Commentary: We Need to Think of an 85-15 Plan for New Student Housing


The Vanguard has been quite clear over the past couple of years on the issue of housing at UC Davis.  We believe that UC Davis needs to build more housing on campus than it has.  The reality is that UC Davis is in fact proposing to increase its on-campus share of housing from somewhere in the 29 to 31 percent range to 40 percent of overall students.

The Vanguard has consistently argued that 40 percent of on-campus housing is not enough and that UC Davis needs to go to 50 percent.  The Vanguard is not alone in this.  The city has written several letters to this effect.  And the county also passed a resolution calling on a 50 percent on-campus housing commitment.

The university has thus far resisted.

But it is important to understand the math behind those numbers.  Right now the university in its Long Range Development Plan is proposing building about 6200 new beds for campus.  The university is projecting, within ten years of growing, to be at just under 40,000 students.  So the gap between the 40 percent proposed now and the 50 percent that we prefer is about 4000 beds.

So in effect, what we are arguing is that there need to be about 10,000 new beds for students in the next ten years.  Right now – even before additional campus growth – the city has a 0.2 percent vacancy rate which means, at any given time, of the 9969 units that were surveyed in the report (accounting for 83 percent of all multifamily housing stock) there were less than 30 units available to rent.

As we heard in April, the situation is bad for students renters, particularly low income students, and it is getting worse.

The problem we have is that right now the university is only committing to cover about 62 percent of the housing needs of those 10,000 beds.  Moreover, the first housing units at West Village are not projected to be online until 2020 at the earliest, and 2021 or 2022 is probably a more reasonable arrival time.

Prior to the approval of Sterling, the city had not approved a market rate student housing complex in over a decade.  This fall they will have a chance to approve Lincoln40.  While there are other proposed developments which might accommodate students, these are the only two that are exclusively student housing.

If they get approved and built, they will likely accommodate about 1500 students total.  In short, the approval of Sterling and Lincoln40 means the city will be taking on about 15 percent of the new student housing, leaving the 85 percent for the university or other communities.

Even if you believe that the university is responsible for the increased demand on housing, and even if you believe that right now the university is only taking on about 30 percent of current housing responsibilities, an 85-15 split seems quite reasonable.

Supplying 15 percent of the new housing is by no means enabling UC Davis “to continue ignoring their responsibilities to provide the needed on campus housing for their own growth.”  If anything, it has the opposite effect, it shows the city is willing to help out, but by itself the additional housing is insufficient to take the pressure off UC Davis to provide on-campus housing.

It seems some have argued that, given the current situation, we need to have UC Davis take on 100 percent of this 10,000 student housing need.  And, while you can certainly argue that they need to take on most of it, there are several reasons why I believe building some student housing in the city is helpful.

First, there is the timing issue.  Right now, UC Davis is adding students prior to housing.  That is a problem.  We already have a housing crunch.  Again, UC Davis will have thousands of beds online but not until 2020 at the earliest, whereas we can have Sterling and Lincoln40 online in relatively short order to help ease the immediate crunch.  Even if UC Davis added no students for the next three academic years, we would need the additional housing to alleviate the current 0.2 percent vacancy rate.

Second, there is a fair share issue.  I agree with critics like Eileen Samitz that the current 29-71 split (not all of those 71 percent are in the city however) is a huge problem.  But I think an 85-15 split of new housing is reasonable and doesn’t allow UC Davis to shirk any responsibilities.  As the host city, I would certainly rather see more housing in the city rather than forcing students to commute and jam the already congested roadways.

Third, there has not been nearly enough discussion of the impact of putting 10,000 student houses adjacent to but not in the city of Davis.  And, frankly, it would be worse than that.  First, you already have around 10,000 beds on campus.  And second, there is also the 2500 faculty and staff to consider.  Are we really thinking the ideal land use situation is a quasi-city on the borders of Davis, and will UC Davis stop with just housing or will they also add in retail?

