by Eric Gelber
The Vanguard has recently run a number of articles touting the virtues of the West Davis Active Adult Community (WDAAC), a proposed senior housing development in northwest Davis. Two of the articles offer legal opinions on the so-called Davis Based Buyers Program, which would establish preferences for Davis residents and other categories of prospective buyers of the for-sale homes in WDAAC. I would suggest that, regardless of legalities, exclusionary and restricted housing is not an option the City—or voters through the Measure J/R process—should approve for meeting its housing needs.
Senior housing is, by definition, restricted housing. But for an explicit exception written into federal and state fair housing laws, such housing would be unlawful because it otherwise violates the prohibition against discrimination based on familial status—i.e., against families with children. Because something is lawful, however, does mean it is sound policy. WDAAC is proposed for 325 for-sale units and 150 affordable apartment units. 80% of the for-sale units and all of the apartment units would be age-restricted. That means only 65 out of a total of 475 housing units (less than 14%) would not be age-restricted—considerably less than the misleading 20% figure suggested by the developer.
Housing that meets the needs of many seniors—e.g., small to moderate size, single-story, universal design—also meets the needs of other groups for whom housing is in short supply—including smaller households, lower income households, households including people with disabilities. The proposed mix of housing with the features and amenities of WDAAC, including the percentage of affordable units, is commendable. But the same housing could be built and meet the needs of many seniors without also discriminating against and excluding other groups having similar or identical needs.
On top of age-based restrictions, WDAAC would additionally restrict purchases of 90% of the for-sale units to current Davis residents and others with a purported connection to Davis. The reason for
this Davis Based Buyers Program is to bolster the argument that WDAAC addresses the intent of Measure R to meet internal housing needs. That argument does not necessarily hold up.
Residency preferences are permitted but they are closely scrutinized to determine if—by design or effect—they substantially disadvantage protected classes. In a community that has a significant white majority, for example, a residency preference would necessarily disadvantage and have the effect of discriminating against racial minorities, whether intended or not.
Davis does not have a white majority of a magnitude typical of most communities in which courts have invalidated residency preferences. Nonetheless, it is worth noting, for example, that Davis’ population is 2.8% Black, compared to 5.9% for the State and 6.5% for Sacramento. Davis’ population is 14.3% Latino compared to 38.6% for California and 46.1% for Woodland. Thus, a preference for Davis residents would necessarily have a disparate impact on, and disadvantage Blacks and Latinos. Similar disparities also exist for graduates of Davis High School and UCD, who would similarly receive priorities under the proposed WDAAC policy. Even if these disparities pass legal muster, the WDAAC policy will likely hinder rather than foster local diversity.
Other features of the Davis Based Buyers Program likewise will do little to address internal needs. A priority for graduates of the Davis school system or UCD means, for example, that an individual who lived in Davis during their senior year in high school or for 4 years of college but otherwise had no prior or subsequent connection to the City (or perhaps even the State) would have priority over lifelong residents of Woodland, Dixon or Sacramento, even those who may have previously worked in Davis.
The Davis Based Buyers Program would also prioritize local employees. Housing for the local workforce is clearly a need. But, consider that 80% of the for-sale units are restricted to homeowners who are at or nearing retirement age. The policy will do little to benefit those local workers most in need of affordable homes—those recently entering the workforce, those raising families, etc. A preference for close relatives of Davis residents, who may have no other prior connection to Davis, similarly will do little to meet local housing needs.
Again, just because a housing restriction is legal does not make it good policy. Davis should value and promote inclusive communities, not restricted-access communities. We should seek to address the needs of seniors, people with disabilities, local workers, families with children, households with limited incomes, and others in all housing development. (A visitability or universal design policy or ordinance would be a good start.) We can meet local housing needs without developing segregated enclaves and without excluding “outsiders.”
About the Author: Eric Gelber is a longtime resident of Davis and disability rights attorney, and would qualify for senior housing.