By Sam Houston
Yes, I’ll come out as the first one to openly advocate for rent control in Davis and now is the time. As the arguments rage for building MEGA-dorms, Apartments for All or somehow forcing the university to build more housing, we need to start pushing for rent control before things get out of hand. This will solve many of the problems that Davis residents currently face. Rent control will drastically change the rental market in Davis in several ways. Let’s take a look at a few of the ways and the positive effects they will have on our town.
One of the great things about Davis is that it has a small town feel. In the last 25 years the city has only added a handful of large housing developments. These projects took years to get approval to begin construction and were primarily projects involving single family homes. This coupled with the increase in UC Davis enrollment has contributed to a housing scarcity with near zero vacancy rates and high rents. Now some residents are advocating for building more housing. Rent control can help stop that. See, if a developer builds a nice new three-bedroom and a young professional moves in, then at their point in life when they would normally purchase a home they will choose to stay in their rent controlled apartment even though they can afford to move out. The reason they would stay is because their rent is substantially below market rates due to the rent control. This is what is currently happening in San Francisco and New York. If you limit the developer’s ability to increase rents they will have a harder time recouping their investment in the project and make it no longer economically viable. Projects will be delayed and canceled. Thus no more talk of mega-dorms or large apartment projects.
A few years ago an investor purchased a home in my neighborhood and converted all of the rooms into bedrooms, creating his very own mini-mega-dorm. He then rented the home to a bunch of students.
Rent control would have stopped this from happening. Like the developer in my first example, the investor would have to worry that one of the students might keep renting the house after they graduate and never leave because of the below market rents they will be paying. Some investors have already purchased homes in Davis neighborhoods and are renting them out. Rent control will force them to sell for the same reason. Why continue to collect below market rents when you can just get cash for your investment? That will leave just a few single family homes available to rent in Davis. Unfortunately, the remaining single family home rentals will be run down because the owner has nothing to gain from fixing the property but most of us won’t have to worry about students living in houses in our neighborhoods.
Currently, Davis residents have the highest level of education in the state. About 67% of the adults in Davis have a four-year college degree. This has great benefits for people who live here. When you send your children to schools in Davis you have parent volunteers that wrote the books being used by the students. Wouldn’t it be better to increase that number? Well, rent control can help with that too! Since normally students only rent for 3-5 years there will be a great deal of turnover in apartments, except for the long term renters mentioned above. With decreased rental inventory and no new development projects the students will be the only ones able to afford the astronomical rents for an apartment. This is because they can sleep 4-6 people to a room where traditionally families are unwilling to do this. This will price out all low wage working families from being able to live in the city. Since college graduates generally make more than high school grads this will increase the percentage of adults with college degrees that live in Davis. Also, when investors sell their single family homes that were rental properties it is more likely that a college educated couple will by them than a high school grad because of the increased income.
Rent control will limit developers from building in Davis, decrease single family rental homes in quiet neighborhoods and increase the percentage of college graduates, making Davis a better place to live. It is time to email all five city council members as well as speak during public comment, asking them to pass a resolution limiting the amount investors can increase rents annually. Together we can make a huge changes to Davis housing market, and make a dramatic impact on those people who rent in Davis as well as future students who want to attend UC Davis.
Sam Houston is a Davis resident