Sunday Commentary: Why Is This Community So Antagonistic to Students?

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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



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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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70 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: Why Is This Community So Antagonistic to Students?”

  1. Keith O

    students living off campus would often spend half that, which would put them in the $200 to $300 range.

    I don’t think anyone disagrees with this statement as written, but here’s what you wrote earlier that you received much pushback on:

    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. 

    You made a blanket statement that was false.  Some students might be which was acknowledged.

    1. David Greenwald

      I think the original statement was correct as well, students are spending “more like half” $400 to $600, probably would have been better to see a good portion of students rather than leaving it a more blanket statement, but there is a large portion of students spending somewhere between $50 and $75 per week on food and Eileen’s response, is that’s absurd.  Welll it’s not absurd.

      1. Eileen Samitz

        Again David, as it has been pointed out, you take a small sampling and claim it “is” the case on a wide basis. So, it really is not objective reporting when you claim that your opinion is “fact”, particularly when you base it on a small number of examples which you are using to try to back up your own opinion.

        1. David Greenwald

          That’s why this is listed as “commentary” not “news”

          I acknowledged in the original commentary that this was not a scientific study.  I have not had the time to do a more thorough analysis.  But I think you called my suggestion that students get by on $50 a week “absurd” and I think I have proven it is anything but.

        2. Eileen Samitz

          So David,

          I appreciate you admitting that your claim is not backed up by scientific data, so therefore it is opinion, not conclusive.

          But are you saying that students spend either the same or less money on food weekly ($50) than an average cell phone bill costs?

          It would be interesting to see what the average monthly budget expenses are for students to see how that compares with non-students.

  2. Keith O

    Why Is this Community So Antagonistic to Students?

    A few people might be, but not the community.  In my opinion David has a tendency to take a small sample and present it as a whole in order to push an agenda.

    1. Eileen Samitz

      I agree with Keith’s comment that David, as in this case of taking a small sampling, presents it as if it “is” the case on a wide basis and is “conclusive”. This happens often enough that it bears being pointed out.

      Furthermore, putting a title like on today’s article is so inappropriate, because not only is it not true, but it only serves to pit the students again the community. There is nothing productive about that, and in fact it is divisive and counter-productive of the Vanguard to do this.

  3. Tia Will

    Keith

    I would agree with your statement right up until the words “in order to push an agenda”. Could it not simply be the case that what he writes is an accurate reflection of how he sees the issue ?

    I ask again, not just of you, but of all posters, why the need to ascribe motivation to someone else? Why not just present your own ideas and point out the flaws in the ideas of others as you see them without deciding why they hold those ideas for them?

  4. Tia Will

    Keith

    I try my best unless they have already stated that what I am writing about is their goal. I am no more perfect than anyone else and don’t mind a reminder.

  5. John Hobbs

    Some several years ago, just after I discovered The Vanguard, I made a comment about the hostility of the the community toward the University and students and was roundly told that I was misinterpreting the rhetoric re: Picnic Day and other complaints that I had seen expressed. I have seen little to change my first assessment over the ensuing years.

    1. Howard P

      Everyone seems to need a scapegoat… or a (     ) [can’t post the word, but anyone over 55 will be able to fill in the blank].  I try not to, but sometimes…

    2. Mark West

      “I have seen little to change my first assessment over the ensuing years.”

      There has been a significant contingent antagonistic to students in Davis for as long as I can remember. Most of those individuals, however, have learned to couch their comments in ways to allow for plausible deniability when called out. Now that the VG’s new moderator has decided that we can no longer comment on hidden agendas or intuit obvious intent, they are a protected class.

       

      1. Tia Will

        Mark

        The Vanguard’s “new moderator” has never pulled a single post, but has merely expressed personal preference’s just as any other poster might do. I don’t exactly see that as oppressive censorship.

