By Eileen Samitz
(Editor’s note: the following was submitted to the Social Services Commission on Monday night by Eileen Samitz).
I am writing due to continued concern about the many mega-dorm proposals coming forward including the Nishi project which is requesting input from the Social Services Commission regarding their affordable housing proposal. I have attached my letter submitted on November 19, 2017 with an explanation of the many problems that would come with the five (possibly seven) mega-dorm proposals being processed by the City (Note: Sterling 5th St. Apts. has been approved recently). These proposals cumulatively would be for 5,000-6,000 student-specific beds which are exclusionary by design because they are a rent-by-the-bed format. These mega-dorms are luxury projects which will not be more affordable but will average $1,000 per bed which is not much different than what is being charged on campus and which the students have stated is too expensive.
The exclusionary design of the mega-dorms is that they are predominately enormous 4-and 5-bedroom apartment “suites” (1,500-1,700 sq. ft.) with a bathroom per bedroom which is a flat-rate per-bed monthly regardless of water usage which does not encourage water conservation. The bedrooms have an individual lock per bedroom as well so these apartment suites are not helpful for providing rental housing for our local workers and families needing rental housing.
Approval of 5,000 -6,000 mega dorm beds will not relieve the rental vacancy for local workers and families because UCD apparently is continuing to increase its admissions to UCD annually which will result with more and more UCD students being enrolled. Therefore, more and more students added to UCD’s student population will then just be forced off-campus after their freshman year to occupy more of the City’s rental housing units. It is notable that UCD is only housing 29% of its students on-campus and forcing 71% off campus after their first year at UCD. Currently at least 63% of UCD students are living in Davis’ rental housing which is a disproportionate amount relative to the small size of the City. As a result, more and more of our local workers and families are being pushed out of Davis’ rental housing due to UCD’s negligence. This is all the more reason why UCD’s LRDP update needs to include the “50/100” student housing plan, rather than UCD’s proposed inadequate “40/90” plan. (Note: The specifics of these plans are explained in my Op-ed which I have provided the link to below.)
Another negative consequence of approval of all of these mega-dorms is that it just demotivates UCD from producing more on-campus housing which is ultimately the only solution to the resolving the rental situation in Davis. UCD’s proposed LRDP 40/90 plan needs to instead become the 50/00 plan adding 4,000 more beds on it enormous 5,300-acre campus in order to catch up with the inadequate on campus housing situation at UCD. Six other UC’s are providing at least 50% on campus housing while UCD, the largest UC campus in the UC system, is resisting coming up to par to providing the needed 50% on-campus student housing. I wrote an op-ed on this recently which covers this issue in more detail with the reasons as well.
Instead of mega-dorms, the City needs to build more traditional 1-,2-and 3-bedroom apartments which are inclusionary by design since can be occupied by local workers, families or students. Mega-dorms are a lose-lose for the City in that they are short-changing our City’s affordable housing programs as well as short-changing the City in developer impact fees due to the predominance of 4-and 5-bedroom suites being counted as one apartment unit, when in fact they not an “equivalent” to a 1-,2-or 3-bedroom apartment since the impacts are far greater for these 4-and 5-bedroom apartment suites. Affordable housing units are quantified by the total number of apartment units in the project, so the problem with mega-dorms is that not enough affordable housing is being produced like it would with traditional 1-,2and 3-bedroom apartments.
Another issue is that in other affordable housing situations, typically there is oversight by a government entity and/or the City oversight to assure that residents of the affordable housing units are qualified to be eligible. In this case. However, it sounds like this affordable housing program would be run by the developers potentially without any long-term oversight by the City or any other entity. A complication of this self-directed affordable housing program, particularly the integrated version was to go forward, the City would need to formally do the monitoring and oversight to assure that the program is being implemented properly. This would involve manpower needed by the City and additional costs which the developer would need to pay into the future for this oversight service by the City. So, given this complication of the integrated affordable housing program, the land use dedication avoids this problem since the oversight is automatically included once publicly funded affordable housing loans are secured to build the project.
The point here is that while traditional apartments would require 35% affordable housing, Nishi and other mega-dorms are trying to get away with 11-12% and in the case of Lincoln40 only 10% affordable housing.
The City should not allow the mega-dorm projects discounts on the affordable housing requirements of this City. This is just exacerbating the need for rental housing particularly amongst non-student residents.
Additional concerns are that an urban farm would not be of use to UCD students which are already overwhelmed with academic responsibilities and many have side jobs as well which require their time. So, the urban farm does not seem to be a practical use and if anything would be put to better use as dedicated land for an affordable housing project if Nishi moves forward. Given the estimate of 1,900 beds this would require approximately a 5-acre site or larger to provide a 30-unit/acre site separate affordable housing project. (Note: It is notable that there are air quality concerns regarding Nishi and that additional air quality studies are still needed to determine if the site is suitable for housing.)
