For years I have heard the same dilemma over the notion that we cannot build our way out of the housing crisis. There are variants on that theme. As one person put it back in November, “I am doubtful we can build our way out given the regional pressures.”
Another person put it like this, saying that “we’re not likely to build our way to affordability.”
Or another: “We cannot simply build our way out of trouble which is the path many seem to be urging.”
Or still another: “But I am not going to pretend that building for them will ‘build our way out of trouble’ as you seem to believe.”
There is a legitimate point here that I think this is a thorny situation. People will correctly point out that Davis is not an island and therefore, if we build affordable housing to provide for our residents, it will draw from the regional demand and therefore our efforts to build more housing may be akin to a pin-prick of a large bubble and therefore have no real effect.
In some ways, that dilemma is acknowledged by the developers of West Davis Active Adult Community, who are looking into whether they can simply create supply for existing residents in hopes that the housing that they build does have a local impact.
At the same time, it is also why I believe our first step should be toward addressing student housing, which is a local problem that we can greatly alleviate through the creation of local supply –
since it is unlikely that students who do not attend our local university will flock here from out of town.
But there is a bigger problem than just student housing, and the solution is much more complicated overall.
I think comments by Mark West on Saturday and Sean Raycraft a few months ago hit the nail on the head here.
As Sean Raycraft acknowledged back in November: “Some have said we can’t build our way out of a regional crisis. Maybe they are right. So what is the alternative? Let it get worse through inaction?”
Mark West, yesterday, would reverse the question as well: “If we do not build more housing (otherwise known as – maintaining the current scarcity) how do you propose addressing the severe housing shortage in town?”
This is the problem we face. On the one hand, I agree with those who do not want to see us blow out our borders and produce runaway housing on the periphery. On the other hand, the current situation is not working.
Now there are those who continue to argue that the point is that the source of the problem is UC Davis and that is where the solution must ultimately come from. The irony is that their solution is to build housing – housing on campus. So is the argument that we can’t build our way out of our problems – only UC Davis can?
Here’s the thing, I fully agree that in the past UC Davis has not done nearly enough to address student housing demands. But I do not agree that UC Davis is the source of the problem – nor do I believe that an agreement with UC Davis will solve it.
There are several layers to this. The first is that UC Davis has agreed to add 8500 beds. That’s a little short of what we called for, but they are at least now in the ballpark. The 8500 beds by our calculation gets them up to about 46 percent of new students housed on campus. Realistically, we think UC Davis should go to 50 percent, and agree to provide housing for all first and second year students.
When I spoke to the students last spring, that seemed to be the sweet spot. The current housing market forces students in their first year, about in January or so, to go find housing – and most students have just turned 18, they just arrived in town, and now they are forced to find housing and make a difficult decision and hope they aren’t being taken advantage of.
By providing housing on campus for the first two years, UC Davis can alleviate that concern. At the same time, most students have told me that they don’t want to live on campus all four years, that they want to become part of the community, and they don’t want to have to live under the rules of a surrogate parent when they are 21 and 22.
A second point here is the mission of the university is to educate young people. Many of us received a first-rate education from the university and it is our turn to pay it forward to the next generation by providing the students a safe and secure place to live during their tenure as students.
To add to that, this community benefits tremendously from the presence of the university. It is the largest employer in the region. Many of us owe our livelihood directly or indirectly to the university. And not to be derisive of our neighbors to the south, without UC Davis, Davis would be Davisville, and would more resemble Dixon than the affluent and cosmopolitan community we are today.
As such, the notion that this is a one-way burden imposed by the university with no benefits is simply wrong-headed thinking. I am not saying that Davis should be required to provide 100 percent or even 70 percent of all student housing, but 50 percent or 40 percent (with students living outside of the area) seems very reasonable.
A final point here, even if UC Davis and Davis reached an agreement on student housing, as many have pointed out, student housing isn’t the only issue that we face on the housing front. We still have to figure out a way to add to Davis affordable (both small and big “A”) housing for families and workers, in a region where the housing market is super-heated.
In other words, even if we solve the student housing crisis, and I think we are on the cusp of doing so for the next ten years, we still have to figure out housing for others and that is far more tricky. That is another reason I have been eager to tackle the easier-to-fix and more severe student housing crisis.
—David M. Greenwald reporting