        1. Mark West

          A moderator should not be expressing a personal preference or opinion (as you speak for the site), and a commentator who is also a Moderator should not be using their position to push their personal agenda. Moderation on this site has often been a concern and in my opinion, you have exacerbated the situation.

      2. John Hobbs

        “Now that the VG’s new moderator has decided that we can no longer comment on hidden agendas or intuit obvious intent, they are a protected class.”

        Indeed, it reinforces my sense that many of  Davis’ “progressives” are just too embarrassed to admit their truly reactionary leanings.

    1. Howard P

      Says someone who paints UCD as the scapegoat… or, UCD, developers, and/or the City planners…

      Just saying… and supports my true point… the finger-pointing…

      1. Eileen Samitz

        Howard,

        I give credit where credit is due. UCD gets to take credit for its irresponsibility and negligence to provide the needed on-campus affordable housing for its students.

        I find it amusing that you almost seem to imply that “others” are finger-pointers (but not you).

        Just saying…  🙂

         

      2. Howard P

        “UCD gets to take credit for its irresponsibility and negligence to provide the needed on-campus affordable housing for its students.”

        Except, Eileen…  except in your set of “values”/viewpoints (admittedly, and some others), there is NO, repeat NO, obligation of UC/UCD to provide affordable on-campus housing for its students.  Period.  End of sentence.

        Find one, only one “mission statement” (particularly a “Core mission”) from UC/UCD to the contrary.  Find any funding (other than perhaps loans/front money) from the State towards that ‘goal’.

        1. David Greenwald

          Housing on UC Davis campus is not affordable.  The numbers show that.  Adding housing to the mix is overall a positive and I think the university is going to look at ways to make it more affordable, but it has always been an imperfect solution and people pretend like it’s not.

        2. Keith O

          Housing on UC Davis campus is not affordable.

          We’re still waiting for the vacancy rate for campus housing.  I would say anything 5% or under lends to campus housing not being considered so unaffordable.

        3. Howard P

          To be clear, David… my point was the difference between “obligation” versus “desirable“… I offered no opinion as to “affordability”…

          And, on campus housing clearly is affordable to some… otherwise there would be a 100% vacancy rate.  The student population is not ‘monolithic’…

        4. David Greenwald

          It’s proving to be more difficult to calculate than I anticipated.  However, it is definitely well over 5 percent.  Closer to ten percent.  But I’m not sure we have an accurate count of how many empty rooms there which is why I have been delaying my article until I can talk to someone else.

        5. Keith O

          It’s proving to be more difficult to calculate than I anticipated. 

          You say “I” as in you David.  Are you calculating it and if so, how?

          Can’t you just get the straight up numbers from the college itself?

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Here is something stunning for you – West Village data. The figures for West Village are startling with only 2026 of 2579 beds/ spaces filled or a 22 percent vacancy rate.

        6. David Greenwald

          I did get it from the university.  Interpreting it is less than straightforward.  Part of the problem appears to be that they have doubled up rooms and thus in some places there is more occupancy than capacity.

        7. Eileen Samitz

          Howard,

          Here you go:

          From the 2003 UCD LRDP Goals and Planning principles:
          Provide an environment to enrich campus life and to serve the community.

          “A rich and varied campus life for students, faculty and staff relies upon a wide range of land uses and activities. Instruction and research, student housing, recreation and open space, cultural events and programs, administrative and support activity all combine to further the mission of the University and to give the campus its character.”

        8. Howard P

          Eileen… that doc you quoted is not a “top level” doc.  And you should know that very well…  platitudes issued as fillers in a doc that was intended to be ‘all things to all people’.  No action statements involved… nothing concrete….

        9. Howard P

          Exactly.

          And, I didn’t “try”, I “said” exactly that. Feel free to dispute…

          And you have not refuted that there are no “action policies”… nothing concrete…

        10. Keith O

          Here is something stunning for you – West Village data. The figures for West Village are startling with only 2026 of 2579 beds/ spaces filled or a 22 percent vacancy rate.

