Commentary: UCD Needs to Ensure Housing on Campus is Built and Is Affordable for Students

This week, the Davis City Council placed their LRDP Response on the consent calendar.  There were several members of the public who spoke during public comment in response, including two candidates, Dan Carson and Eric Gudz, as well as Greg Rowe and Eileen Samitz.

The Vanguard at this time believes that, while the university remains just shy of the goal of 50 percent of total university campus student population being housed on campus, the primary focus of the city should be in two areas: affordability and ensuring that commitments are met.  This commentary will address a third area as well – compensation for impact.

The city continues to push for 50 percent: “The University will commit to housing a minimum of 100 percent of the projected student enrollment of all new incoming students and at least 50 percent of total University campus student population in the LRDP.”

While this would be a hope – at this point the university has gone from 6200 to 8500 to 9050 beds.  That still leaves them short of the 10,000 new beds needed to provide housing on-campus for half the student population, but it does dramatically move them in the right direction from 28 percent to 48 percent.

A lot of people continue to put blame on the university for not providing the housing that other campuses do on campus.  However, from our analysis, the university over time has largely acted appropriately for the ecosystem in Davis.

Tracking university growth and city growth over the last 50 years shows that the university and city mainly grew in tandem from 1970 to 2000.  What changed was that, in 2000, the city passed Measure J.  However, because of the recession, as late as 2013 there really was no disconnect between city growth trajectories and that of the campus.

It is only in the last five to six years that the campus has grown and the city did not build new market rate multi-family housing to accommodate that growth, as they had previously.

UC Davis has been a bit slow to alter their stance, but some of that is understandable with leadership turmoil and the fallout from the recession.

Traditionally, unlike with other UCs, there has been for students an advantage to living off campus, and so for the most part students live on campus in year one and afterward move off campus where housing is less expensive than their UC host city counterparts.  That is starting to change and UC Davis is clearly shifting to accommodate those changes.

The city pushes UC Davis on affordability: “The University will commit to housing students of all incomes, and will incorporate innovative affordable housing models, including cooperative housing.”

This is a huge issue.  There are two separate problems.  First, the cost to live on campus is about 60 percent higher than living off campus.  That means that, unless UC Davis addresses affordability in the small “a” variety, many students will continue to live off campus and efforts by UC Davis to bring 50 percent of student population to the campus will fail.

Analysis shows that UC Davis is the second most costly to live on campus of all the UCs.  Moreover, couple that with Davis being second least expensive, and the incentive for students to live on campus does not exist other than in the vacuum of availability.

The second problem is the lack of big “A” affordable housing on campus.  UC Davis is shutting down Solano Park.  Students have complained that even “affordable housing” is not affordable.

Caroline McKusick pointed out recently that after UC Davis closed Orchard Park they then announced they would close Solano Park. “Student Housing began dramatically raising rents and parking permit costs. What had once been affordable housing now came to cost almost 50% of a student-worker’s income.”

The university last year, in February 2017, announced that they would sign a contract with University Student Living to develop and operate the new Orchard Park.  The rents were announced to be “as close to $1,000 as possible” – even though $1000 would be two-thirds of a TA’s salary.

Currently, at Solano Park students pay $766 a month for a one bedroom, which doesn’t sound bad until you realize that this is just 449 square feet.  That is considered student affordable housing.  A two bedroom at Solano Park, which rents for about $900, is just 559 square feet.

A second problem beyond affordability is ensuring that UC Davis follows through on their commitments.  There is a realistic concern about UC Davis building their housing beyond the first wave.

The university stated in its LRDP release, “Including the West Village Expansion and Orchard Park projects as project-specific analysis within the LRDP DEIR helps accelerate these two projects for 5,200 beds of student housing for early delivery in the LRDP period. Of the 8,500 beds of new construction in the 2018 LRDP, these first projects are targeting occupancy for 5,200 students as early as Fall of 2020.”

The West Village Expansion “would provide additional student housing for approximately 3,800 students north of Hutchison Drive and west of Celadon Street in the West Village neighborhood on the west campus at UC Davis.”

But there appears to be no concrete plan to build beyond those 5200 beds, and there is a precedent for UC Davis to promise housing and not deliver it.

The city pushes: “The University will develop a construction and financing implementation strategy to ensure the delivery of campus housing units and facilities in a timely manner commensurate with levels committed to by the University in these mitigation measures.”  Moreover, in Mitigation Measure 6: “The University will regularly demonstrate to the City (eg. Reporting to the City Council at least annually) that the housing target has been achieved.”

