What’s So Bad about Shared Housing?

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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.”

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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39 thoughts on “What’s So Bad about Shared Housing?”

  1. Howard P

    Sean… there is absolutely not anything ‘wrong’ about co-housing/shared housing… it is a niche, but a significant niche… one person(s) “mega-dorm” is another person(s) shared housing… thank you for your contribution to the discussion.

    It gets to function rather than “labels”, or invented “buzz-words”, or words meant to villify.

  2. Ron

    There’s nothing “bad” about shared housing.

    The underlying battle is how much, and how long the city must continue accommodating UCD’s enrollment plans, which is impacting and costing the city (e.g., regarding Affordable housing, impact fees, and parcel taxes – all of which are shortchanged by large-unit structures). 

    Not to mention “commute” traffic to/from UCD (via some of the most impacted intersections in town), as well as ongoing/permanent shortfalls in long-term property tax revenue resulting from megadorms.

    Regardless of what is built (on-campus, or off), I doubt that it will make much difference regarding “mini-dorm” rentals, close to UCD.

    Next month, UCD is apparently planning to announce an increase in the amount of planned on-campus housing.  We shall see.

    Until/unless things are settled between the city and UCD, it’s pretty difficult for the city to accomplish planning for the non-student groups described in the article, above.

    1. David Greenwald

      It’s a weird argument you continue to make.  First of all the city hadn’t added market rate apartments for 15 years period to Sterling.  Second, the university has added to the wealth and prosperity of the community. So I think the real question is what should the symbiotic relationship between the university and city be.  I understand the need for the university to add more housing on campus and I agree with that, but even if the university houses half the students on campus, there is a need for the city to house the other half and do so in a way so that the current crunch doesn’t exist.

      1. Ron

        David:  “It’s a weird argument you continue to make.  First of all the city hadn’t added market rate apartments for 15 years period to Sterling.  Second, the university has added to the wealth and prosperity of the community.”

        I see that you’re interested in “going down the rabbit hole”, again.

        Regarding your first point:  The city does not directly build anything.  Developers do, and they are impacted by market downturns, which only recently let up.  It’s up to the city to set parameters for such development.  For the most part, the city has been disregarding its own parameters, lately.

        I forgot to mention proposed conversions of commercial space, to accommodate UCD’s plans. By the way, didn’t UCD recently try to purchase a large-scale existing commercial development in the city (Interland?), which would have resulted in removal from tax rolls?

        Regarding your second point, UCD is aggresively pursuing full-tuition non-resident students (and private grants, I believe), which might cause one to think about its tax-free status – in which it makes no contribution to offset its impacts to the city, itself.

      2. Ron

        David:  “I understand the need for the university to add more housing on campus and I agree with that, but even if the university houses half the students on campus, there is a need for the city to house the other half and do so in a way so that the current crunch doesn’t exist.”

        As previously noted, the city is already housing 63% of UCD’s students. (With another 8% living in surrounding communities.)

        1. Ron

          Really?  You first state that the city must “house the other half”, and then change the subject when it’s pointed out that the city already houses 63% (with another 8% housed in surrounding communities)?

          1. David Greenwald

            I didn’t state that the city did house the other half, I said I support a 50% plan which would require the city to house the other half.

        2. Ron

          Huh?  Let’s just re-paste your quote (and my response), from above:

          David:  “I understand the need for the university to add more housing on campus and I agree with that, but even if the university houses half the students on campus, there is a need for the city to house the other half and do so in a way so that the current crunch doesn’t exist.”

          As previously noted, the city is already housing 63% of UCD’s students. (With another 8% living in surrounding communities.)

  3. PhilColeman

    An intriguing concept, worthy of at lease some further discussion and examination. You can’t argue the point that we allow a self-imposed constraint of isolation and exclusivity at the expense of reduced housing for the many others.

    A particular demographic was overlooked, seniors. Older couples having comfortable spacious housing arrangements resulting from years of labor and mortgage payments, have spare bedrooms. Empty nesters.

    Fate dictates that one of the couples will eventually become a single with the death of a partner. Widows and widowers all over Davis rattle around in a large empty house, lonely and craving for companionship and conversation partners.

    While there would be be generation gaps discouraging these same persons from having a shared living arrangement with students and such, surely there is the potential for a shared-senior dynamic.

