Commentary: Can Old Ideas Also Help Davis’ Housing Crunch

A week ago, former Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo published an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee that laid out some ideas of “some realistic options for affordable housing today.”  She suggested “borrowing from our past.”

She argued, “Some of them seem obvious, but they don’t seem to be part of the current discussions.”

Some have reached out to the Vanguard, arguing that these suggestions seem right on point for Davis as well.

First, she suggested, “Recruit homebuilders to construct smaller homes.”  She writes: “Starter homes were modest houses that might be called entry level or workforce housing now. Built after World War II and again in the 1970s and ‘80s, they came with Formica countertops, vinyl floors, small bedrooms, carports or one-car garages and no fences or landscaping.”

Second, she suggested, “Require half-plexes and duplexes again on corners in new developments.  She writes: “These smaller homes greatly expanded and integrated more affordable units into Land Park, East Sacramento, South Natomas and Pocket Greenhaven, and do not depress property values.”

Third, she suggested, “Build more senior housing to free up existing homes for younger families.”  She writes, “With few options in the city, many older homeowners decide to stay in place, which reduces the inventory, depresses city property tax revenue and means fewer children for city school districts.”

Finally, she suggested: “Require construction or adaptation for disabled persons.” She writes, “They are the most impacted by fast-rising housing costs due to the limited number of accessible
housing units. Universal design would be helpful for young families with strollers, bikes and visiting grandparents.”

Part of her suggestion was to establish “tiny homes villages.”  She writes that “manufactured or prefab homes, mobile homes or tiny houses, these affordable homes are very livable when the complex is well designed and managed. Let’s figure out how we can build more soon, possibly on surplus city or county property.”

I will briefly address these suggestions.  I think she is right on point with the suggestion of smaller homes.  A smaller home in Davis is probably going to run in the $300,000 to $400,000, but that is at least a plausible home for a first-time home buyer and family.  The problem that we see with the Cannery is that the homes are too large for entry level families to afford.

As we have pointed out, market rate rentals are prohibitive in cost for a lot of families.  We are seeing in both the Chiles Road proposed development as well as Plaza 2555 the inclusion of small units that might be affordable by design.

Part of the problem with trying to build in housing cost reduction through supply of additional single family homes is that the housing crisis is regional and, therefore, local supply is not going to dent demand.  Therefore, the answer for affordability is either big “A” affordable housing with income controls or affordability by size.

The idea there is to get new home buyers into the housing market, allow them to build equity, and then upscale.

The requirement for half-plexes and duplexes would create a similar impact as the smaller houses.

She also suggests senior housing which could free up existing homes for younger families.  This is one of the theories that the developers at West Davis Active Adult Center are trumpeting.  Of course they also attempting to restrict new residents at the senior housing to current residents in Davis.  While an interesting idea, the proposal has drawn criticism from some worried about the impact of housing that is exclusive.

Finally, she notes that we should require construction for disabled persons, which includes accessible units and exclusive design.  That is something that Davis has been pushing in recent development, including the defeated Wild Horse Ranch project as well as in portions at least of the Cannery.

One problem that I think you are going to have in Davis is that, while we might have an occasional project that gets approved on the periphery, at this point we are largely looking at infill.  It is certainly a good idea to look toward smaller, more dense townhouses in these infill projects – things that we are seeing with Plaza 2555 and the proposed project on Chiles.

However, the one idea that she does not espouse is looking to expand big “A” affordable housing.  While the city has been pondering a social services tax and is looking to refine affordable housing requirements, it seems that what we need here is a return to the tax increment that provided a revenue stream under RDA (Redevelopment Agency).

Ms. Fargo concludes: “The city needs to grasp every opportunity to provide housing for low- and middle-income people throughout Sacramento. If it’s really a crisis, then require every new project to include some smaller or less expensive units. City staff should be asked to present realistic options to the Planning Commission and City Council to keep housing affordable.”

She adds, “We need to question our definitions of ‘market-rate’ housing, which is now housing for the wealthy, and ‘affordable,’ which is housing for the rest of us. Housing that the average employed person in Sacramento can afford should be the norm.”

From my perspective, Davis is not likely to build its way into affordability especially outside the student rental market, and so it should look at ways to create affordability both in terms of subsidized housing and by design.  These seem like good suggestions going forward.

—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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  1. Tia Will

    I would also suggest rethinking a concept which has now become the norm, but not so long ago was not widely accepted. The idea of the nuclear family. At 65, I am old enough to remember when the nuclear family was not yet the ideal. Many chose to live in multigenerational homes with grandparents, parents and children of all ages all under one roof, not by necessity, but by choice. My mother came from such a family.  I am certainly not suggesting that anyone be forced economically or socially into this living arrangement, but we certainly could stop shaming the young as “losers” for living in their parents home, or grandparents home into adulthood, or returning to it after a stint away at school.