We are concerned with paving over farmland, and yet, UC Davis would be as guilty of that as we are.  And we would have a quasi-city cut off from the rest of the city – using resources in town without paying taxes.  This is a much bigger problem that needs to be accounted for.

Critics like Eileen Samitz counter that she is not actually calling for a 100-0 new housing solution.  Yesterday she posted, “I am not saying that the City should not try to provide any more multi-rental housing but it should not be exclusively designed for students.”

But I don’t really understand the objection to housing that is mostly designed for students.  As we point out here, 10,000 is the number and the city is only accommodating 1500 of that, perhaps a few ticks more depending on what the housing mix looks like with the new housing complex across from Playfield Parks.

There is no population of people that matches the need for student housing.  Ten thousand beds is what we need – no other population group is even close.

There is a general belief that by building more student housing, whether on campus or off campus, we will in effect create more housing that can go for non-students.  From my perspective, we should probably consider more density and more housing overall.

The city wants to get to a 5 percent vacancy rate.  That would not only benefit students who are being exploited by high rents and poor housing conditions, but it would help neighbors who have students jammed into mini-dorms in the neighborhoods producing noise, parking issues and other nuisance, and it would help families who are competing for single-family homes with students who can live two or three to a room – therefore it would help all of us.

I am not trying to let the university off the hook, what I would prefer is that we put forward a plan that works for everyone.  If that means we take on 15 percent of new student housing instead of zero percent, with the university supplying housing for 85 percent of the new growth, that seems quite reasonable to me.  Therefore I think an 85-15 plan is a reasonable one to get us to move forward and deal with the new growth.

—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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8 thoughts on “Commentary: We Need to Think of an 85-15 Plan for New Student Housing”

  1. Greg Rowe

    I’m still digesting David’s commentary so don’t have an opposing or supporting argument, but for now wish to simply add, as documented below, the observation that UCD has consistently failed to meet its on-campus student housing goals.  So, as David alludes to above, not only will UCD likely not build sufficient new housing in line with the schedule anticipated in the draft LRDP, the number of units it actually constructs is likely to fall short of the number needed to even meet the LRDP’s goal of housing 40% of the enrollment expected in 2027-28. Meanwhile, UC San Diego is forging ahead with its plans to demolish its old 2-story campus apartment buildings and replace them with new apartment towers reaching 8 and 15 stories, and its chancellor told the Board of Regents in January that his personal goal is to provide a 4-year housing guarantee to all students by 2024.   Here’s a summary of UCD’s history of backsliding:





    The 2003 UCD Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) states that “Historically the campus has aimed to provide housing for approximately 25 percent of Davis-based students.”[1] However, the Final EIR (FEIR) for the UCD 2003 LRDP indicated that during spring 2002 UCD provided housing for only 23 percent of the three-quarter average, on-campus population of enrolled students, two percentage points less than the target.[2] The 2003 LRDP identified that the three-quarter average head count was about 24,870 students in 2001-02 and would increase to 30,000 in 2015-16, translating to a 2.2 percent annual average growth rate (page 4).


    The 2003 LRDP went on to state that “Total on-campus Student Housing is planned to accommodate approximately 36 percent of the student population through 2015-16 if financially feasible.  This would equate to housing 97 percent of the Davis-based student enrollment between 2001-02 and 2015-16” (2003 LRDP, page 64).


    However, the NOP issued on January 4, 2017 for the draft 2017 LRDP (Table 2, page A-8), notes that the 2015-16 three-quarter average Davis enrollment was 32,663, meaning that enrollment growth overshot projections by 2,663 students or 8.87 percent.  As disclosed in the NOP, “Altogether, about 29 percent of the Davis-based students lived on campus in 2015-16, with approximately 63 percent of students residing in the City of Davis and approximately 8 percent living in nearby communities such as Sacramento, Woodland, Dixon and West Sacramento.”[3]  Most significant is the fact that while the 2003 LRDP expected that 36 percent of 30,000 students would be housed on campus by 2015-16 (or  10,800 on-campus residents), the actual outcome was that UCD only had the capacity to house merely 29 percent of 32,663 students (or 9,400)
    Thus, UCD provided housing capacity for 1,400 fewer students than projected because the campus both exceeded its growth projections while it underperformed in providing on-campus housing.  This factor, combined with the additional admissions that occurred under the “UCD 2020 Initiative,”  means that UCD has been seriously falling behind in constructing new on-campus housing.