          If these nembers are anywhere near true just using basic economics it would be more financially feasible for UCD to lower the rents some in order to acheive full capacity.

        11. Keith O

          I’m not doubting you David.

          If my calculations are correct:

          Using the numbers you provided if they lowered the average rent 15% they would still take in 7% more revenue, that’s if they were able to fill the vacancies because it was more affordable.

          Or if they lowered the rent 20% they could take in 2% more revenue.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            One thing that is probably tricky here is that all but one of the apartments are privately operated even though they are on campus. I would have to figure out contracts and other things. But clearly this is an issue that the university needs to address.

          2. Don Shor

            West Village is a public/private partnership between UC and a private company (Carmel Apartments?). It is likely that the rents are controlled by the contract. I doubt David can get a copy of the agreement, but it happens that a similar PPP was used as a case study for UCOP.

            CASE STUDY 1: GROUND LEASE: EAST CAMPUS II STUDENT HOUSING, VISTA DEL NORTE, UC IRVINE
            (excerpt)…Student & Ground Rents: In 2008/09 these units were priced at over 20% in excess of comparable
            campus-owned bed rates for shared and single units ….The only University commitment was a three year
            occupancy guarantee. Under the specific circumstances of this project, prevailing wages were not
            required to be paid. Student bed rents were required to be maintained at no less than 100% of rents for comparable on-campus
            (UC) housing, and no more than 90% of rents for comparable off-campus (private) housing.”

            http://www.ucop.edu/real-estate-services/_files/documents/ppp_at_uc.pdf
            It seems likely that UC wants guaranteed income from anything they build in private partnerships. What the exact terms of the UC lease are with West Village would be interesting to know. I doubt they have the “no more than 90%” constraint.

        12. Ron

          David:  “Here is something stunning for you – West Village data. The figures for West Village are startling with only 2026 of 2579 beds/ spaces filled or a 22 percent vacancy rate.”

          Kind of puts the “housing crisis” in a very different perspective.  Wondering why they don’t lower the rents to maximize profit, as Keith noted.

        13. Eileen Samitz

          David: “I requested it from the university.”

          David, thanks if you can give the source of whom to ask to get this information from at UCD. This is very interesting and important information.

    2. Howard P

      Again, Sean, the vast majority of students have decent housing… our focus should be on the relatively few who do not… I’d rather focus on them than the vast majority…

      Feel free to feel differently…

      1. David Greenwald

        “The vast majority of students have decent housing”

        I’m not sure you can make that statement or what basis.  First of all, decent housing is undefined.  Second, the conditions for finding housing appear difficult.  Third, the conditions of the housing is in question.   Fourth, there is a cost factor.  Fifth, there is the issue as to what happens when problems arise.  Sixth, the compressed market not only creates cost factors but makes it difficult to resolve other issues.  Seventh, we have no idea how many students are living in their cars on couches or crammed over capacity into houses.

        In short, without data, I’m not comfortable making that blanket statement.

  6. Jeff M

    UCD students in general irritate the cr@p out of me.  They drive terrible, blow through stop signs on their bikes, cross the street while texting on their phone, clog the roads, make parking difficult to impossible, fill the grocery store lines at the most unlikely hours, cause our downtown to be filled with cheap food restaurants, drive up housing costs.

    But I still like and respect the students more than I do the old f@rts in this city that make a career out of blocking any and all development while claiming they are objective and reasonable.

    And in general I expect to be irritated by young people.  That is what they are supposed to do.  And we adults are supposed to accept that we got ours and now our job is to help these kids launch to life at least as good as the one we have been blessed to have.

    1. Alan Miller

      UCD students in general irritate the cr@p out of me.  They drive terrible, blow through stop signs on their bikes, cross the street while texting on their phone, clog the roads, make parking difficult to impossible, fill the grocery store lines at the most unlikely hours, cause our downtown to be filled with cheap food restaurants, drive up housing costs.