    1. Ron

      Tia:  This is still the “norm”, in a lot of Asian families.  Such arrangements also facilitate attending colleges/universities close to home (resulting in significantly reduced costs). Essentially, the power of a group, vs. an individual (especially before one starts a career).

      1. Ron

        I know someone who moved back home to her parents’ comfortable house after attending college and starting a viable career.  She apparently realized that living with roommates (and spending a lot of money to do so) may not be the wisest move (exactly what I told her at the time, but I guess she had to find that out on her own).

        I believe she is now saving money, and is considering a more advanced degree.  Her parents seem happy to have her there, as well. However, I suspect that she’ll move out someday, when she’s in a better position to do so.

        Seems like there’s too much emphasis on “individualism”, in traditional American society. That belief/value is costly, at times. (In more than one way, as Tia alluded to.)

      2. Howard P

        There are also those with MH/physical challenges… but assume you had that acknowledged in the “… ( but not all) …”

        If you didn’t want to call “… most as ‘losers’…” , why did you choose the term ‘losers’ and then describe what constituted ‘losers’?  Just curious…

        1. Tia Will


          Fair question. I was not involved in social media until the 2016 election. I also do not watch any television so I was basically not exposed to our society’s popular depiction of those who “choose” to continue to live in their familial home as “losers”. I was surprised when I became active on Twitter, just how virulent this depiction can be. Because of my views, those who obviously had not read my profile were frequently telling me to ” grow up”, “get a job”, stop being “dependent on others” or “being a leech” , and some far less benign exhortations obviously on the mistaken impression that I was living off others.

        2. Ken A

          When I wrote “I don’t want to call the adults who are still living at home with their parents “losers”” I was replying to Tia that wrote: “we certainly could stop shaming the young as “losers” for living in their parents home”.

          I know quite a few people (including good friends and relatives) that “want” to get stuff done but end up putting it off and hanging out with friends drinking wine or smoking pot, (almost all of ) these people are not “losers”.

          I also know even more people (actually most people I know under 30) that didn’t really understand how much debt they would have after getting a degree an/or the real job prospects for a person with a music, philosophy or environmental science degree.

          These young adults are all smart kids, they just made a series of life choices without asking 1. how easy it is to get a job at 22 as a “philosopher”, “choreographer” or “environmentalist” and 2. will this job pay enough to pay down my students loans and also pay for food and rent.

        3. David Greenwald

          Or as I’ve noticed in my life, you make the best decision at the time, and hope it works for the best – even if you know there will challenges with it.

        4. David Greenwald

          But I did take exception to your comment as a gross oversimplification of something very complex.  My observation is that for a lot of people there is not enough margin to overcome catastrophic circumstances both major and less major.

  2. Todd Edelman


    free up existing homes for younger families

    Younger families, people who want to live in big houses in Davis for various reasons, speculators, people aiming to be landlords and renting to bunches of university students (with difficulty at best in enforcing any maximum tenancy rule) — all of these can and will buy up houses given-up by elders. If I knew or didn’t know better, I’d say or wouldn’t say that WDAAC is or is not a sort of Trojan Horse House with a hidden or not hidden agenda or non-agenda.

    So… good ideas here otherwise, I assume that the former mayor is meeting with all Davis City Council candidates advising them on how they can be inspired by what the developers of WDAAC are or are not doing to lure PG&E from the future New East Davis mixed-use neighborhood between 5th, Pole Line, 2nd St and L St.

    Related, does she agree with Don Shor who commented a few days ago that building in large shopping center parking lots is non-viable? I am not sure why Don says it’s non-viable, actually.

    1. Ken A

      If Todd thinks that a “large shopping center” in a suburban college town can be be “viable” maybe he can post some links of “viable” centers in other suburban college towns (I’m guessing that we won’t be seeing even a single links today because Don who knows more than most people about the local retail business is correct that none of the centers in Davis will make it if we get rid of the parking)…

    2. Todd Edelman

      Well, the compromise would be that the new housing is built over the parking lot. If there are more cars there for shopping in the day and less at night, and the reverse is the case with residents – isn’t there shorthand for describing this? – the space could be used more efficiently instead of the current situation where empty lots peer up into the sky, insulting the Universe with their infernal, wasteful narcissism.

      Retail needs access. Cars are one type of access.

