On Wednesday of this week, the Vanguard ran an article, without commentary, presenting the public comment of nine individuals who came to speak out against so-called “mega-dorms.” This weekend, ASUCD President Josh Dalavai presented his view of the student housing issue, Lincoln40 and “mega-dorms.” The Vanguard offered some commentary on his op-ed.
In a comment in response, Eileen Samitz, who organized the speakers on Tuesday night, writes: “Here we go again with another round of a Vanguard article again advocating for mega-dorms which are exclusionary housing which do nothing to help with the housing needs of local workers and families. Also, how interesting it is that David’s ‘view’ always coincides with the best interests of the mega-dorm developers and not the Davis community at large.”
She accuses the Vanguard of “repeatedly (trying) to diminish and invalidate public comment by specifying that there were nine community speakers” and “pit students against non-students in the Davis community.”
She suggests instead that “rather than continuing to divide the community it would be more productive if the Vanguard would try for once being objective on this issue of the need of more rental housing for all including workers, families and students rather than pitting students against non-students and ‘carrying the water’ for the mega-dorm developers.”
I don’t have a problem with robust public discussion – in fact, I believe that the Vanguard serves well as a vehicle for such discussion. However, I believe that my position has been thoroughly misrepresented repeatedly in comments by Ms. Samitz.
Yesterday she suggested: “[H]ow interesting it is that David’s ‘view’ always coincides with the best interests of the mega-dorm developers and not the Davis community at large,” as though her view were the only valid view in this community.
She continued, accusing the Vanguard of “’carrying the water’ for the mega-dorm developers” and suggesting without evidence that we have become “the Vanguard now and it has become more and more pro-developer driven where the money is at, and has abandoned balanced discussion regarding good City planning which is in the best interests of Davis as a whole including workers, families, and students.”
All of this because I dare to believe that we need more housing for students – and, while I believe the university should do more to provide housing on campus, the city has also not done its part over the last 15 years to provide enough student housing.
At the Vanguard Conclave in September, Josh Dalavai likened the situation to a kid caught between fighting parents and, at the housing discussion over Sterling, students expressed frustration that they have been caught in the middle.
Thus, while I have consistently pushed for the university to increase its housing on campus, I do not believe that the strategy should be all or nothing. Having the city provide around 4000 beds to students with infill development in my view will not harm this community in terms of its overall character and charm, and on the contrary will reduce the need for additional growth in the future while alleviating the pressure to convert single-family homes to mini-dorms.
The Vanguard is not developer driven – the Vanguard continues to support housing policies that help those who are weak and vulnerable, with students and low income people prime among them.
This is not the first interchange this week with Ms. Samitz.
On Saturday, December 2, we ran a column entitled: “Apartments for All is Just Rhetoric for Justifying Not Building Student Housing in Town.”
My column and my overall position has been distorted into the accusation that I am advocating for “students only housing” – with the statement, “so as far as you are concerned…no apartments should be built for families or workers. This is pretty important for everyone to understand your position on this issue.”
As Sean Raycraft pointed out in a comment: “You’re literally gaslighting David here. you’re deliberately misrepresenting David’s stated position, over and over again, then quite publicly simultaneously denouncing the made up position, then opposing it yourself.
“Moreover, this is disingenuous coming from you. you’re already opposing 2555 Cowell, which has a variety of housing types, from condos, to small homes to standard apartments and yes units you would describe as mega dorms.”
My view on student housing is quite simple and straightforward. First, I believe that the vast majority of our rental housing needs are for students.
Second, I believe that market rate apartments do not meet the needs of families because of affordability and other concerns.
I know Ms. Samitz does not agree with me here, but look at what the costs of renting a two-bedroom apartment are: $1500 to $1800. The cost for renting a three-bedroom is over $2100 and up to $2300.
Students have the advantage of splitting the rent, while families do not.
Ms. Samitz believes that we need to build one-, two-, three-bedroom apartments in order to accommodate families. But I believe her position is largely based on the erroneous concept that families can afford those. The reality is that, whatever rental housing is built, most of it will be filled with students.
That being the case, we might as well maximize the density, maximize the capacity, and structure them so that they are as affordable as possible.
Moreover, as Sean points out later: “Can someone explain to me why in a city where over a third of the population are students, [it’s] somehow bad to build rentals that cater to them?”
We have limited space for housing in Davis due to Measure R and other constraints, we have a 0.2 percent vacancy rate, and we have a group of people opposing high density housing for students, something we desperately need at every turn.
But my favorite is a comment by a young woman who describes herself as a former student. For her: “The biggest problem is that there isn’t enough housing in Davis, period. Building more housing that is appropriate for everyone is important. However, housing for students is the first and most important task, because they are the overwhelming majority of the Davis rental market, and will continue to be, regardless of how much complaining and arguing goes on.
“Until there is enough housing for students, the rental market here will continue to be awful for everyone but landlords.”
But Eileen Samitz proceeds to tell the young graduate what kind of housing she would like: “Since [you] have graduated, I imagine that you may be moving toward employment I think that you may be less likely to want to live in a mega-dorm yourself, particularly for instance, if let’s say you were married. The reason I say this is because it is the format of so many mega-dorms, rent-by-the-bed situation is the problem due to its exclusionary design.”
As Sean Raycraft pushes back: “How are these ‘mega dorms’ exclusionary? How does the ‘mega dorm’ format exclude workers? (I know this to be factually incorrect, as many of my members live in these kinds of places).”
He adds: “I’m not even super pro ‘mega dorm,’ frankly I am somewhat ambivalent about them, but what I do object to is this narrative [you’re] trying to build that is patently and provably false. Primarily that these projects are inherently exclusionary to working poor people and young professionals, because they aren’t.”
The bottom line is that we are in desperate need for student housing as Josh Dalavai argues this week. I believe if we allow a few of these projects to go forward, we can get the vacancy rate up to a more ideal five percent and that will allow the rest of the market to adjust.
Should we find ways to provide more housing for families and other demographics in Davis? Absolutely. I believe we can attack this biggest problem first and then figure out ways to build more affordable housing for families. We don’t have to fix every problem with one project – on the contrary, when we try, we often end up with projects that do not do a lot to fix our current needs.
—David M. Greenwald reporting