The city needs to ensure that all 9050 units get built and that, if UC Davis grows faster, they adjust their plan accordingly.

Finally, there is the issue of compensating for infrastructure and services.

Dan Carson has been consistent on the issue of UC Davis reaching an agreement with the city.  In April 2017, in a guest piece, he wrote: “If Berkeley and Santa Cruz can receive revenue streams, traffic projects, and campus help with student housing, so can we, and so should we.  UC Davis was fine with signing a written agreement that, starting in the next few days, will give them a share of the city’s new surface water. There’s no reason the campus shouldn’t agree to putting their LRDP promises in writing as well.”

Last week, he stated, “We can follow the model of Berkeley and Santa Cruz, that I’ve educated my commission and the city council about.  They’ve created great two-way working relationships where folks on both sides work together.”

The city has a few items that address some of these issues as well.

Mitigation Measure 5: “The University will enter into an agreement with the City to compensate for the direct and indirect impacts of students on city infrastructure and services.”

Of these issues, I am least amenable here to a formal agreement.  I believe that the city of Davis has obligations as a host city.  Moreover, with a huge percentage of the community employed by UC Davis, the benefits greatly outweigh the costs overall.

I agree more with Mark West here: “Davis is the host city for a major university.  It is our responsibility to provide housing for the students and staff and faculty at that university. “

He later added, “The population of Davis also grew at about that same rate all the way through to 2000, when we decided to be a no growth city.  The entire thing that we have today has been that the relationship between the city and the university has been poisoned by those who want to block development and growth in Davis and prevent people from living in town.  We ruined the relationship not the university, it’s our job to recreate it.  We need to recreate it by going back to being a good neighbor with the university, providing housing for their students, faculty, and staff.”

The entire notion that we should attempt to extract compensation for providing housing to students seems to run counter to the notion of a responsible host city.  I continue to worry that our focus on housing rather than economic development with respect to UC Davis will leave us at a huge disadvantage in the future as Sacramento gets the benefits of a university-sponsored innovation center and Davis ends up with a grudging agreement for housing compensation.

In short, I believe we should accept 48 percent housing on campus this go-round, we should focus on making sure the 9050 beds get built and that they are affordable, and we should not focus on a compensation agreement with UC Davis.

—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. Don Shor

    I don’t know if a local campus has the authority to subsidize housing, which is the only way it could be made affordable. That may require a policy directive from the UC Office of the President, as it is my understanding that housing has to pay its own way. The way a private developer can make some units affordable is by having them subsidized by the other tenants. I don’t know if UC can do that, or is willing to do that. More likely they will simply redefine ‘affordable’ to mean whatever they are charging for the smallest, least expensive units. The term is rather fungible.


    1. Howard P

      I don’t know for sure, but what Don writes fits in very well with what I have seen and heard (and experienced) over the past 40+ years…

      Like a glacier, UC policies tend to move slowly…

      1. Ken A

        It is not just UC “policies” that move slowly like a glacier.  UC development projects also move slowly like a glacier.  It has been four years since UC vacated the ~200 unit Orchard Park Apartments at Russell and 113.  I’m betting that it will be at least another few years before anyone is living on the site.  As a comparison ~20 years ago Randy Yackzan took a vacant lot west of 113 and built the ~100 unit “Glacier Point” in under a year…

  2. Jim Hoch

    If they build housing and it fills up then it is “affordable”. Many of the people who demand housing affordability are the same ones demanding policies that make housing unaffordable.

      1. Ken A

        Since David says “LOL” to a new full student housing property that everyone in it can “afford” I’m wondering how he would define an “affordable” unit?  Since some people have $0.00 in income to make it “affordable” for them the rent would need to be $0.00 per month.

        1. David Greenwald

          The problem with the statement is you could have luxury housing that sells out. That doesn’t make it affordable in any ordinary usage of the word. Affordable by implication does not mean “affordable for someone.”

        2. Jim Hoch

          Every product sold is “affordable for someone.”. If it was not affordable for someone it would not sell. No product is “affordable for everyone.”. If an apartment was $50/month there are people who would/could not afford it because they do not have $50 or they have other priorities for $50. 


      2. Howard P

        Jim’s second sentence (ignored by you) is pertinent… see also Don’s post… think balloon… push on one end, bulges on the other… UCD (and UC) have this mindset that providing housing is a zero sum game… and is not a core function… so, making some of the housing “big A affordable” will mean that all other housing will be more Expensive… balloon… zero-sum…

        Good luck… sometimes it is possible to tilt at a windmill and actually win…

        Snide comment: this is all to make sure the tenured, Admin, Regents etc. are “properly” compensated… an unwritten “core function”…

        1. Ken A

          Below are the top 35 highest paid UC employees (from 2016) who I’s sure are not in favor of any subsidized UC housing if it might force any of them to scrape by with less than a million per year.

