For many people in this community, the university providing more housing on campus is “the” solution for the student housing crisis. They will point to the amount of land that UC Davis has and the percentage of housing that other campuses house.
The problem of course is that this is neither a new problem or a recent failure. Back in 1989, now nearly 30 years ago, UC Davis and the City of Davis agreed to an MOU in which UC Davis would provide at least 25 percent of housing on campus, and 38 percent of housing on campus by 2012. And yet those promises never materialized.
No one disagrees with the idea that we need more housing on campus, but not only has UC Davis failed to provide that housing on campus historically, they have failed to provide it in an affordable manner.
The problem, as ASUCD President Josh Dalavai put it to the Vanguard last month, is “it doesn’t do students much good if we just erect like ten West Villages and no one can actually afford to live there.”
Along those lines, the numbers we pulled are astounding. Housing on campus is just not affordable.
Keep in mind these appear to be based on a nine-month (actually slightly less than nine months) schedule. Keep in mind that these include room AND meals, but that actually makes it worse.
The monthly cost here is $1473 for triple occupancy, $1626 for double and nearly $1800 for a single room.
Eileen Samitz pushed back on these numbers, noting that they include food. She said, “How can you possibly be trying to compare the cost of on-campus housing which includes meals, to this off campus housing which does not include meals? There is no logic to this desperate comparison of ‘apples to oranges.'”
We know that, and we labeled it appropriately, but if you think students are spending $400 to $600 a month on food by themselves, you don’t know students. More like half of that. The cost of meals makes this housing more, not less, expensive.
Compare those costs to what students will likely spend at Nishi.
The annual subsidy per is $1536 at very low affordable level, then divide it by 12 = $128, add that to the $672 rent and you get $800.
Then $4752 is the annual subsidy per bed for the extremely low, divide it by 12 = $396, add that to the $404 rent and you get $800.
So the estimated market rate – PER THEIR DOCUMENTATION – is $800 (apparently council was rounding off when they said $100, but these exact figures put it in the right range).
Eileen Samitz, interestingly enough, countered that “market-rate for Nishi is ‘estimated at $750-$800’ per bed monthly is just ‘talk.’ There is no commitment to that monthly rental cost for market-rate beds in writing, is there?”
The problem is that all they can do is estimate the cost of the market rate units. I wonder if people understand that market rate means determined by the market and therefore, if they lock in those rates, they would no longer (by definition) be market rate.
And yes, those number don’t include a meal plan, but, by my guess, the students probably spend $1000 to $1100 per month on room and meals as opposed to $1473 to $1800.
Nevertheless, the chancellor deserve some credit at this point for attempting to address key issues. Prior to his arrival on campus, the university was willing to go to 6200 new beds on campus, and in January they announced a plan to get to 8500. While that is still short of the 10,000 we have pushed for, to get the university to 100 percent of new students and 50 percent of all students in the next ten years, they’ve gone a considerable amount of the way there.
The question, of course, is whether they will actually build those 8500 units and whether students will opt to live there when they have much cheaper options off campus. As it is, they are struggling to fill beds at West Village, even in the heart of the housing crisis.
When Chancellor Gary May announced that UC Davis would be adding more on-campus housing, he acknowledged that they cannot solve the housing crisis alone.
He said, “While we are planning the most ambitious student housing construction campaign in campus history, housing market changes cannot be resolved by UC Davis alone.”
Toward that end, the university did what they failed to do in 2016 – they provided the means to support Nishi.
The last time Nishi came up, the university, mired in its own turmoil, let it die on the vine when they could have stepped up and at least made it known that they were supportive of student housing. The MOU is huge, and it shows a commitment by the university.
An MOU is not a signed agreement, but the place can’t be built without the access point. Realistically, the chancellor knows he needs more housing in town and, by hamstringing Nishi (as they did in 2016), they actually work against their own interests.
Finally, in the midst of the affordable housing discussion comes the commitment from the university to look into just that… affordable housing.
In the three task force issues, they will examine affordable student housing, food security and mental health care.
“These are issues that have tremendous impact on our community,” the chancellor said. “UC Davis has a great many services and resources available to our students, but it’s not a static landscape.
“How can we continue to provide the resources our students need effectively and efficiently? That’s what I’m asking the task force members to help me determine.”
Heading up affordable housing will be David Campbell, Cooperative Extension specialist, director of the California Communities Program and associate dean in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Maybe this won’t solve anything, but at least they are looking at it.
There are those who believe that the university has the sole obligation to solve the housing crisis. I don’t share that view. I continue to support the 10,000 bed goal. There are two concerns that remain, however – one is whether those will actually be built and, two, whether they will actually be affordable.
In theory, if we can add 10,000 beds on campus and another 5000 to 6000 off campus, we can get close to the magical 5 percent vacancy rate that will help free up the market. But there is still way too much hope in that statement and not enough follow through.
—David M. Greenwald reporting