Only in Davis is the approval of apartments for students a controversial act. The city council, since last spring, has been step by step doing their part to alleviate the student housing crisis. Last spring, the council approved the Sterling Apartments. In February, they approved Nishi, pending a Measure R vote.
On Tuesday, they can take the third step in this process by approving the Lincoln40 project. There could be a fourth apartment project as well, as in May the council is scheduled to take up Plaza 2555.
While all of these have been labeled by dissenters as mega-dorms, what they all represent are relatively small and compact housing options for students. Each has their own unique characteristics, along with strengths and weaknesses.
These four projects by themselves will not solve the student housing crisis. But they do add about 4000 additional beds to Davis which, combined with the university pledge of 8500 beds, will add 12,500 or more beds to Davis in the next ten years. That is enough to accommodate all university anticipated growth over that time AND more importantly alleviate at least partially the housing crunch that has kept vacancy rates below half a percent over the last five years.
Lincoln40 has a number of strengths. First of all, it provides 708 beds in a location that is currently underdeveloped. The current spot features 14 units of existing apartments and 10 cottage single-family homes. The developers went to great lengths to make sure existing residents were not displaced without alternatives and, because of that, you will not hear complaints from existing residents about this project.
Second, it provides that housing within walking and biking distance of the university. The location means that very few students will travel to campus via single-occupancy motorized vehicle, and travel estimates show that over 90 percent will walk or bike from less than a mile from campus. As we have noted before, what building student housing near campus does is take students, who were previously commuting from out of town and clogging up the roadways, and get them out of their vehicles.
Third, both Lincoln40 and Nishi are the first projects to provide onsite affordable housing options for students. The proposed affordable housing program includes 57 beds at 50 percent of AMI (area median income) and 14 beds at 60 percent of AMI. That will enable 71 residents to have housing at below market rates of roughly $670 per bed.
The market rate estimates are roughly $850 per bed for double-ups and $1000 for single beds. That puts Lincoln40 right around the average cost to rent a bed in Davis.
The apartment complex will be covering amenities like electricity, water, cable, and internet. That means that students are only asked to pay for their own food.
According to a March 7 memo from A Plescia & Company, the economic analysis shows that the current project with the 71 subsidized affordable units as well as 708 total units is fiscally viable.
They conclude that “the requirement of some payment for off-site infrastructure, community enhancements, and provision of 10 percent of the beds for affordable housing does not render the proposed Lincoln 40 project infeasible.”
The project comes with some concerns from the perspective of some. The proposed project would be leased by the bed, not by the unit. For some that is a problem. Frankly, I don’t understand why. Bed rentals create consistency in the ability to fill each of the beds in the complex and therefore to maximize occupancy in the building, while at the same time providing control over students overfilling the rooms.
Moreover, if one tenant has a problem with their lease, has to leave, or is a problem, it does not impact the ability of the other residents to live there.
The project is designed for and marketed to students. Students in Davis make up a vast majority of the renters, somewhere between 65 to 85 percent. Moreover, the market pressures are coming from students. So filling a student need with near-campus housing would seem logical.
There are always concerns about traffic impacts, especially at the intersection of Olive Drive and Richards Boulevard Staff believes that the EIR has adequately addressed the issue with expert analysis and potential mitigation measures down the road.
The belief is that the project would not “exacerbate the traffic and circulation situation at Richards Blvd. and Olive Drive intersection.”
The city is also looking into an overcrossing. Some believe that the overcrossing should be constructed prior to the development of the project. Staff writes that “the construction of the overcrossing is a separate City decision… It is not part of the proposed project. It cannot legally be required of the proposed project to bear the full cost of the overcrossing construction.”
Staff notes that “this project will also pay its fair share.” The applicant has agreed through the Development Agreement “to contribute additional funds to the improvement of the overcrossing.”
The city is looking into grant funding for the remainder of the costs and is optimistic that they can achieve this. But they are not willing to wait for that grant application to be approved prior to moving forward with the project.
My view is that is the right call. The housing crisis calls for the immediate building of housing. Students should not have to live in their cars or under otherwise housing insecure conditions, waiting to alleviate a traffic delay that might cause people to have to wait an additional 30 seconds at most at an intersection.
The city will do its best to get the overcrossing approved, but the student housing crisis demands action now. We must prioritize housing for students over convenience for drivers. Besides, I believe that more student housing will alleviate rather than exacerbate traffic issues by getting more students out of their cars and onto bikes and buses.
This week, the Vanguard noted a study – granted, one done in LA for the Community College District, showing that its student population was 55 percent housing insecure, with 18 percent considered homeless.
Unfortunately we do not have numbers for Davis, but what we have heard anecdotally and very consistently from students should be downright alarming to anyone who cares about students.
As one person stated last spring during the Sterling discussion: “Students and other Davis renters suffer from a severe housing shortage. This shortage causes a lot of rent increases and low to non-existent vacancy rates. I struggle from April to August to find a place to live in Davis and I had to prepare myself to be homeless if I could not find a place.”
Another said that many students are “forced to start their housing search in November of their first year, only to not find a house and be forced to couch surf in the following year. We cannot be pawns in the game between the city and the university – we are consistently advocating on both ends to increase housing.”
Others warned that the lack of housing “is risking homelessness for students.” This person called the 0.2 percent vacancy rate “not only really ridiculous to students, but also really scary.” She noted that community members “do have secure housing and a guaranteed place to sleep next year.” The vacancy rate does not allow some students to live here next year.
The only answer the opposition to apartment complexes has is more housing on campus.
I agree that the university must do more. I have consistently pushed for the university to go to the 100-50 plan. The university has made progress going from 6200 units promised in May 2016 to 8500 units promised back in January. We have estimated they need to get to 1500 more. They are therefore 85 percent to where we want them to go.
But adding another 4000 to 5000 in town IN ADDITION to the university will make a big difference for students.
One problem is affordability. Not only do projects like Lincoln40 and Nishi have roughly 300 affordable beds for students at $670 or less per bed, BUT they have the potential to improve the vacancy rate, bringing it closer to the more ideal five percent.
But for those who believe that on-campus housing is the solution and that we should focus our efforts there – it costs, by the university’s own estimates, 60 percent more to live on campus than off campus.
So if we care about affordability and student housing, then we have to support the building of new capacity in town. We are talking about four apartment complexes, three of which are infill and two of which are redevelopment – they are making more efficient use of existing developed properties. Lincoln40 is one of those.
Anyone who calls Lincoln40 luxury housing is not aware of what it costs to rent housing in town. It is that simple. If we build these four apartment complexes, we can solve student housing needs for the next generation of students. If we don’t, then we are consigning students to living in their cars and commuting to campus.
Is that really what we as a community want to do?
—David M. Greenwald reporting