      1. Richard McCann

        The problem with converting retail lots to housing is that the parking use probably peaks at about the same time after the end of the standard work day. The congestion would be substantial, at least the way that Davis is currently configured. Densifying the neighborhoods and distributing commercial enterprises into the neighborhoods would likely mitigate that issue and more people could walk to the stores, but that’s a big change for the community. (One they do not oppose, but others might.)

      2. Todd Edelman

        Yes, that’s true, but there’s a huge number of people who’d be happy to shop for two shopping bags of groceries with a bicycle, IF only more bicycles were equipped to this safely. Davis has a 30% goal for shopping by bike three years from now. Until the City Council votes to rescind this goal, I am going to help fight for it (see, then I am not even being an activist, just volunteer city staff!). There’s ZERO chance of this mode share goal being met if there is free parking at centralized shopping centers. Therefore, logic dictates that parking cannot be free.  There should also be a code and formula to determine the max. distance that a certain percentage of houses can be from shopping centers, based on cycling distance. What %age of the town’s residents live within 5 cycling minutes of a comprehensive shopping center or market?

        Let’s be clear: If there’s no goal for transit or walking for shopping modal share, 70% of people can still shop by car as far as the City is concerned!


        1. Ken A

          I estimate that only about 1% of people at Davis grocery stores come by bike.  At the North Davis Nugget there are usually a couple other bikes in the racks off the big patio and the South Davis Safeway often has one or other two bikes locked up by the Rite Aid, but at the South Davis Nugget or the Marketplace by 113 I have never seen anyone shopping by bike.  Even if you banned cars from the shopping centers the stores would all go out of business before enough people biked to shop.  The reason that almost no one bikes to shop is because people (even here in “bike city”) don’t WANT to do it it is not because they don’t know how to add a basket or Burly trailer to their bike to “do it safely”…

        2. Howard P

          Ken A… for years, in good weather, we often did bike to do grocery shopping… we were in our 20’s/30’s, and had a Burley…

          I think your 1% number is pretty accurate, and may be a tad optimistic/generous…

        3. Todd Edelman

          I’ve counted 2 to 3% combined for Sutter Davis, the Marketplace and Nugget on a random afternoon. Yes, it’s not a lot of people!

          But you prove my point: It’s not about a Burley (trailer) or some random basket: Where countries price driving appropriately, bikes get designed to carry things. This is everything from (more recently) downtube-attached front carriers which can carry two full bags of groceries (I had to modify by mountain bike; you can get these standard on bikes in the Netherlands), and even the geometry of normal, everyday bikes makes it reasonable to carry bags on the handlebars, because the bar is so high – pun not intended – that it will hit the wheel, which can cause a crash.

          Every bike shop in Davis understands all of this, but there is little demand for these bikes – aside from long tails, which are a bit pricey – partly because they have not been promoted by the City, unlike helmets and lights (the Netherlands is the safest place to ride a bike though almost no one wears helmets for normal, everyday riding) and the lights are built-in to all of these bikes at sale, so there is no reason for the police to get involved. Cities in Europe where cycling is not yet very popular promote bikes in various ways by lending people bikes so they can see how they can change their lifestyle.

          These are details as important for a sustainable lifestyle as anything else. As a volunteer city staff member (activist that implements already agreed to City-goals – see pg. 21) and private citizen I’ve recently tried to initiate an electric-assist cargo bike promotion here based on the near-future implementation of over-sized bike lockers here, but even though I was the first to push for these lockers being over-sized, Public Works decided on a conservative solution, which will not support safe parking for bicycles which are essential to the City of Davis meeting its goals. Now they don’t return emails on this subject.

          The bikes which will not have appropriate parking are bikes that can carry four kids or two kids and at least four bags of groceries at the same time.

          It’s also fun to ride these. The kids LOVE It.

          Again, every citizen who doesn’t support the City’s goals for sustainable and social transportation should go to City Council meetings and tell them to rescind them — and every City Council candidate who does not support the goals should say so, and if they do support them they should provide explicit details on how they will help the City meet these goals.

    3. Alan Miller

      If I knew or didn’t know better, I’d say or wouldn’t say that WDAAC is or is not a sort of Trojan Horse House with a hidden or not hidden agenda or non-agenda.

      I think you have or have not covered all or none of your bases with that statement or non-statement, Todd or not Todd.

  3. Tia Will


    One other factor that I recently became aware of while selling the house I raised my kids in, the downsizing homeowner has a choice especially in the current market. My home sold (currently in contract) , for the asking price, without ever listing, by word of mouth. I had a choice. Local young family with some allowances needed, vs out of town purchasers with cash in hand. I chose the former because I know many of the neighbors, respect the neighborhood, and wanted a good fit, not just what would make a few thousand more. I accept that not everyone has this luxury, but I do believe that everyone has the ability to sell mindfully, considering not only their own interests, but also that of the neighborhood and new owners. With mindfulness, it is possible to achieve a win-win-win.