    Many seniors abhor the idea of moving into an institutionalized housing setting–known as senior accommodations. Two lonely seniors in spacious family homes could consolidate. They negotiate and share common living and eating areas while still have some privacy in a home setting. The incoming tenant/companion could sell the underutilized house to a family looking for a multi-bedroom home.

    To further stimulate such a notion, local government could give incentives in the way of property tax concessions. This would move government officials from talking and listening, to solving.

    1. Howard P

      Funny… when my grandparents were becoming empty nesters, in a college town (State College, PA), coming out of the Depression, they took in student “boarders”… rent included kitchen privileges, and often, prepared meals that they were welcome to share with my GP’s.  Worked great for all, financially and socially (and got me an invitation to have a free, guided tour of Eisenhower’s farm in Gettysburg in 1964!) [former boarder graduated from Penn State, and was the operational manager of Ike’s farm]

      ‘There is nothing new under the sun’, for those who look for tools to address housing needs… the concept should definitely be in the “toolbox”… worked in the past… not sure if incentives other than room/board payments are necessary, but that should be considered as another tool.

  4. Sean Raycraft

    I for one would be interested in learning more about senior shared living space projects. The whole point of this was to show that the interests of renters are not divergent.

  5. Sharla C.

    My son lives in a house with other roommates.  To do this, he had to personally pass a credit check, but still needs me to co-sign his lease.  His roommates were required to do the same thing.   Each renter, and each cosigner, is 100% responsible for the lease.  So if someone moves or dies or can’t pay their rent, the landlord can demand payment from anyone of the other renters and their co-signers.  This is a risky financial contract with people I don’t know and we’ve paid dearly when the housing arrangement collapsed in the past.   Many single people or couples who rent cannot take on this level of liability and/or do not have a qualified co-signer willing to take on this liability, so end up in substandard housing or non-optimum living situations.  To be able to rent a single room with a bathroom and have access to a kitchen and common area, and not have to take on the financial liability for the entire unit, would be a benefit and provide greater access to housing.  As a young single adult, I would have welcomed this housing opportunity, instead of dealing with constant roommate issues regarding cleanliness and theft and the financial risks of entering into a contract with people I didn’t really know that well.

      1. David Greenwald

        I know a student who I previously worked with who had problems with a roommate and the landlord ended up kicking them all out whereas if they had individual leases, they could have kept the other tenants and kicked out the problem person.

        1. Ron

          Alternatively, I can see that individual leaseholders might not have much “say” regarding a “problem roommate” – as long as that individual pays his/her individual rent.

          But again, the overriding issue (regarding the city as a whole) is how much, and how long the city must continue accommodating UCD’s enrollment plans (to the detriment of other plans, impacts, and costs).

          1. David Greenwald

            “But again, the overriding issue (regarding the city as a whole) is how much, and how long the city must continue accommodating UCD’s enrollment plans (to the detriment of other plans, impacts, and costs).”

            An overriding issue that ignores the benefits that the city and its residents derive from the university. In other words, a very selfish view.

        2. Ron

          David:  “An overriding issue that ignores the benefits that the city and its residents derive from the university. In other words, a very selfish view.”

          So, you feel that the city “owes” the university (some undefined/undetermined amount), resulting in the city forever accommodating whatever UCD’s plans are (regardless of the impact on the city and its plans).  Despite the fact that UCD pays no taxes to offset costs/impacts, and pursues off-site developments (including both residential and commercial developments), resulting in reductions in tax rolls.  And, displaces non-student renters. (While aggressively pursuing non-resident students, for the triple tuition that they pay.)

          O.K. – I guess we’ll have to disagree on this.

    1. Eric Gelber

      My initial response to this article was that it is a straw man argument, since I haven’t seen anyone arguing that shared housing is bad, per se. As Sean notes, there already are myriad types of shared housing arrangements in Davis. And, as I noted in commenting on an earlier article, census data suggest that about 71.5% of Davis rental households are nonfamily households. Shared housing is not only not bad, it’s ubiquitous.

      The controversy has been over the mega-dorm model vs. other, more traditional, multi-family housing—e.g., a mix of 1, 2, and 3-bedroom apartments—that are generally more suitable to a broader segment of the community, including family households.

      The points made by Sharla, however, are the most persuasive I’ve seen here in support of the so-called mega-dorm shared housing model vs. other shared arrangements and convince me that this should be one of the alternatives available in the City for students and others. Thanks for that.

