Commentary: Council Has a Chance to End Our Student Housing Crisis Right Now

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Tonight if you are listening to the discussion, you will hear horror stories that are occurring within our own community.  Students living in their cars because they can neither afford housing in town nor is there sufficient room.  Students who are packed six to a room, sleeping on the floor or “couch surfing.”

Substandard living conditions caused by negligent and absentee landlords and a seller’s market.  Students are already looking for next year’s housing and some are not finding any.

There is a common denominator here – these problems are due to a tight rental market that remains at roughly 0.4 percent vacancy.  That means there only a few handfuls of vacant rooms at any one time – and many of them are either too expensive or in poor condition.  Students are ending up on or near the streets and many are exploited by predatory practices.

There is also a common denominator for those who are opposing projects like Nishi – most of the people opposing the projects own their own homes, they purchased homes in Davis when the cost of housing was less than $100,000 for a reasonable home, and they don’t have to worry about where they are going to live next year or how they are going to pay for it.

Normally, we would say that one housing project is not going to solve all the problems.  But Nishi with 2200 beds, coupled with Sterling and Lincoln40 and combined with the 8500 on-campus beds promised by the chancellor over the next decade, has the real possibility of adding 13,000 new beds which will for the time being end the housing crisis and push us close to the 5 percent vacancy rate goal that the city has established.

Meet Nishi 2.0, now referred to as Nishi: Student Living Next to Campus.

No Measure R project has won a vote in Davis, but Nishi came close, falling just 700 votes short and the “Student Living Next to Campus” version of the project figures to address key concerns.

Of course, not everyone believes that this project is “ready for prime time.”  But I would argue that most of the calls for Nishi not being ready for prime time have been made by people who did not support the original Nishi project and will not support the next Nishi project, regardless of what it looks like.

If you really believe that Nishi is not ready for prime time, there is a mechanism to deal with it – vote no.

However, we believe that 50 students or more will show up to argue for why you should vote yes.  The question is will you ignore their calls and insist that the campus should solve the problems.

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.”

As Aaron Latta pointed out in a comment, “I agree that the university should build more but to describe asking the university for more housing as a viable third option to our crisis is not sound. As of right now there is very little guarantee that meeting with university officials will result in greater on campus housing.”

We always hear the question: what’s the rush?  The truth is, that is often the case.  Even with a prolonged planning process, people in 2016 were asking what’s the rush, arguing to delay putting the project on the ballot until November, etc.

That’s the nature of projects.  But it is also the nature of anything.  When we hold an event, I also feel like if I only had one more week, I’d be in better shape.  When I went to school, I always thought, gee if I had just one more week to study or one more day, one more week for that presentation…  But the reality is that most of the time, one more week will only mean you delay a little longer before getting started in earnest and the extra time would not prove nearly as beneficial as you think.

We are never ready for prime time, we can always theoretically benefit from additional time, but it comes time to call the question.

With Nishi, the truth is we have had more evaluation of this project than any other.  We know the site.  We know its strengths.  We know its weaknesses.  This is not a new site.  It is really not a new project.

We have a better sense for this project now than we did at this time two years ago.  There were major weaknesses two years ago in terms of road impacts and lack of affordable housing that have been fixed.  We have a better sense of the air quality situation.  And we have done what can be done to mitigate those concerns.

We have commitment from UC Davis on the university access.  The council will be quite familiar with the need for assurances from the developer.  I really don’t see what we gain from delay.  I really don’t.

And of course it is easy for people who have stable roofs over their heads to see nothing to lose by delay, while those who are not housing secure see the current situation as an urgent emergency.

In the end, the voters have the choice.  If the project is not ready for prime time, you have the right to vote no.  But I believe it is time to call the question.  Our students deserve an answer from the community as to whether they will have enough housing in the near future, or whether they will have to continue to live in their cars and on the couches of their friends’ houses.

As you go to bed late tonight in your housing security, it might help for you to keep in mind that not everyone in this community is as housing secure as you.

—David M. Greenwald reporting



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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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7 thoughts on “Commentary: Council Has a Chance to End Our Student Housing Crisis Right Now”

  1. Tia Will

    David

    “Council has a chance to end our student housing crisis right now”

    But Nishi with 2200 beds, coupled with Sterling and Lincoln40 and combined with the 8500 on-campus beds promised by the chancellor over the next decade has the real possibility of adding 13,000 new beds which will for the time being end the housing crisis and push us close to the 5 percent vacancy rate goal that the city has established.”

    I want to preface my objection by stating that I was an advocate for Nishi 1. I am an advocate for Nishi 2. I am not in opposition to the Lincoln40 despite the fact that it is within a block of my house and I will see it immediately upon stepping outside and continuously from my front patio which I use daily, weather permitting.