    [1] 2003 Long Range Development Plan, page 63.

    [2] 2003 Long Range Development Plan Final EIR. Section 4.11 – Population and Housing, page 4.11-15.

    [3] Notice of Preparation, January 4, 2017. Attachment A – Detailed Project Information, page A-8.




  2. Greg Rowe

     After City Council approved the Sterling student housing project I would like to have seen a simple declarative statement from UCD officials to the effect that with the City having demonstrated a good faith effort to improve the student housing situation, UCD was now ready to make a definitive commitment—for the first time ever—that it was prepared to likewise make a real planning and financial commitment to on-campus student housing.  Instead, now we’re facing the prospect of a second private project in the city that proposes going to 5 stories in a “rent by the bed” format, but UCD still refuses to make a commitment to the rapid construction of higher density on-campus apartments to match the pace of its rapid enrollment growth. 
    Contrast this, again, with the following excerpt from an interview with UC San Diego’s Executive Director of Student Housing and Dining, Mark Cunningham:


    Tell me how the face of the university is changing with the recent, current and future construction.


    Cunningham: I’ll go one step further and offer my view of the past since I’ve been on campus just over 28 years.  In the early part of my career here, it felt like we had all this land and could afford to build one- and two-story buildings, and maintain an almost rural feel, with lots of space and a few buildings sprinkled around.  Then, as UC San Diego’s prominence rose, the campus began its meteoric rise and so did the buildings, both in number and in height.  Space began to fill up and we began to feel more suburban with a higher density and less open space. 
    Now, we are looking to the future and planning for even greater density and, without a doubt, we will become a much more urban campus.  Land is a precious resource and we have to manage its use responsibly.  For example, my future housing projects will be almost exclusively mid- to high-rise instead of two- and three-story walk-ups.  We have a responsibility to our future students, faculty and staff to not use up all of our land resources. 

    1. Don Shor

      I would like to have seen a simple declarative statement from UCD officials to the effect that with the City having demonstrated a good faith effort to improve the student housing situation, UCD was now ready to make a definitive commitment—for the first time ever—that it was prepared to likewise make a real planning and financial commitment to on-campus student housing.

      They have made that statement. In 2016 they committed to 90/40, and the LRDP shows how they plan to achieve that. The argument that has been made is that 90/40 is not sufficient. But they have, in fact, committed to it. They have not committed to any more than that, in spite of a barrage of public comment as well as official communications from the city council and the board of supervisors. They have acknowledged the comments, but have not budged from 90/40.
      It would be reasonable to maintain some skepticism about their commitment, given past performance. But it is not accurate to say they have not committed to student housing.

  3. Howard P

    BTW… if UCD had 100% housing of all students on campus (yeah, right) I’d be OK with that… then they would not be voting on local measures that will endure long after they leave…

    Just dawned on me… how much of the Measure R approval vote came from student-oriented precincts?

  4. Todd Edelman

    Would UCD agree to build more housing within city limits even if they had to pay taxes on it? I support 85/15, but not clear why all of the housing has to be on UCD property.

    It’s certainly relevant that students vote and are around for less time, but any hint of engineering their exclusion directly or less so seems Unconstitutional. We may argue this on the basis of how students skew – if that’s the right term – the vote, liberal or conservative, but that should also be left out of any discussion. There’s the additional fun idea of people who are above normal life-expectancy being seen as legitimate voters whereas students who might continue to live in Davis for decades less so.

    More arguments for annexing the campus.

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