On Tuesday there were nine people who came to the city council to speak during public comment about so-called “mega-dorms.” I listened carefully to what they had to say, but the reality is that of those nine people, eight of them were homeowners.
Homeowners, like any citizen, certainly have the right to speak out on any issue they want, but the more I listened to them, the more it felt like they were simply living in a different world from the students who are seeking housing or those families in Davis or who can’t come to Davis because they cannot afford the housing here.
A few weeks ago, speaking to a group of students, I asked how many opposed the new apartment proposals due to the fact that they were large, dense, had five rooms, were for the most part rent by bed – none of them raised their hand in objection.
Last spring, during the discussion on Sterling Apartments, many students came with signs and they spoke expressing concern about the unaffordability of housing, the difficulty finding housing, the treatment they received by landlords and how the state of the housing market prevented them from effectively registering complaints. Many talked about being prepared for homelessness and sleeping in cars and on couches. None of them complained about mega-dorms.
In September, the Vanguard held a conclave on student housing in which we featured, among others, Josh Dalavai, the ASUCD president. There weren’t a lot of students there, but the concerns have persisted.
Mr. Dalavai this week has an editorial in the Davis Enterprise in which he argues that “students are desperate for Lincoln40, other housing projects.
“As president of the Associated Students of UC Davis, I have witnessed homelessness and shocking living conditions among my peers. We live in overcrowded arrangements not by choice but by necessity,” he writes and adds, “Often, single-family homes rented by students are in disrepair with landlords who live miles away. The black mold and extremely hot (or freezing) temperatures that we experience every day are someone else’s retirement fund.”
He then goes on to talk about the project and why he likes Lincoln40.
And then he raises another interesting point: “Despite a great need for them, I’ve witnessed a lot of fear over projects like Lincoln40.” This is what we have seen in recent weeks and months.
The attack is on “mega-dorms” and the structure, but underlying that is an argument that UC Davis is not doing its job, that they have been neglectful of building sufficient housing on campus. As Mr. Dalavai puts it: “The most widely cited fear is that if the city of Davis builds too much student housing, UCD will not feel any pressure to build housing on campus.”
Mr. Dalavai discounts that fear, believing that in his talks with the campus leadership, “they’ve committed to building enough new beds to house 90 percent of new students who come to UCD and 40 percent of all students on campus (the 40/90 plan).”
He acknowledges that many governing bodies have wanted the university to go further, having “adopted resolutions in support of a 50/100 plan whereby 50 percent of students will be housed on campus and 100 percent of incoming students will be housed on campus.”
Recently I have had some indication that, come January, there might be a UC Davis announcement that expands the amount of housing on campus.
But Josh Dalavai points out, regardless of the final decision by UC Davis, “we still need a minimum of 4,000 beds for students in the city of Davis.
“In fact, we are desperate for them,” he writes. “As I mentioned, we are homeless and suffering and I urge decision-makers to approve any project that will alleviate some of that burden.”
The point has been made that building student-oriented housing is exclusionary. We have a housing crisis in Davis, a shortage of housing for students, but the argument is that we somehow should not build housing that efficiently and effectively caters to that need.
Mr. Dalavai does a good job rebutting that argument.
He counters as we have, “If you look at the 2010 census, more than 11,000 households in Davis are family households and more than 12,000 households are non-family households. If we assume that most non-family households are students, then we are in desperate need of housing built for students.
“Many of us need rooms that we can rent by the bed because we cannot afford the liability that comes with renting an entire unit, especially if we have a parent unable or unwilling to co-sign. To look at more than half of Davis’ population and argue that it is ‘unfair’ to build what they need feels discriminatory, and at the very least, incredibly unfair,” he adds.
Finally he concludes: “I urge anyone who is interested in helping to alleviate the housing crisis to write to your local decision-makers in support of Lincoln40 and other student housing projects.”
Originally, Lincoln40 was scheduled to go to the planning commission on Wednesday. The city informed the Vanguard yesterday afternoon that the planning commission meeting has been canceled. Ash Feeney told me, “The Lincoln40 Development Agreement refinements require further review.”
He will update us as to the new public hearing date. However, what is clear is that the students will show and they will make their case as to why we need Lincoln40 and countless other apartments. And they believe their situation is desperate and that now is not the time for debate over “mega-dorms.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting