While many now acknowledge we have a student housing crisis, the solution offered to that housing crisis has become the demarcation line that will likely serve as the battle line this spring over issues like Nishi and even over the city council election.
There are those who believe that the student housing crisis is simply a problem for the university to resolve, a problem generated by university enrollment growth, and that the city of Davis, a city which serves as the host city to a world-class university, a city made up of college professors and graduates of UC Davis, bears little to no responsibility for making sure that the students have affordable, safe and adequate housing during their time here.
As one writer put it this week, “we don’t want off-campus dormitories.”
The university has available land for more housing – that is for sure. However, at this point, the university, while promising to build about 8500 new beds over the course of the next decade, is not providing affordable housing.
Will that change? Maybe. The university has at least acknowledged this problem and has this week created a task force to look into the issue.
At the same time, 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.”
The question is just how much they can do. Without a commitment to affordable housing, the campus is not solving the housing crisis. 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.”
The numbers are astonishing. On-campus housing is $1473 per month for triple occupancy rooms (that is the combined cost of meals and room). It is $1626 for double occupancy. It is nearly $1800 for a single room.
Compare that to the proposed Nishi project. The market rate homes are projected to be about $800 per bed. We reached out to students this week and found most pay somewhere between $200 and $400 per month for food. That means to live at Nishi, they will be paying roughly $1000 to 1200 a month for food compared to $1500 to $1800 on campus.
That doesn’t even include the actually “Affordable” units that could be reduced down as low as $400 per month.
This week, I was disconcerted presenting these figures to the community. Earlier in the week, I not surprisingly got pushback by Eileen Samitz: “You have proven nothing of the sort, but you sure
are trying to sell your ridiculous comparison of on-campus housing with meals, to off-campus housing without meals. Oh yes, and you believe that students live on $50 a week for food. Right… So you think anybody is believing this desperate pitch of yours? It is simply absurd.”
I had the gall to suggest that, rather than spending $400 to $600 per month on food on campus, students living off campus would often spend half that, which would put them in the $200 to $300 range.
Absurd that students do not have a lot money?
The response has been appalling. As one person pointed out, “David and I know different students (I don’t know anyone getting SNAP benefits) but anyone that spends time on campus or downtown knows that LOTS of students seem to like paying top dollar for prepared food at the CoHo or the many restaurants and coffee shops downtown (including the new ones that sell coffee for over $4 a cup).”
He added, “Today most kids have loans for school and ‘most’ college kids today spend like mad since they don’t have any idea how hard it will be to pay off a six figure loan.”
It is true that UC Davis has it so that 57 percent of resident undergraduates have their tuitions covered, but that is generally because they are on the lower side of the income scale and the cost of rent and food remains prohibitive for many of these students.
As another poster correctly points out: “My perspective is that UCD students are being bifurcated into two economic groups due to the economic circumstances resulting from primarily tuition and housing costs that have increased way beyond the rate of inflation for decades. One has enough resources to live comfortably and the other does not.
“My perspective is that the ‘have not’ cohort is much larger than we observe because they are living off a large and growing student debt liability.”
He argued: “It is ludicrous to oppose student housing development on the argument that students have enough money to live well. The huge increase in student debt is a looming bubble of economic catastrophe. Americans are not saving enough for retirement… and spending on higher learning is contributing to that problem. Affordable housing for students is a social justice cause worth pursuing.”
At the end of the day, my biggest concern is that many in this community do not seem to have any kind of real relationships with students. I work with students on a daily basis. Many of the people I talked to were simply students I have had a regular relationship with and I reached out to them to gain an understanding of their spending habits.
I didn’t select the students on any sort of basis, instead I got a fair cross-section of the students involved in our court watch program as well as student government. Since I posted the original inquiry, I have gotten more and more responses which jibe with the initial set of data.
At the end of the day, this community has a housing crisis. The university has stepped up to provide 8500 beds to accommodate their student housing needs. The city is in the process of approving between 5000 and 6000 of its own. If both the city’s commitment and the university’s get build, we will have gone a long way toward solving our housing crisis for the next generation of students, but we need to look more at issues like affordability and food security as those seem to be hidden problems needing to be resolved.
—David M. Greenwald reporting