    2. Don Shor

      I’ve heard variations of this story many times. People have no idea how difficult it is for young adults to get into rental housing in Davis. Yes, some young adults who are not UC students will likely live in the multi-unit apartment projects that are being proposed. Many of these young adults are students at local community colleges, and/or employees at local businesses. They have connections to Davis and spend a lot of time trying to find housing locally.
      If UC master leases units, these folks are out of luck. That is an area where the council can and should take action. But the repeated assertion that these rental projects are exclusively for students is just not true.

      1. Ken A

        Most Davis homeowners I talk to know rents are going up, but they don’t really care, the fact that for over a decade “most” people have voted for less housing in town (almost everyone voted when the Wildhorse Ranch project had about 75% vote against it) proves this.  This weekend I was at a Davis birthday party and people were joking that they are impressed the NIMBY people have so much free time to fight any project yelling that it is either too big or too small, too close to the railroad tracks or too far from public transportation.  What surprised me is that I found out that many rich homeowners are supporting rent control not to help poor people out but because that they know that if Davis gets rent control it will make it MUCH harder for any developer to finance any apartments and they won’t have to make up fake reasons to oppose new apartment development anymore.  Rent control will also reduce turnover and raise rents so it will make it harder for any new poor people to move here (and being their poor kids that lower Davis test scores).

        1. Howard P

          Interesting perspective(s)… sounds credible…

          As a HO for 37 years, with a fully paid off mortgage, and fully paid off MR (City… good luck finding out from DJUSD on how to pay off those…), I guess I shouldn’t care either, but I was once a student here, scraping by, and when I came back after college, I was @ the very lowest end of ‘middle-class’ (or very highest end of ‘lower-class’… not sure which), still ‘scraping by’… so, I care…

          Rent control is counter-productive in my view… affordable housing (rental) is very important… only a snotty jerk (being charitable in terms) wants to keep “them” (lower income folk) excluded from the community, due to housing policies (or, actually, any other reason)…

          Good post… holds the mirror up to a significant number of folk posting here, and/or the community at large…

        2. Howard P

          Uh, David, if they have children/friends or general societal concerns about Davis?  You’re sounding a bit like a certain Dickens character… think his initials were ES… [now, (another) ES, KO, R_?]

          Or, was your tongue deeply in cheek?

          1. David Greenwald

            Sorry to be cynical and overly generalize, but that’s really been my impression in covering this issue over the last eighteen months or so.

        3. Keith O

          Howard

          Uh, David, if they have children/friends or general societal concerns about Davis?  You’re sounding a bit like a certain Dickens character… think his initials were ES… [now, (another) ES, KO, R_?]

          Uh Howard, KO has stated on here several times that he voted for Nishi, is for Nishi II and pro all other apartment developments now in the pipeline.  Also, unlike the people in Ken’s supposed story, I’m against rent control.

          But since we’re talking about characters it brings to mind a certain troll who lives under a bridge, think his intials are now HP.

      1. Keith O

        My daughter shared a house on one of the college named streets with 5 other students.  They all had to sign their own lease and parents had to co-sign.  I put down an $800 deposit.  When they moved out my deposit ended up in one of her roommate’s pocket given to him by the house owner.  I called the owner, a huge real estate tycoon in town, and asked why he gave my deposit to one of the other tenants.  Long story short and after much run around I had to threaten to take him to renter arbitration to finally get my money back.

  6. Ron

    Ken:  “What surprised me is that I found out that many rich homeowners are supporting rent control not to help poor people out but because that they know that if Davis gets rent control it will make it MUCH harder for any developer to finance any apartments and they won’t have to make up fake reasons to oppose new apartment development anymore.”

    That “surprises” me, as well.  Especially since those homeowners are mistaken (assuming that the story is accurate).  California law prevents cities from enacting rent control for dwellings/units which have a certificate of occupancy issued after February 1, 1995.

    https://www.cityofberkeley.info/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=9516

      1. Ron

        Keith:  It does sound a little strange.

        Regardless, I appreciate your support – which you demonstrate even when we don’t always agree.  That’s a sign of class, for lack of a better word.  It’s too bad that there isn’t more of that on the Vanguard. Instead, we (as a group) seem to assume the worst about each other. (And, it often seems to get worse over time, instead of better – as one might expect as a result of greater understanding.)

        Truth be told, no two people see things exactly the same way.

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