This column should not be read as support for any particular project, but rather as a call for reconsidering how we approach the issue of housing in general. Over the past 18 months or I have had the chance to meet with numerous students and discuss the crisis that they face in the wake of a housing shortfall.
The projects thus far which have come forward have largely addressed student housing needs, but the fact remains, the housing crisis hurts all renters – students and families – and by alleviating the shortage of student housing it will in turn, I believe, help all renters.
Turning to the issue at hand here, however, we have the West Davis Active Adult Community, proposed largely as senior housing with a larger than required dedicated affordable housing component.
Part of the problem we face in this community is that we have a large segment of the population that works in Davis, but either cannot afford to live in Davis or cannot find a place to live in Davis – either way, that leads to people who end up commuting to work which in turn leads to additional GHG emissions and traffic congestion.
As another point on this, the Cannery was developed to provide housing for families, but the units ended up being too large and too expensive and, as a result, much of the population that ended up moving into those homes was not a population internal to Davis to help alleviate our housing crisis – rather they were people from the Bay Area fleeing housing crises elsewhere.
The point here – at least from my perspective – is not to create an exclusive community, but to actually figure out a way to alleviate our housing crisis.
The question that will be before council first and then the voters is whether the theory behind the West Davis Active Adult Community actually works. Dave Taormino believes that if we build senior
housing, then figure out a way to fill it with residents who are already in Davis, it will free up additional housing internally that will go for families and whatnot.
A reasonable question is why not just build the housing for families directly instead of indirectly, and that’s a reasonable point – although a case can be made that there is indeed need for senior housing in Davis.
Regardless, just as the developer has been trying, with the affordable housing portion of his project, we should at least give his concept a fair reading as he is attempting to create a mechanism by which to meet internally generated demands.
As the article yesterday noted, Mr. Taormino points out that the language of Measure R itself contains critical language: “The purpose of this article is to establish a mechanism for direct citizen participation in land use decisions affecting city policies for compact urban form, agricultural land preservation and an adequate housing supply to meet internal city needs, by providing the people of the City of Davis the right to vote…”
For him the key language is “to meet internal city needs” and, in order to that, it means we need to provide housing for what would be considered internally generated needs: students, families looking to move up to own their own homes, and those who work here – and not for people in the Bay Area looking for more affordable forms of housing.
His solution is to create qualifying classifications to set aside most of the housing for current residents or people who work here or people who have relatives here. That ends up creating a larger class of people than perhaps he might hope and, as some readers pointed out, there may be enforcement issues.
There are also questions about legality here. The city manager did not want to wager a guess and it has yet to be vetted by the city attorney – Mr. Taormino believes, based on conversations with his attorney, that case law supports him and he is eventually going to provide the Vanguard with some documentation.
Another criticism comes back to the exclusionary policy: “Now, in addition to discriminating against families with children, the West Davis senior housing developers propose further restrictions by instituting local preferences and discriminating based on residency. The legality of such restrictions is questionable, with a number of potential constitutional and fair housing implications.”
There are noted issues for re-selling, but then again that figures to be an issue for any senior-only housing.
The commenter adds, “Will making an already exclusionary housing proposal even more exclusionary really foster an image and promote a policy and outcome we want for our community?”
That is certainly a legitimate concern, but, on the other hand, the intent here doesn’t seem to be to create exclusionary policies, but to create a mechanism by which we can start to address internal housing needs. The problem that we have right now is that Davis is not the only city in a housing crisis, and not even the worst city in housing crisis.
Therefore, any attempt to open up housing on the market is likely to draw, one way or the other, from people moving to Davis as much as people who already are in Davis.
The key question is how do you fix Davis’ housing needs when Davis is not the only city in the state that is facing housing crises? I completely get the criticism, but the problem is a lot more vexing than it might appear.
A more general criticism comes from Mark West: “The availability of appropriate housing is a service that cities provide to their residents. Our community has decided that we want our City to consider developable land to be a limited resource, consequently, in order to maximize the service of appropriate housing we need to become more efficient in the way we utilize our available land. Annexing land in order to create another sprawling subdivision of detached single family homes is not an efficient use of that limited resource.”
First of all, Mr. West really elegantly articulates the problem here. The community has in fact, through Measure R and its voting patterns, determined that developable land, especially on the periphery, is a limited resource – and he believes and many agree that this development is not dense.
This is an issue that has come up a number of times and seems worthy of additional discussion.
With that said, I think that the developer has identified some critical problems facing the community with this project, and has attempted to find some out-of-the-box ways to address them. I think in particular with the qualification classifications, we need to have a more in-depth discussion because, while the criticism has merit, Mr. Taormino is correct that we need to figure out ways to meet internal needs – and the market is such that simply putting housing on the market is more likely to siphon from the Bay Area than meet internal needs.
—David M. Greenwald reporting