It was interesting on Monday, listening to two affordable housing projects being evaluated by the Social Services Commission. On the one hand is the West Davis Active Adult Center (WDAAC), which will be a Measure R vote perhaps next year at this time and features a large land dedication site with 150 affordable units.
On the other hand is the Lincoln40 affordable project which proposes 71 affordable beds. There are some clear differences in the affordable housing proposals that will lend one project, the Lincoln40 project, to closer scrutiny – in particular, the relatively smaller percentage of beds in that project that are designated as affordable, 71 out 708, whereas the developer of WDAAC is going well above and beyond the requirement and providing 2.5 times the amount of housing required.
But what struck me was a public comment and two commissioner comments.
First there was Eileen Samitz, who once again railed against mega-dorms and exclusive student projects.
She said: “That leads me to my concern for Lincoln40 and the mega-dorms that are being proposed are these four to five bedroom suites (which) are not only not going to be affordable – this is going to be basically luxury housing. On top of that, this style housing cannot be used, it’s not flexible, by families and workers.”
Two commissioners picked up her comment using similar language.
First, Claire Goldstene stated: “I’m not a huge fan of this project. I think we talked a lot on this commission of the variety of housing needs in the community, both market rate and below market rate and what concerns me about this project and what concerned me about Sterling is that these are perpetually student housing.”
She added, “This kind of housing concerns me because it seems to me it’s not exactly flexible for the community.”
Then Tracy Tomasky said, “The need in Davis – it is beyond the students. Student housing is a great need as are needs for other populations.” She added, “This project is not flexible. I have a
lot of concerns about the one bath/one bedroom.”
Later a fellow commissioner, Matthew Wise, pointed out: “I understand the aspect that we want a lot of different kinds of affordable housing – we want affordable housing for families, we want affordable housing for older people. Not every project has to provide every kind of affordable housing for every type of person.”
It was Mr. Wise’s comments that got me thinking – hey, wait a second, how come the student housing project is being criticized for being designed for student housing, but the senior housing project is getting a free ride – that is, for both the affordable and the for-sale units.
Eighty percent of the units, including the affordable apartments, are proposed to be entitled as a senior citizen housing development. The remaining 20 percent of the units (approximately 76 units) would not have age restrictions.
The affordable units are anticipated to be age-restricted, for residents 62 and over.
Unlike Lincoln40, senior housing would be designated as senior housing and would have restricted uses in perpetuity, whereas as much as you think a four- or five-bedroom with four or five bathrooms is likely to be student housing, they can’t actually restrict the non-affordable component to students. So if a family wanted to live there, they could do so.
In contrast to Lincoln40, there has been criticism that Plaza 2555 is designed to have a mix of housing, but 130 of the 200 units are proposed at four and five bedrooms, with roughly 554 student-oriented beds.
The criticism there was: “This ‘mix’ is not at all a proportional ‘mix.’ It is worse than Sterling, having even more mega-apartments in this Plaza 2555 mega-dorm proposal.”
Never mind that the proposal only called for 65 percent student housing units, whereas citywide among rentals, students account for about 85 percent of all renters.
But the point here is that Lincoln40 drew criticisms not only from a number of non-student public commenters, but also from the commission itself. There was not a single note of protest from the public or the commission about WDAAC. Not one.
No one complained that the affordable housing proponent only served seniors. No one complained that the proposal would lock in senior housing by deed and therefore would not be flexible. Nope.
Student housing, which serves a humongous need in this community, gets criticized while senior housing, which serves a specific population, does not.
Many of the members of the commission and some of the public commenters continued to point to the university on this as well. From the start, the push to address student housing has been looking at putting that housing on campus.
There are certainly some advantages to it. But there are questions about affordability on campus. When I spoke to the students last spring, the on-campus housing was deemed by them to be far more expensive. Some of that was avoidable – the university, unlike a private rental, did not allow for bedroom sharing and if they did, the students didn’t get the full reduction in cost. The university also appears to fund some of their programs with rental fees.
On Monday, Eileen Samitz argued that the only way to have long term affordability was to put the students on campus, but programs like LincolnLift appear to hold the promise of subsidized housing in perpetuity. That would seem like something we should explore, even if we believe that perhaps 71 units is not nearly enough.
The discussion and the very glaring difference in the tone between Lincoln40 and WDAAC leads me to wonder if the real problem here is that people simply do not want student housing in town and that the whole push for the university housing is only a guise to get as many of the city as possible on their side.
I don’t know. What I do know is that WDAAC got a virtual free ride from the commission while Lincoln40 was scrutinized for some of the very things that were just as apparent in the senior housing counterpart.
—David M. Greenwald reporting