A tidal wave is building and it is difficult to know how it will end up impacting Davis. Across the state, attention is being focused on a statewide housing crisis. The state legislature, led by affordable housing advocates, are looking at ways to cut back on restrictions to new housing because the state is only building about 80,000 new homes a year when it needs about 180,000 new homes just to keep up with new demand.
What separates this movement from previous ones is that it is being led by affordable housing advocates, students in need of housing, and young professionals who cannot afford to buy homes. This is not the developer-driven movement from times in the past.
Here’s the thing – this is all coming to Davis. And how it starts to impact the political landscape here remains to be seen.
We have focused our attention heavily on a student housing crisis, and with good reason. UC Davis has been a huge driver of housing needs in Davis. We have a 0.2 percent vacancy rate. At the same time, the university is undergoing updating their Long Range Development Plan, which has put an even finer focus on the university’s shortcoming with respect to housing.
But, for those who believe that all of Davis’ problems are attributable to student housing needs and the failure of the university to provide for them – there is a second wave of danger.
The problem: people work in Davis, but do not live in Davis.
Clearly, we need more data here because we don’t have a good sense for the numbers. However, anecdotally we spoke recently with some folks who had surveyed some of the big companies in Davis that are not directly affiliated with the university. The finding was not surprising – almost none of the employees working at those companies actually live here in town.
These aren’t students. This is not university-driven housing needs.
It is a mix of people. Some are young professionals, including those with young families and kids, who drive to Davis every day and would like to live in the community that they work in – but they can’t because they either can’t afford it or the supply is not available.
Others are lower level employees who would like to live in Davis, but cannot afford it.
The university plays a role here as well, however. In addition to student arrivals, the university is adding faculty and staff to accommodate the student enrollment increases, and yet the university is only building a few dozen homes for faculty and staff at West Village.
Unfortunately, technical problems meant we had to cut our poll short, but the focus of it was the question of where the faculty and staff are going to live.
Looking at the year-old 2015/16 Campus Travel Survey, somewhere around 92 .5 percent of undergraduate students and 84 percent of graduate students live within five miles of campus – which basically means in town. But that number drops to 69 percent of faculty and less than 50 percent of staff.
As we add faculty and staff, and more students have to commute, that means that 10,000 people will be driving into town on a daily basis clogging our already congested roads and thoroughfares.
There are impacts for not having housing. The closer people live to campus, the more likely they are to get there by means other than an automobile. A very low percentage of students who live within two miles of campus drive to school on a regular basis.
However, almost everyone who commutes to town does so by themselves, in a car. That adds GHG emissions and it adds to traffic flows.
Unfortunately, as we have noted in the past, traffic analysis for new projects factors in only half the equation – the number of additional cars a place like Lincoln40 will produce due to residency – but it fails to account for the fact that many of those people were driving to the university and doing so via Richards Boulevard, and so, while Lincoln40 may add traffic on one end, it might reduce overall traffic impacts on the other.
But the offset is often not factored into traffic analysis. In other words, people are already coming to campus whether they live at Lincoln40, or in Woodland or Sacramento. However, if they live at Lincoln40 they are more likely to use a bike or walk than drive down 113 or come across the Causeway to exit at Richards – but our traffic models fail to take that into account.
The university clearly plays a role in generating demands for housing, but it is not the only factor. Scarcity and high costs of housing have forced many who work in Davis, but do not work directly at the university, to commute.
Some have pushed back against the notion of internal demand. But internal demand indicates the number of people who work in Davis, but do not live here and thus generate impacts on traffic and the environment through their commute to work.
Should we find a way to provide housing to them? Some have pushed back against this idea, arguing in effect that we cannot guarantee new housing will go to such people. That is certainly true. But we can guarantee that we will not have housing for those who work in this community – all we have to do is continue to do what we are doing right now.
The pressure is only going to get worse. There is a regional and a statewide housing crisis. That means that, for a long time, Davis has relied on other communities to provide housing for those who work here but do not live here, but that housing will become more scarce and more expensive.
There are those of course who would prefer that all new housing for students and apparently faculty and staff go on the UC Davis campus itself. While we agree that UC Davis needs to provide more in the way of housing, we suspect that people have also not fully thought through the potential consequences of such policies.
Putting a quasi-city of students, faculty and staff next to Davis, but outside of the city proper, could produce a number of less-than-ideal impacts, including the creation of an unincorporated city on the edge of town with its own commerce and services.
It is ironic that those who wish to preserve open space and agricultural land are willing to create policies that will eat up open space and agricultural land on the UC Davis campus, which will experience impacts similar to land that is outside the city.
Moreover, a movement is afoot at the grassroots level as well at the legislature to lower barriers to housing – and that movement is not coming from developers, but from affordable housing advocates and others.
Can Davis remain true to its slow-growth roots and yet find ways to provide for more of its housing needs, as the region is able to absorb less and less additional housing? That will be a critical question going forward.
—David M. Greenwald reporting