningly low.” She noted that there are more vacancies in West Village, “but most students can’t afford that.”
For Daniel Nagey, the biggest problem for the students “is finding housing” and most particularly “finding housing where we’re not doubling or tripling up in rooms.
“Finding housing that cheap (and) close to campus,” he said, is important because a lot of students are finding housing, but not close to campus which means they have to commute. He noted that means more parking structures and “parking permits are around $400 a year.” He said, “They kick you out to the perimeter of Davis and then they add this fee because they aren’t providing housing.”
Sara Williams pointed out that “even if you can afford the parking permit – sometimes there’s still not adequate parking on campus.” She said, “We have students who buy the permit and then try to show up on campus and can’t park there and then have to go in the downtown and park in the downtown community.”
She noted there is a big discussion around parking in the community and what that means. “Does that mean that more people are going to drive or is it an availability factor?” she said. “I think we’ve found doing our research that the housing issue really extends into a lot of other policy areas in the city of Davis.”
For her, the biggest issue for students with regards to housing is “availability” which she says “plays into affordability.”
Along the lines of transportation, Sara Williams explained that she lives downtown, she has a car, but “I’ve driven onto campus once.”
Sara said, “I think that’s pretty common for students because there are pretty high rates of prices for parking.” She explained, “Students will bus or bike every day if they can.” She said that “those who choose to drive, it’s honestly out of necessity.
“Students only choose to drive to campus if they absolutely have to,” she said.
Daniel explained, “I wouldn’t even focus on parking because the whole parking crisis is coming from the lack of housing, the lack of housing that’s close to campus.” He believes the parking problem will solve itself once we solve the housing problem.
Sara Williams noted that when they discussed the Sterling project, community members were upset about having parking at these projects “because they worry about traffic.” For a lot of folks this means, “How is this going to affect my daily commute?”
Sara explained, “International students are really affected by this because a lot of them don’t have as much knowledge about how to sign leases or go about finding housing.” The result is that a lot of the students living in the nearby community “are international students.”
She said, “That’s putting a lot of pressure on Yolo Bus lately because they’re having to be carrying a lot more passengers than they’re used to.” More housing near campus, she thinks, reduces transportation problems across the board.
We talked about the high cost of housing at West Village and how the campus is seeking to address that.
Georgia Savage pointed out that, prior to this year, a lot of people would bring in additional beds and unofficially share a room even though there were not allowed to. Now that the university is allowing for doubling up in the rooms, “they are increasing the rent.”
That is causing problems, and the result is that “sharing a room in West Village is the price I’m paying for a single in the community. I don’t think students see that as a viable option because they can get a room closer to campus for the same or even less for their own room,” she explained. “I don’t think that’s necessarily seen as an affordable option.”
Georgia said, “I think they need to do a better job of marketing that. I think if you went around and surveyed students, they wouldn’t even bring up West Village – it’s really expensive. And most of them would not know that you’re going to be allowed to double.”
Daniel pointed out, “West Village really does capitalize on an easy transition because they do provide WiFi… it’s furnished, they have a washer and dryer in the room… it’s very flashy.” For many students “it seems like a viable option, but very easily that rent adds up and very quickly you’ve spent gobs more money on renting this furniture that you’re not going to see at the end of the year versus purchasing your own and investing in that.”
You end up reducing the rent, “but they charge you $500 to share a room that’s already too small for a single.” He feels like UC Davis is exploiting first time buyers who don’t realize that $500 “is actually a lot for a room I have to share.”
And in downtown or throughout the community, the living area is a lot larger than what you get on campus.
Georgia explained, “A lot of students only live there for a year because they figure it out. They figure it out and then they leave because they realize that there are much better options available.”
I asked why the cost of housing was so high. Sara Williams explains, “There are a lot of things that play into that number, but with the culture of Davis – first year housing isn’t mandatory on campus, but something like 95 percent of first year students do live on campus.”
The campus markets to the students that this is how they are going to make friends and get connected into the community. At the same time, it appears that the campus uses the rents and added charges to fund programs – programs that many students do not know about and will never access.
They have peer advising that are hired. Sara explained that “in its way it’s its own bureaucracy even with added administrative costs within that.
“I don’t know that we always go with the cheapest option of construction on campus. I’m not convinced of that. No one has given us an answered I’m satisfied with.”
Getting an answer appears difficult. As Georgia Savage pointed out, there are so many different departments and overlapping bureaucracy that it is easy to point students asking questions in another direction.
For Georgia too, “I really think they capitalize on the social aspect of it – there’s a notion that if you want to make friends, then you need to live here.” She said that’s why almost everyone lives in the dorms. “It’s seen as a necessity or it will detrimentally affect your social life at UC Davis.”
Sara added, “Your success as a student is (pitched as) very dependent on living in first year housing.”
The students pointed out that it was never pointed out that living off-campus was an option for first year students. Logistically it is difficult to live off-campus as a first year anyway. Students don’t find out that they’ve been accepted and make their college decision until fairly late in the year.
Sara pointed out, “Because the vacancy rate is so low here… I don’t know how many options they can find as first year students.”
Daniel said that he thought as he came to UC Davis that it was mandatory for first year students to live in the dorms.
The question, of course, we had was what the students preferred, and for Daniel it was more about having the option to choose. He said, “I think a lot of students who can’t afford it, who aren’t on financial aid, with that sticker price, they could afford (living off campus more easily).”
Georgia pointed out that for students, this is their first time renting a place – going to a new school is overwhelming anyway, so adding the pressure of finding a place off campus would often be overwhelming for new students.
“Being a first time renter with no assistance from the school, with in fact the school deterring you from doing so, I think would be very overwhelming,” she said. “And would be easily taken advantage of – which a lot of students are.”
For Sara, she said, “I am very happy with my residence hall experience.”
She said if they had different types of student housing, “I would love to live on campus. There’s nothing for me that I get living off campus except for affordability.”
“I would in a heartbeat love to live on campus,” Sara said. The others agreed. “That’s a major sentiment of most people that I’ve talked to.”
Daniel added, “The percentage of students that actually want to live far from campus are small.”
But that didn’t mean they wanted to live on campus for all four or five years. For Sara, she would have opted to live on campus in her second and third year.
“If you had the option to stay a couple of years, I would be very surprised if the majority of students didn’t take that,” she said. But not for all four years. “I wouldn’t want to be 22 and told that there’s quiet hours,” she said for example. “And then you have the option too to gain more knowledge about renting.”
Sara pointed out she hadn’t even turned 19 years old when they talked about signing their first lease “and we had no information and we had to show up and we had to do it early to make sure we had a place.”
She said, “We signed our lives away.”
We will have the second part tomorrow where they talk about the LRDP and off-campus housing options.
—David M. Greenwald reporting