Last month UC Davis, after 17 months of holding out at 6200 additional beds over the next decade, finally agreed to increase their on-campus allotment to 8500. While that number falls still a little shy of the 10,000 many hoped the university would add, it represents a major step forward.
As I have come to believe, with the addition of 8500 new beds on campus combined with 5000 to 6000 additional beds in the city of Davis, the community has a chance to put the student housing crisis to rest – at least for the next decade. We will have a chance to increase the vacancy rate, which will ease the housing crunch and provide cost relief for many students.
However, increasingly, I have heard from students groups, including the outgoing ASUCD President Josh Dalavai, that simply building housing – while helpful for increasing supply – may not be enough. We need to find ways to improve affordability.
This is a key problem because many believe that the housing crisis is generated by the university and needs to be solved by the university. Leaving aside philosophical questions about the obligation of the host community to provide housing for students, there is the practical matter that, simply put, it is far more expensive to live on campus than off.
We are not talking about a small amount either. We are talking about 50 percent more expensive. Last week, we noted that the cost of buying a university meal plan in some cases is twice the cost of students purchasing their own food in town.
While some have questioned this data, the data keep coming back to the same conclusion. The university estimates that the monthly cost of room and meals for a triple occupancy room is $1473, then it goes to $1626 for double occupancy and nearly $1800 for a single room.
Not only was the university charging above market for rooms (even to share a room with two other people it is above the average market rate unit in Davis), but the students are spending an additional $400 to $600 a month on food – whereas, from talking to students, some in town get away with spending less than $50 per week on food, and that goes up to as much as $100 to $150 a week, depending on the student.
Some have chosen not to believe my admittedly non-scientific survey to estimate weekly food costs. Fine.
We have more evidence, UC Davis’ own average cost of attendance (http://financialaid.ucdavis.edu/undergraduate/cost.html) – the figures that the university uses “to determine financial aid eligibility. It includes tuition and fees as well as average amounts for standard expenses such as books, supplies, room, board, and other living expenses for three quarters of study.”
They come up with figures very similar to our estimates. They say $16,136 for on-campus living, $9792 for off-campus living. That comes to just under $1800 per month (the figure provided for single-room living) on campus versus $1088 off campus.
These numbers pretty much corroborate our original estimates. Bear in mind, these estimate the costs of just “three quarters of study.” The university notes: “Eligible expenses must occur between mid-September through mid-June.” In other words, the on-campus total is only for nine months, rather than a year. But it does show us that on-campus costs here are 64 percent more than the costs of living off campus.
Why is it so much more expensive to live on campus than off campus? I think that is a necessary follow up step.
In comments I have speculated a number of possibilities. There are structural reasons why construction costs are higher on campus, even though the university lacks the additional cost of land. Prevailing wage laws play a role.
When we met with student leaders in the spring of 2017, they indicated that there were a number of fees paying for various programs that added to the costs.
Students are able to find ways to save on food that they cannot utilize with a meal plan.
There are market efficiencies that do not exist for on-campus housing, and that do for off-campus housing.
This is all speculation that may add up to combine to create the huge cost differentials, but it is important to understand that these are not small costs. We are talking about 50 to 64 percent more expensive – even by the university estimates.
Some believe this is a UC Davis problem, but it appears endemic to the system. For instance, a 2015 LA Times articles on UCLA reports: “After sharing dorm rooms for two years, he is moving to a two-bedroom apartment in the Westwood area that he said will offer the chance to live and eat more cheaply, and have more independence from university-controlled housing. With rent shared by three friends and lower food costs, he anticipates saving about $2,000 by next summer, even after having to buy some second-hand furniture and dishes, silverware and glasses.”
And that is in Westwood, which figures to make Davis appears inexpensive.
In 2015-16, “the average cost of UC undergraduates’ on-campus residence with a full meal plan will be about $14,200, which is $1,000, or 7.6%, higher than in 2011.”
While that would appear cheaper than the UC Davis figure from 2017-18, adjusting it for the same 7.6 increase over a three-year period it is pretty much in the same ballpark, at around $15,000 compared to $16,000 in Davis.
In other words, UC Davis is right in the same ballpark as the rest of the system in terms of costs, and any way you slice it , it is far less expensive to live off campus than on campus.
UC Davis has commissioned a study to figure out better ways to provide affordable housing on campus. But those who are inclined to oppose Nishi on affordability costs need to consider this. The market rate costs for a bed are projected to be about $800 per month at Nishi. Students in the market rate units figure to spend perhaps between $400 and $800 over what they would spend at West Village. That doesn’t take into account the $404 units for extremely low income students and $670 for very low income students.
As ASUCD President Josh Dalavai put it to the Vanguard last month, “It doesn’t do students much good if we just erect like ten West Villages and no one can actually afford to live there.”
And as we now know, there are substantial amounts of vacancies at West Village. The 2016-17 design capacity at West Village was 2579, and the occupancy was 2026. While that is not going to solve the Davis student housing crisis, it does point to a structural problem.
Here you have a 22 percent vacancy rate at a facility in the midst of a community that overall has less than a 0.4 percent vacancy rate. We need to figure out the solution not only to gain more capacity but also more affordability for students.
As it stands right now, many students are living in cars or crammed into other housing rather than paying the $1800 a month it costs to live in a single-occupancy unit at West Village. That’s very telling.
—David M. Greenwald reporting