The Vanguard has long been critical of UC Davis’ on-campus housing policies, noting that the community and university had agreed that UC Davis would expand on-campus housing per an MOU – only to have the housing never built. And so when the issue of student housing started to emerge in the fall of 2015, in advance of the university’s planning for the Long Range Development Plan, it only made sense to push for the university to push for more housing on campus.
When the university released their first iteration they acknowledged they could not accommodate all enrollment growth with housing on campus, and later released a plan to accommodate 90 percent of new enrollment with housing on campus, an increase of roughly 6200 beds. It was an improvement, but it did not go far enough.
Community members and the council and other bodies agreed that the university should provide 100 percent of new enrollment with the possibility of on-campus housing and increase its overall share to 50 percent. That would be to add 10,000 beds to campus.
I remain in agreement with that resolution. However, where I part ways with some of the activists is that I also see the need for the city of Davis to add housing. This marks a definite shift for myself as well as the Vanguard which has long supported policies like Measure J/Measure R and other slow growth measures.
Truth be told, we remain supporters of these slow growth measures, however, we believe that the community does need to figure out ways to provide more housing and not just for students. We have a shortage of housing that is affordable for families as well.
For those who believe this marks a radical shift in the Vanguard’s philosophy, the truth is it is more an evolutionary shift. We have long opposed new peripheral housing and it should be noted
that the current housing proposals in question are all infill projects with the exception of Nishi – which for many intents and purposes is also an infill project, surrounded on three of the four sides by existing development and containment between I-80 and the university.
What changed then? To understand that better, we should look at the housing discussion in April of last year (2017) on Sterling.
Student after student came forward at that meeting to talk about the impact of the housing shortage.
As one student put it: “Students and other Davis renters suffer from a severe housing shortage. This shortage causes a lot of rent increases and low to non-existent vacancy rates. I struggle from April to August to find a place to live in Davis and I had to prepare myself to be homeless if I could not find a place.”
While students have come out in favor of housing projects before, this time it was different. The voices were stronger, they were more personal, they were desperate, and the council, hearing those voices, felt compelled to act, even on what they acknowledged to be an imperfect project.
As Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee put it, “You can sense the desperation.” The situation is bad, and, as a former student, I think we owe it to the next generation of students to remove the issue of housing from their concerns about getting an affordable education.
It is one thing to know intellectually we have a 0.2 percent vacancy rate. It is another thing to hear of the impacts on the students. The students need to start looking for housing early in the process – and for some students, they end up moving onto campus in September and needing to find housing just two months later for the next year.
Samantha Chiang, then ASUCD Senate President Pro Tem, said that many students are “forced to start their housing search in November of their first year, only to not find a house and be forced to couch surf in the following year. We cannot be pawns in the game between the city and the university – we are consistently advocating on both ends to increase housing.”
The affordability factor is a problem.
At that meeting in April, Sara Williams, then a fourth-year student and the Chair of the ASUCD External Affairs Commission, noted that she has four jobs to pay her rent. Others aren’t so lucky, living on the couches of their friends or in their cars because they cannot afford the cost of rent.
Then are the nightmares for both renters and neighbors of absentee landlords and substandard conditions including lack of air conditioning, heat, and even electricity – and until the city passed the rental inspection ordinance, there was a lack of an enforcement mechanism to ensure that student renters are not being taken advantage of.
Following this meeting, the Vanguard reached out to the university and met with three students last May – Daniel Nagey is an ASUCD Senator, Sara Williams is the External Affairs Commission Chair, and Georgia Savage is the Director of the Office of Advocacy and Student Representation (OASR).
One of the questions was – what do the students want?
Sara Williams made the point, “We have been talking about how students would prefer to live on campus, but I really don’t want to go as far as to say that we would love to live there for all four years…
“That is what I want so badly for the university to step up on – housing 100 percent of the growth that they see in the long range development plan,” she added.
Daniel Nagey said, “That’s what we want to see, at least 50 (percent of the students on campus) if not more.”
Georgia Savage pointed out, “The relief has come from the city – it has not come from the school. And the receptiveness to the looming problem of student homelessness, and the response to that, has largely been from our city versus the school (with which) we have also had these meetings and (are) pressuring.”
“They (the university) do give us a sense that they’re listening – it’s just that we never see anything come of those conversations,” Sara Williams said. “We’ve been talking about this since fall.”
The bottom line is this – the Vanguard continues to believe that UC Davis can and should build more housing than it has on campus.
The Vanguard has consistently argued that 40 percent of overall on-campus housing is not enough and that UC Davis needs to go to 50 percent.
Beyond this position it is important to understand the numbers here.
Right now the university in its Long Range Development Plan is proposing building about 6200 new beds for campus. The university is projecting, within ten years of growing, to be at just under 40,000 students. So the gap between the 40 percent proposed now and the 50 percent that we prefer is about 4000 beds.
So, in effect, what we are arguing is that there need to be about 10,000 new beds for students in the next ten years. Right now – even before additional campus growth – the city has a 0.2 percent vacancy rate which means, at any given time, of the 9969 units that were surveyed in the report (accounting for 83 percent of all multifamily housing stock) there were less than 30 units available to rent.
The city has already approved Sterling, and now we have several other proposals coming forward. Lincoln40 figures to be next, there is also Plaza 2555, Nishi, and Oxford Circle.
There has been a lot of debate over the type of housing we should have in Davis – the Vanguard has largely argued against the notion that these are “mega-dorms” and frankly, even if they are, if they provide housing to students, the largest renter group and the fastest growing, so what?
If we can find a way to add 5000 or so beds in the city, coupling that with the 6200 beds on campus, we have enough beds to alleviate the housing crisis.
The bottom line is that the situation is bad and we are in the position to do something to change it without hugely altering the fabric of our community.
—David M. Greenwald reporting