          James Lawrence Mora

          Cuonzo Martin
          UC Berkeley

          Daniel Dykes
          UC Berkeley

          Stephen Todd Alford

          Gordon Alan Cohen

          Ronald W Busuttil

          Vadiyala Mohan Reddy

          Timothy H McCalmont

          Eric Esrailian

          Philip E Leboit

          Robert N. Weinreb

          Benjamin J Ansell

          Gary L Gitnick

          Michael M. Madani

          Khalil M Tabsh

          Naveen D Bhandarkar

          Brian G Derubertis

          Abbas Ardehali

          Dinesh K Chhetri

          Ehtisham Mahmud

          Richard J Shemin

          Jagdeep Bachher

          Michael T Lawton

          Jeffrey Dong-Sun Suh

          Daniel H Geschwind

          Shang I Brian Jiang

          Mark R Laret

          James M Heaps

          Merrill E Gershwin

          Gerald S Berke

          Nicholas C Saenz

          Isaac M Neuhaus

          Neil A Martin

          Michael W McDermott

          John P Roberts


        2. Howard P

          Core mission/function, no,  Ken?  Mais oui, certainment…

          Just thought… guess UC is a “sport”… those look like the median/lower teir of professional athletes…

      3. Jim Hoch

        Definition of affordable

        : able to be afforded : having a cost that is not too high

        If people choose to live in a new UCD facility then the price is “not too high”.

        1. David Greenwald

          You should define affordable housing, not affordable.

          “Affordable housing is housing which is deemed affordable to those with a median household income…” That comes from HUD.

        2. Howard P

          Called “the market”, elsewhere… supply and demand… then, there are subsidies, aka charity… there is definitely a place for charity… would that more fund charity…  willingly… ‘pro-choice’ as it were…

          1. David Greenwald

            I wouldn’t make that bet if I were you. Most people I know these days making around $95,000 are living month to month and would not be able to afford additional rent. I know I can’t. I’d also point out that the majority of students who are at UC Davis make income at levels that trigger them to be subsidized by the state for tuition.

        3. Ken A

          Just like most people making $95K don’t have the cash to buy a new Toyota most can qualify to buy a Toyota with a loan.  I know a little bit about student loans and before David does any betting he should know that not only “most” UC Davis students with a $95K family income can get student loans to pay for school “almost all” of them can qualify.  

          No one is forcing anyone to buy a car or go to college and the people that don’t want a car are free to keep riding their bike or taking the bus just like the people that don’t want to go to UC are free to get a job pumping gas, learn a trade or go to an (almost free) Junior College to get an AA degree…

    1. Alan Miller

      > Many of the people who demand housing affordability are the same ones demanding policies that make housing unaffordable.

      JH, I don’t agree with you about many things, but what you stated there is a TROOTH!

  3. Jeff M

    This just in…

    The people of Folsom have demanded that Intel Corporation – the city’s largest employer and one that keeps the city from being more like Rio Linda – have demanded that the company build housing for all its employees on company property and that the housing be high-density so as to not put pressure for Folsom residents to accept any more peripheral development.

    1. Alan Miller

      > so as to not put pressure for Folsom residents to accept any more peripheral development

      Ironic, since modern Folsom IS peripheral development.

  4. Matt Williams

    David Greenwald said . . . “However, because of the recession, as late as 2013 there really was no disconnect between city growth trajectories and that of the campus.”

    I’m not sure where you are getting your numbers David, but based on US Census numbers from 2000 through 2010 the University’s enrollment growth rate (a bit more than 21%) was more than double the City’s population growth rate (a bit less than 9%).

  5. Matt Williams

    David Greenwald wrote . . . “Dan Carson has been consistent on the issue of UC Davis reaching an agreement with the city.  In April 2017, in a guest piece, he wrote: “If Berkeley and Santa Cruz can receive revenue streams, traffic projects, and campus help with student housing, so can we, and so should we.  UC Davis was fine with signing a written agreement that, starting in the next few days, will give them a share of the city’s new surface water. There’s no reason the campus shouldn’t agree to putting their LRDP promises in writing as well.”

