This weekend Eileen Samitz continues her crusade against mega-dorms and for more “apartments designed for all” with an op-ed in the local paper.
However, the main thrust of her piece is not housing for families, but rather another push for the university to build more on campus: “UCD’s Long-Range Development Plan needs to add the 50/100 student housing plan.”
Her main points are that UC Davis has increased enrollment without building corresponding housing, that the university’s proposed 90/40 housing plan is inadequate, that UC Davis needs to go to 100/50, that UC Davis currently “forces” 71 percent of its students off campus after their freshman year, that the “massive student population” will be forced to live off-campus going forward, and of course that “exclusionary mega-dorm proposals bring cumulative impacts and costs.”
To start with, let us look at the numbers again. UC Davis is planning to add about 6200 beds on campus in the next ten years. That is the gist of the 90/40 plan which accounts for 90 percent of new enrollment growth and a total housed student population on campus of 40 percent.
To get to 50 percent of total enrollment, we figure they need to add about a total of 10,000 beds. That leaves their current plan 3800 beds short. UC Davis, we expect, will go to an EIR next month with their 6200-bed plan, and, while they can certainly increase above it, increasing the population by a lot will generate the need for a new EIR.
The Vanguard supports a 50 percent plan, as did the city council and the Yolo County Board of Supervisors. Ms. Samitz wants to push for another 3800 beds on campus – I say go for it. But I do think the city needs to plan as though UC Davis is not going to increase their allotment this cycle.
This is where the policy dispute lies – those who believe that the university should take on an additional 10 percent of students versus those who believe, while that would be easier from a policy standpoint, realistically that’s not going to happen.
The rest of Ms. Samitz’s piece takes off from here and she argues: “An alarming consequence of UCD’s irresponsible behavior and delay tactics regarding providing on-campus housing is that many mega-dorms, with all of their impacts and costs, are being proposed by private developers in the city.”
Elsewhere I have taken issue with the term mega-dorm (see here), which I continue to believe is a misnomer and a rhetorical device that engenders fear rather than rational assessment of the needs of the community.
Rather than exhaustively quote the rest of the piece, I will pull out a few key points.
First, she argues, “These proposals would add up to 5,000 to 6,000 student beds in projects that are exclusionary by design because they are predominantly four- and five-bedroom apartment suites renting by the bed, with individual bathrooms.”
By my count the combined total of Sterling Apartments, Lincoln40, Plaza 2555, and Nishi is around 4500 beds, but perhaps there is another project she is counting that I’m not thinking of.
While Sterling and Lincoln40 are rent by bed and predominantly four- and five-bedroom apartments, we really don’t have a design for Nishi, and Plaza 2555 has a more varied approach and is rent-by-the-unit apartments.
I agree that these apartments are largely designed for students – but, as I have pointed out elsewhere, even if you designed apartments to be one, two, and three bedrooms like Ms. Samitz says she prefers, apartments in Davis that are market rate (as we have pointed out elsewhere), are not affordable to families in Davis by and large.
A point that Ms. Samitz is missing is that we should design apartments largely for students. We should design them densely and in a compact manner to maximize capacity, because 85 percent of our rental market according to our analysis of the 2010 Census is students. And even if we build smaller apartments, students will by and large live there as well, as they are the largest population and they can double up to increase affordability – something that families cannot do.
Ms. Samitz argues, “The vacancy rate will not improve, especially for non-students.” Part of her reasoning is that “UCD will continue to add thousands more students every year” and she argues
that UC Davis will continue “to delay and minimize the number of on-campus student beds being added.”
This is complex on several levels.
The first question is whether the vacancy rate will improve. Right now it is hard for it to get worse, there were in the last housing survey just 34 vacant units in the entire city out of like 10,000 (I’m rounding off here). The rate is 0.2 percent. So if the city builds its 4500 beds and UC Davis builds its 6200 beds, we should expect that the vacancy rate will improve. How much? Hard to say.
The second part of this is more complicated. Ms. Samitz is arguing incorrectly here that UC Davis will continue to add thousands more students every year – right now they have projected the need for housing based on their ten-year projected enrollment increase. If they stick to that projected enrollment increase, UC Davis really isn’t adding thousands of new students each year, they’ve already planned for those and the 6200 figure takes that into account.
What Ms. Samitz is probably arguing, and with justification, is that previously the university has failed to live up to its obligations for adding housing. I agree. That is a huge problem.
However, the solution to UC Davis not building enough housing is not for us to build less housing – that just compounds the problem and makes things far worse.
Later Ms. Samitz argues: “If new multi-family development is going to be costly for the city, it needs to be housing in which everyone can live, including families and workers, not just students,” and then she adds, “Instead of mega-dorms, any new multi-family housing needs to have an inclusive design that suits all renters — individuals, families or students — as well as rental agreements that motivate conservation of water and energy.”
I want to address the water conservation issue because it is another often-repeated red herring. The argument is that having more bathrooms – one per room – increases water use. There is no more patently absurd argument than that.
Water usage for bathrooms is as follows: toilet use, shower use, brushing teeth and shaving use. Is anyone going to take more showers or use the toilet more frequently because they have their own bathroom? That’s ridiculous. The biggest use of water internally is washing clothes and washing dishes, neither of which are dependent on number of restrooms. And the biggest use of water is exterior use, something that is largely a non-factor for apartments.
So the water conservation issue is a non-issue that has been made up.
Finally, as we have pointed out, we do need housing for families in town. We lack that. Market rate apartments are not going to generate, by and large, housing for families. We are going to need to get creative and generate some affordable-by-design housing for families – difficult to do when you have lots of kids and we are going to need more big A affordable housing that is subsidized.
Here are my thoughts on affordable market rate housing in Davis from earlier this week.
At the Social Services Commission meeting last week, many students came forward to once again talk about the housing problems that have befallen them – lack of available housing, lack of affordable (big or small A) housing, substandard housing. There are students who are couch surfing and students working four or five jobs while taking 16 units, and students living in their cars because there is not enough housing and the housing we have costs too much.
I asked the students how many objected to idea of living in a mega-dorm – none of them raised their hands. I have spoken over the past year with hundreds of students on housing, I work with students on a daily basis – their biggest concern is finding a place to live that they can afford. That is a problem.
If creating a mega-dorm is the best and most efficient way to do that, then let’s approve these projects and figure out how to create affordable housing for families as a secondary measure.
But, for some reason, I suspect that concern for housing for families is second to the desire to block new housing within the city and attempts to force the university to build up its capacity on campus.
Students to a person feel that they have been caught in the middle of a struggle between the university and the city on housing. That’s unfortunate. This is a great university town, and it did not become great because we shortchanged the student experience.
—David M. Greenwald reporting