Finally, there is concern about mega-dorms being inconsistent with our City zoning code. Due to mega dorms typically having locks on the bedrooms, this does not allow the occupant access to the entire apartment suite. This is a legal question that needs to be addressed. Here is the City’s zoning code relevant language. Please note the definitions of “dwelling,” “family” and “dwelling, multiple” as in multi-family housing.
City of Davis Zoning Code Definitions:
Dwelling. Any building or portion thereof designed or used exclusively as the residence or sleeping place of one or more persons, but not including a tent, cabin, trailer or mobile home.
Dwelling unit. One room, or a suite of two or more rooms, designed for or used by one family for living and sleeping purposes and having only one kitchen or kitchenette.
Family. An individual or group of two or more persons occupying a dwelling and living together as a single housekeeping unit in which each resident has access to all parts of the dwelling and where the adult residents share expenses for food or rent.
Dwelling, multiple. A building or portion thereof designed for or used by three or more families or housekeeping units.
In summary, comments and suggested questions to be asked:
1) I urge the Social Services Commission to please not approve any of the options suggested in the Staff report and have the project and any mega-dorm project return after the City completes its study of the affordable housing policy and when the project is fully described. No special deals should be awarded to mega-dorm projects particularly because this type of exclusionary housing does not serve the Davis community was a whole. The format of this and other mega-dorm affordable housing plans proposals are presented as a distortion and substantially reduces the formula for arriving at the affordable housing requirement and also the developer impacts fees for the City. The City needs to first determine what is an acceptable measure for the equivalency of a “unit”.
2) I also urge the Commission to support traditional 1-,2-and 3-bedroom apartment complexes need to be built rather than the multitude of so many mega-dorms in the City. This is because these traditional 1-,2-and 3-bedroom apartments are inclusionary by design and can be occupied by local workers, families as well as students, rather than these exclusionary and expensive student mega-dorms. For example, Nishi housing should be traditional apartments in design which are available to students who potentially graduate and may then may be employed on campus. These students now being workers are not likely want to continue living in a mega-dorm situation. Likewise, Nishi apartment housing should be a traditional 1-,2-and 3bedroom format so it is also available to the staff and faculty that UCD’s growth will be bringing to support its significant student population growth by 2028 and into the future.
3) The urban farm concept may not be a practical use ofthis land given the academic and other time constraints on the UCD students due to academic responsibilities and many having jobs and might be better used for part of an affordable housing dedication site (approximately 5 acres are needed. UCD students are not likely to have time to grow their own food and maintain a farm. Also, UCD has a student farm on campus for tho.se students who might have time for this.
4) It is important to ask how would a self-directed student affordable housing program would be monitored for oversight regarding compliance with affordable housing regulations such as renting to qualified low-income and very low-income residents which are students? Would the City be the oversight agency and how would costs be handed of the future years of this oversight? In contrast, would not a dedicated site for affordable housing have inclusive oversight?
5) Please ask that Staff request an opinion from Legal Services of California regarding if it is legal to build mega-dorms in the City which would be exclusively designed complexes targeting students only? This is relevant because students are not a legally qualified category for affordable housing so this would amount to discrimination to target only students. Furthermore, megadorms like the Nishi proposal would not be serving the community as a whole, particularly nonstudent including local workers and families which are currently being forced out of rental housing in Davis due to the significant inadequacy of UCD on-campus student housing.
This is relevant since UCD is now undergoing its LRDP update which is proposing only 1 40/90 plan for on campus housing rather than the “50/100” plan defined by four resolutions and a community petition. Mega-dorm approvals for 5,000 -6,000 beds in the City are not serving the housing needs of the community as a whole and would also demotivate UCD to provide far more on-campus housing needed on its 5,300-acre campus, the largest in the UC system.
6) Also, please ask Legal Services of California for an opinion on the City’s zoning code definitions as to whether mega-dorms which will include bedrooms with locks would be legal? City zoning code which defined families in multi-family housing must have access to all parts of the residence. Having bedrooms with locks in these 5,000 -6,000 beds in the 5-7 mega-dorm proposals (note: although Sterling 5th St Apartments is approved) would not appear to allow this.
7) Where did the 11% -12% affordable housing percentages come from versus the 35% requirement? Is this related to number of beds versus the disparity of the 4-and 5-bedroom apartment suites being counted as only one unit when in effect they are at least 2-5 units based upon if they are single-occupancy or double-occupancy and their impacts. The mega-dorm bedrooms with an individual bathroom and a door lock are closer to being a studio apartment in format so the 4-and 5-bedroom suites should have a far higher equivalency measure than counting them as “one-unit”. As things stand the City is being short-changed in affordable housing and developer impacts fees significantly by these mega-dorm proposals.
Eileen M. Samitz is a former member City of Davis Planning Commission, 2001 General Plan Update, and the 2008 General Plan Update Housing Element Steering Committee.