    However, in my opinion, your hyperbolic use of the words “end crisis right now”, coupled with a convenient change in time frame do not strengthen your argument. 13,000 new beds over a decade do not solve the crisis we have now. It may not even address the “crisis” that we have then since we cannot predict how the university’s ambition will effect admissions nor can we predict how many of these students will want to stay in Davis after completing their education.

    So, while I agree with you that we need to provide for the students needing housing now and that dormitory like settings are an efficient means of doing so, please let’s not pretend that today’s construction is a panacea for future growth as it is just as likely to provide additional need as to “cure it”.

    1. David Greenwald

      Actually I did preface the point in the section you quoted: “will for the time being end the housing crisis“ as a showing that I never intended to imply this was a permanent solution.

        1. Howard P

          Ok…we agree on timeframe… but nothing is “over” this year…

          Oh… and the 6000 new beds… doable, but optimistic… let’s revisit your post Dec 31, 2020…

  2. Tia Will

    David

    I know. The discrepancy between your header and content just struck me. As well as the possibility that the current solution may actually have long term downsides due to the uncertainty about numbers of students desiring to stay.

  3. Todd Edelman

    We have a MERV 13-rated filter for our forced air system now – had to buy them ourselves. This is exactly what’s planned for Lincoln40 (per what I’ve seen in the documentation) and also for Nishi (based on what Dr. Charles B. Salocks said in the past two days in the same letter to the Davis Enterprise and the Davis Vanguard.) The forced air system works best in terms of filtration when the windows are closed, but of course our windows are not required to be closed and everyone is free to open them – like in most places – sometimes  for sleeping at night or if e.g. someone cooks onions and garlic with the wrong oil and needs to ventilate the house quickly. I like open windows, and also the feeling of being able to open windows. I can’t imagine living in an apartment for one or two years where I was not allowed to open the windows, and even keep doors only briefly open, in order to honor my rental contract.
    But this is exactly what will need to be required at Nishi if the EIR mitigation measures for interior air are respected.

    In regards to Mitigation Measure 4.3-5c listed in the “Nishi Residential Development Project Environmental Checklist Addendum to the Nishi Gateway EIR”:

    To start, “… minimal removal efficiency of 95 percent for UFP (ultra fine particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter of 0.1 microns)” is based on a “closed” system, i.e. closed windows and also doors that are only open intermittently to allow egress.

    If there’s a closed – and more-or-less non-cheatable – system, the windows will be essentially sealed (except for emergency use). If not sealed, it seems logical to conclude that residents will be required (condition of tenancy) to keep them closed. At a very minimum residents may just be advised to keep them closed – if this is the case, how will this be communicated, but more important than that, how can this low threshold be a match for required mitigation in the EIR?

    Dr. Salocks said that “MERV 13” filters will be used at Nishi. Is this in fact the current conclusion of the developers, i.e. the solution for indoor air quality? Essentially the same thing for Lincoln40, which is less controversial in regards to air quality as it’s further from the freeway? Here’s the crucial point: MERV 13 filters have less than “75%” efficiency” for particles 0.3  microns in size. UFP are 0.1 microns in size, three times smaller than that.  Even if the same number of 0.1 as 0.3 micron particles are removed by a MERV 13 filter, it still only does it at less than 75% efficiency, not 95% as required in the EIR. For a detailed description of MERV 13’s efficacy see https://nordicpure.com/what-is-merv/ (from ASHRAE source.) . I see no concrete information anywhere that any system can provide 95% efficiency in removing 0.1 micron particles in an apartment with windows that can be opened.

    The EIR addendum also references the system developed by the DELTA Group led by Dr. Thomas A. Cahill as a solution for the 95% goal. In a tightly-controlled environment it’s had up to 98% efficiency for 0.1 micron particles, but – as says in his book I Can Breathe Clearly Now: Protecting Yourself From Air Pollution and today in the Davis Vanguard – in an active building, i.e. a real world situation, it has not achieved results over 75%. The developers and/or other consultants seem to misunderstand this system. Again, it shows that the Nishi project – with apartments with typically-desirable open windows – cannot come close to meeting the mitigation requirements in the EIR.

    I don’t think many will desire to live for one or two years in an apartment with windows that cannot be opened. But moreover I don’t think that it’s appropriate for behavioral health reasons, even if it’s – technically-speaking – relatively clean inside. Few would not like to live in a sealed hotel-like room for so long. Further, anything less than a more-or-less un-tamperable seal will work against the explicit intentions of the mitigation measures in the EIR. With sealed windows, residents will just sit outside sometimes, where the air is less clean.

    Therefore it is my conclusion that the Nishi Residential Development Project is simply not realistically-suitable for occupation according to conditions of the EIR. It should not be approved  by City Council at this time.
    The proposed project or a variant can possibly be approved in the future when the interior air does not require the filtration necessary in a sealed apartment arrangement as is required in the EIR addendum.

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