      At least they stay off your lawn.

  7. Ken A

    Most (but not all) people like to “scapegoat” and/or blame others for problems. I work hard to make my kids take responsibility for their own lives and NEVER blame anyone (or anything) else for their problems.

    In the past week I called out a couple different people who were blaming students and the president for problems by pointing out that the odds of finding “beer pong” balls in their backyard will be less (and property taxes will be lower) in Dixon and reminded them the last president also let 18 year olds buy guns and some took them to schools to shoot people while he was in office…

    1. Jeff M

      Apparently there is a kid in Vermont that purchased a gun and was planning to shoot up a school and the police apprehended him before it happened.  My guess is that this story will not be reported much by the media as it lacks the blood they require.  And of course the tough on crime president will not get any credit for this.

  8. Todd Edelman

    The best situation for students is that they are integrated into the general population, with necessary support systems in and not in necessarily very close proximity to where they take classes and use university-facilities, rent vouchers as necessary, cheap and healthy eateries that are accessible to all, free education, clean air without controversy and fully-facilitated to enjoy a car-optional future.

    (I jumped ahead a few weeks in time and copied this from the Campaign Goals of one or more of the current City Council candidates…)

    1. Howard P

      Would you consider amending your post to say “everyone” rather than just “students”? If not, or if you don’t have a reasonable mechanism to pay for that…

      Watch out for time-travel… you can become “unstuck in time” (Kurt Vonnegut)…

      [Actually “fits”… Slaughter House FIVE]

  9. Moderator

    Hey, folks, I would really like to ask you all to stop trying to inject national political discussions into Vanguard comments. The threads will deteriorate rapidly. Pretty much anything about the president is specifically off limits unless that is the topic of the thread. I’m not going to edit or pull comments now, but want to ask that you respect this going forward.

    Also, please keep the tone civil. The conversations will be much more productive if we don’t direct personal comments at others, but keep to more general principles. I know all of you are capable of this.

    Thanks.

      1. Eileen Samitz

        David,

        You are making up costs for food. You have no data to support your personally determined food costs. You are inventing food costs to desperately try to support your opinion.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          I collected the data. I acknowledged from the outset that it wasn’t a scientific survey, but it served to create an estimate. The university has their sources as well. As it turns out, their method and mine generated very similar results which adds validity to it.

    1. Eileen Samitz

      These numbers refer to 3 semesters residence (dorm) hall living on campus. So it we are back to the issue of comparing “apples and oranges”, where residence (or dorm) housing on campus includes meals and the off campus living does not include meals. You cannot compare these costs.

        1. Eileen Samitz

          David,

          You can try repeating this subject to death, but no, you cannot compare dorm housing on campus with meals, with housing off campus without meals.

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        Actually if you read their explanation of the figures: ” 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. Keep in mind that your actual costs may differ. Eligible expenses must occur between mid-September through mid-June.” That comes directly from Richard’s link. Did you not read it? That’s the only explanation.

        1. Eileen Samitz

          David,

          I  did read it and what you are saying still makes no sense. You cannot compare on-campus housing with prepared meals, with off-campus housing without meals. So there is no point in trying to repeat this over and over again.

          It is interesting however to see that there is quite a bit of scholarship grant money available to students, particularly from families of lower incomes. This is from that same web link.

          “What’s the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan?
          For California students whose annual family income is under $80,000, systemwide tuition and fees will be fully covered by gift aid (grants and scholarships) during your first four years at UC (or two years if you are a transfer student).”

           

           

           

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            If you read it, then you wouldn’t be saying that I’m saying “makes no sense” since I’m not the one who wrote it or created the comparison.

  10. Eileen Samitz

    David,

    It would seem that if a student is not paying any tuition or fees, that that would free up money (annual tuition is over $14,000 alone) for other expenses.

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