    Both the Nishi 2016 and Nishi 2018 developments were/are perfect opportunities for UC Davis to come to the table as a “win-win” partners with the City, and “win-win-win” partners with the developer and the City.  However that has not happened either in 2016 or in 2018. I say that because UCD is the party that benefits most if/when the Nishi project goes forward.  A good place to start the dialogue Dan Carson has described is an open and transparent comparison of the dollars and resources UCD has spent on West Village to the dollars and resources UCD has committed to the Nishi 2018 project.  It is much easier to talk about “win-win” when there actually is a “win.” 

    To the best of my knowledge, UCD and the City haven’t even sat down and made an effort to describe/define a mutually beneficial “win-win” playing field.

  6. Ken A

    I’m wondering if Matt can explain how “UCD is the party that benefits most if/when the Nishi project goes forward”  UC Davis has about three people that apply for each open spot (Cal & UCLA have about twice as many applicants per spot despite much higher local housing costs).  I don’t think anyone at UC Davis (or Cal or UCLA) has ever said “If we don’t build more housing we won’t have any kids that want to come here”…

    1. Matt Williams

      I will be glad to provide that explanation Ken.  UCD suffers from a housing shortage for its ever growing enrollment.  I’m in the process of working with Student Housing to show the size of that shortage on a year by year basis.  With the enrollment growth trend of 1,000 additional students per year, that housing shortage has gotten significantly worse in the past five years, and will get even worse in the years to come.  Every parent who decides where their child will go to college factors lots of pieces of information into their decision process  when choosing between schools.  Availability (and safety) of housing is one of the key factors.  The higher the probability that their child will have to commute from non-Davis housing to UCD every day, the greter the probability that they will choose either (A) not to apply to UCD, or (B) not to actually go to UCD when actually accepted.  Lost students means lost revenue.  A meaningful (and persistent) increase in lost students means a diminished reputation for the University.

      Housing that is only 0.5 miles from the UCD Quad, with no commuting safety concerns (crossing Old Davis Road being the highest risk interaction point, is a very low transportation risk, high quality mitigation to UCD’s housing shortage.

      Arguably each  individual UCD student benefits at an equal level as UCD.  UCD, gets both the aggregation of those individual student benefits, as well as the timeline benefits of different student cohorts over multiple years.

  7. Ken A

    I spent all day last Saturday in Berkeley at multiple events before and after the graduation where I talked to a lot of Cal students, recent grads and parents.  Just like almost no one decides to go to UCD over Cal because apartments rents are cheaper almost no one will choose to go UC Merced (or other lower ranked school) over UCD since apartment rents are cheaper.

    I heard someone make the comment that “it is not hard to get into college, it is only hard to get in to the top 50 colleges where almost everyone wants to go”.  UCD is in most “top 50” lists and only a foolish person would go to a lower rated school due to housing issues.

    P.S. Anyone that starts a Davis apartment hunt early will have a lot of choices at reasonable prices (especially if they are OK sharing a room).  The only people that “have” to commute to school in Davis are the poor (that don’t want to borrow money), or the super picky (that want a pool view with an attached garage and a washer and dryer in the unit)…

    1. David Greenwald

      That’s not completely true Ken.  The people who have problems in Davis are those who have problems with their landlords or their units.  Basically if you do everything right in your search – you look early and get a decent place, then you’ll be okay.  HOWEVER, if anything goes wrong, you are screwed.

      1. Ken A

        David is correct that what I say is not “completely” (aka 100%) true but I’m betting that less than 0.1% (one in a thousand) people in Davis are have a problem with their landlords so severe (aka legal action) or units (aka the place is red tagged) that is so severe that they are “forced” to move out each year.

        I know we have a tight rental market in town, and I am in favor of building ~2K, ~5K or even 20K units on the Nishi site if a private developer (vs. Davis taxpayers) pay for the units.  I just want people to do a reality check and realize that just like it is hard to get in to ALL top schools it is hard (and even more expensive) to get housing in (almost) ALL top towns.

        P.S. Students in Cambridge, NY, Palo Alto, LA, SD, SF & Berkeley almost all pay WAY more in rent than the students in Davis do so unless UCD works to lower its ranking and the city works hard to make the city a worse place to live we should expect the cost of UCD and the cost of living in Davis to keep increasing as more and more people want to go to school here and live here…

        1. David Greenwald

          It seems like a more frequent complaint than you imply.

          Nevertheless, the cause of the problem is clear – 0.2 percent or 0.4 percent vacancy might as well be zero. Because there are two types of places available – those that are so bad no one will rent and those that will have 100 applicants. BTW, the problem is understated because many choose to rent out of town and then commute. Also bear in mind, 3 percent of all students are housing insecure – I believe that is also a low number. That may not sound like a ton, but it amounts to over 1000 students.

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