by Sean Raycraft
In the Davis rental market, all renters are affected by the housing crisis to varying degrees. The student suffers, the working poor suffer, young professionals suffer, families suffer, in fact, everyone who isn’t a landlord suffers, even homeowners. Recent efforts and rhetoric by some in town would have you believe the interests of students are divergent from those of young families, working poor folks and other groups of renters. Its a divide and conquer strategy, that I hope fails. Renters are at the end of the day… renters. Improving the rental market as a whole will improve conditions for everyone who rents in town.
“We need non exclusionary housing for everyone, not just students. That means one, two and three bedroom apartments, and not exclusionary by design mega dorms.”
This is a paraphrased quote from the talking points of an organized group of commenters at a recent city council meeting. I apologize if I did get it quite right, but this I think these are the general themes presented by Eileen and the others.
Needless to say, I disagree with the rhetoric. I disagree because I feel these assertions being put forward are, in a word, false. Who is to say that a 25-year-old retail worker could not rent one of those rooms in a four-bedroom suite with a common living area?
Or a recent UCD graduate renting a room in one of those suites with students? Or maybe five or six friends get together and live in these suites for a few years after college. Or, a grad student from another country could rent a room in these suites and still have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Or a young couple moves into a room in the suite in order to save money for their wedding.
Is there some rule stating applicants for mega dorm rooms must be card carrying UCD students?
The point is that while a shared space style of living isn’t exactly traditional, it by no means is exclusionary by design. In fact, similar communal living situations are happening right now, all over Davis. When four or five friends get together and sign the lease on a rental house for a year, they will usually get their own room, often with a lock on it, obviously with shared living spaces.
Sometimes, these rentals are the dreaded mini dorms. I myself lived in a similar situation for several years in my mid to late twenties. During those years, I lived with UCD students, working poor folks, co-workers, young professionals, couples, and eventually my best man and one of my groomsmen.
While the living situation was not always perfect, it was a way for us to share space, and thrive in Davis. It would have been great to have my own one-bedroom apartment, but that just wasn’t economically possible, so me and five of my 20-something friends moved into a quiet neighborhood near Davis Athletic Club.
I have UFCW members who live in similar shared living spaces right now. One lives in a living room of a rented house. I know a lot of people who, when faced with a similar situation, have to move back home. They can’t find living space or enough roommates with combined income needed to rent an apartment, thus are sharing space with their immediate family.
Shared living spaces already exist in Davis, and have existed for a long time, so why try and prevent new shared by design living spaces from being built?
This question brings me to my next point. Densification is happening in Davis, whether we want it to or not. Students, workers, young professionals, families, literally anyone who rents are increasingly being forced by market conditions to pool their resources to afford the increases in rent.
It means more single family homes being turned into rentals in neighborhoods, it means more people packed into those existing one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments some people have been asking the city council for. It means more people being forced out of Davis into surrounding communities, who in turn commute into town. Its the natural reaction to worsening market conditions for renters.
The way I see it, densification is going to happen. If we as a community are smart, we will do it by design. We will build infrastructure to accommodate densification, plan commerce centers and transportation policy to accommodate densification and plan for a more sustainable, lower carbon footprint future. Or, we can choose to not plan for it, to fight it, and allow it to happen, dare I say, “naturally” through mini dorms in otherwise quiet neighborhoods, apartment stuffing, working poor dislocation and sky-high rent increases.
For the most part, people in Davis (myself included) strongly support the effective urban growth boundary created by Measure J/R. It allows us leverage with developers, protects precious farmland and native species of all kinds. In practice, this means that sprawl as a way to solve our housing crisis problems is off the table. (nobody wants sprawl).
If we are not going to build out, then that means we ought to build up in order to protect the quality of life we all have in Davis. If there is enough rental housing catered to the needs of renters, then hopefully those single family rentals down the block can be rented by, you know… families. If part of the solution to the housing crisis means dense, tall, compact, shared living space “mega dorms” on a bus line with bike lanes, then so be it. Doesn’t sound so bad to me.
Sean Raycraft is a lifelong Davis resident, and Shop Steward with UFCW 8. “Opinions stated are my own, and are not reflective of the views of any candidates I support.”