    1. Howard P

      Funny you should say that…

      When we sold our rental (used by us as primary residence for 14 years, rental for 22 years) a couple of years ago, a couple who rented across the street heard of it from our tenant, and approached us… we already had a realtor on board… within a few weeks we had agreed on a price, agreed to both use the same realtor, and as we were doing the repairs/upgrades we had been planning to do for sale anyhow, worked with them as to what needed to be done, and if they wanted more, or they wanted to defer, agreed to share those costs/savings… we also worked with them as to their need to defer COE to fully line up their financing… pretty painless… so, a family has THEIR house that we had also loved… it was a win/win.

      We did it not out of altruism, but common, and financial sense… [ended up ~ 4% under market, as to purchase price, but everything considered (timing, shared costs, etc.) was most likely a “push” as to proceeds…

    2. Richard McCann

      I agree with this. We were beaten out by a young family for a house last year, and this year we persuaded the sellers of another house that our connection to the community was an added benefit. Especially if the seller is remaining in Davis, the costs and benefits of who buys your house are measured in more than just dollars in your pocket–its also the ancillary community impacts and benefits of who becomes your neighbor (in the broader sense.)

  4. Tia Will


    I did not see at as “altruism” but rather the sense of satisfaction of participating in a collaborative process ( much the same with cost sharing for needed repairs/upgrades) with a family that I am sure will take good care of the home and be a good fit for the neighbors, some of whom I have known for years, and assets to the community overall as Richard pointed out.

    1. Howard P

      I did not say or imply anything about your motivations… chill.. was explaining what mine were, or were not, for the general audience… geez…

      Appears even when I am agreeing, sharing similar experience, you feel a need to defend against/ correct me… whatever…

  5. David Greenwald

    I do wish that some of the posters here would’ve focused on Fargo’s ideas and whether they would work in Davis.  I am in particularly interested in affordability by design concepts

    1. Howard P

      Actually, I expressed a number of the same concepts 1-3 weeks ago…

      Stanley Davis, others, built a lot of the housing in Davis Manor, and the area between L to Pole Line, between Eighth and Colgate in the late 50’s to early 70’s (to name 2 areas)… 1300 SF for a basic 3 BR, 2 BA house… cookie cutter housing… and it worked well, but doesn’t meet with many folk’s aesthetics… fine, they can do the fancier stuff for themselves… and pay the differential…

      I grew up in a 850 SF 2 br, 1 ba house (one car garage), built in 1953… it was good housing… $11/SF in 1955 dollars… San Mateo (Bay Area)… no “bells and whistles”…

      1. Ken A

        With the price of vacant lots in Davis ~$500K each (below is a link to a lot for $475K and s lot in South Davis near a friend’s home sold for over $500K not long ago) and all the mandatory permit fees, soft costs and minimum building standards (Howard’s sub $10K home in San Mateo was not built with sprinklers, water saving fixtures carbon monoxide detectors double pane windows insulated doors and and probably didn’t even have any insulation like the 1930’s home my parents bought for ~$20K in the 60’s) it really does not matter if you replace granite counters with formica to save ~$2,000 or save another ~$2,000 on siding and a garage door by turning a garage door in to a carport.  When you pay for the extra $4K for the nicer home (with granite and the garage) over 30 years it only adds about $20/month to the payment.  I know Mark West has talked about it, but I’m wondering if anyone knows about how much someone would need to pay the city in fees after buying a lot before they spent a penny on the “sticks and bricks” to actually start building a home in town.,pf_pt/land_type/111439763_zpid/51659_rid/globalrelevanceex_sort/38.608688,-121.64363,38.504922,-121.826621_rect/12_zm/

        1. Don Shor

          It would require almost a complete suspension of all the things Davis likes to add on to housing projects to get any kind of lower-cost, smaller housing built. Imagine if someone proposed a new mobile home park in Davis right now. I’ve suggested in the past that modular housing was a viable alternative and got considerable negative pushback.

        2. Mark West

          “It would require almost a complete suspension of all the things Davis likes to add on to housing projects to get any kind of lower-cost, smaller housing built.”

          There is no reason to continue to pursue the ad hoc list of demands that the City has placed on development projects just because that is what we have done before. What we need to do is prioritize “all the things Davis likes” in light of what the community needs (appropriate housing for residents and paying our bills) to determine which are most important. We then rescind the lower priority ‘likes’ until we have created sufficient incentive for developers to bring forward projects that will meet our needs.


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