On Friday, Don Gibson and Aaron Latta did a good job of putting some faces behind the numbers that the UC Davis Apartment Vacancy and Rental Rate Survey by BAE Urban Economics brings us.
They write: “It means every day that passes by, more members of our community struggle to find housing. They are faced with difficult choices: dropping out of school, finding somewhere else to start a family, or resorting to extreme housing options like sleeping in their cars. The current lack of housing is the driving factor behind these rent hikes and increasing that supply will help students and families alike.”
One of the reasons I have become an advocate for student housing is my experience working with student interns and the hardships they face on the housing front. Some object to the term housing insecurity as a current colloquial buzzword, but I find it a very apt term to describe a range of housing challenges that many students face.
What happens when something goes wrong in the current system? I can tell you, having watched it happen to one of my interns a few years ago.
A bright young student, this intern did not come from a well-off background and thus, when something went south, her parents were unable to help her. She lived in a house in Davis with a number of roommates, but there developed a conflict and problems with one or two of the roommates and the landlord handled it by kicking everyone out on short notice in December.
One of the reasons I support bed leases is that, with a bed lease, this would have been easy to fix without uprooting the compliant tenants. Kicking everyone out exposed my intern to hardships trying to find a new place to live in the middle of the year in a market that is constricted, being unable to sign her own lease and without parents to co-sign the lease.
The result is that, while she tried to find housing in Davis and then out of Davis, without work and the ability to sign her own lease, she was in trouble. She ended up taking time off school, trying to find a job, and hoping to save enough money to return.
But times got tough, she had a mental breakdown, ended up in and out of institutions, on the edge of homelessness, and ended up dropping out of school shy of graduation.
A better rental system, more protections for renters, bed leases, more vacancy – all of that could have prevented this bright student from having to leave school.
Michael Harrington in his letter on Saturday (https://www.davisvanguard.org/2018/03/letter-city-affordable-housing-program/ ) argued that he was not “not anti-student or anti-student affordable housing” but the effect of challenging the Nishi affordable housing program is, in fact, harmful to low income students who would not qualify for state or federal subsidized affordable housing under existing law.
A $400 a month affordable apartment might have saved my intern from the hardship she endured.
Matt Williams in his comment to the Friday article writes: “This article misses the mark in one very crucial way … squandered opportunity to truly address the housing shortage.” He goes on to cite the lack of density compared to the previous Nishi project.
He argues: “If 2018 Nishi delivered the same amount of housing per acre as 2016 Nishi, then instead of 2,200 students having a roof over their heads 5,332 students would have a roof over their heads.”
A lot of people have argued that the 2016 Nishi mixed-use proposal with innovation space was superior to the 2018 model. And in a lot of ways it was. I have made the point that neither proposal is my ideal use of that space – I prefer the USC Village model of high density student housing combined with retail and R&D space, the likes of which we have not seen.
But that vision is not what the developer has proposed and so we should weigh the project on its own merits.
The new proposal responds to the concerns expressed during the 2016 Measure R campaign in which issues like traffic impacts and lack of affordable housing led to the downfall of the project.
The current project then addresses those issues by avoiding Richards Boulevard altogether and providing student affordable housing.
With that said, I believe the point that Matt Williams makes is completely wrong in several respects. The first problem is that we can argue over the ideal density, but right now the density is zero because Nishi is a vacant field and there is no housing, and if we cannot get something to the voters they will support that number will remain zero.
Second, he argues that if Nishi delivered the same amount of housing per acre as 2016, Nishi would have 5332 instead of 2200 students. While perhaps true, we can revert back to needing to pass a project, but, more to the point, we don’t need Nishi to be that dense to solve problems of housing.
In short, we are not looking at Nishi to solve housing by itself. We have already passed Sterling and Lincoln40. We will have the council in a month or so consider Plaza 2555 and there may be one or two other student housing proposals in town – although the council seems to be getting skittish on the concept.
The bottom line is we are looking at roughly 4000 or so additional beds in the city combined with 8500 supplied by the university, which gets us close to current projected housing needs for the next ten years.
Matt Williams argues that “Aaron and Don need to explain why they want 3,132 of their fellow students to remain homeless.” He writes that “3,132 minds are a terrible thing to waste.”
But they don’t need to do that at all, because the big picture is the 2200 beds at Nishi combined with other projects in town and university on-campus commitments get us close to where we need to be.
As I point out, the realities of Measure R are that we need to figure out the best projects that we can pass.
Mark West, who is running for council, argues that this is a “perfect example of why Measure R is such a poor planning tool.” And he may be right.
Measure R does force a compromise between the best planning principles and what the community is willing to support. Given that Measure R projects are currently 0 for three, and that the community narrowly voted down the previous Nishi proposal, the developers here cannot possibly put forward what they think is the best project – they have to put forward something that solves some community needs with the possibility of passage.
For people like Mark West that means that they will vote for Nishi, even though they think there are better projects. For people like Matt Williams, they will oppose Nishi, in hopes that they can get a better project.
For me, the needs of the students have to be taken into consideration. We cannot hold them hostage to our land use battles or disagreements with the university.
There are several who have written me and pointed out each time one of these issues rises, that’s why we need to get rid of Measure R. I remain supportive of Measure R because I value our community’s character. From a practical perspective, if you cannot pass a project, how are you going to get rid of the ordinance?
Instead of worrying about that big picture, I think we need to focus on the small picture. We have a housing crisis, we need to solve it.
—David M. Greenwald reporting