Commentary: Student Housing Crisis Not Over Just Yet

Was talking with the developer from Sterling on Monday.  Some might have noticed that the land for the Sterling project has been cleared, but the construction is not underway just yet.  Was told that this figures to change in August when they hope to break ground.  It’s a tight squeeze, a 22-month construction schedule with the hope it would be open in time for students to move into the apartments in August 2020, in time for the 2020-21 year.

It seems like 2020 could be an important year for student housing.  But as we look at the timelines, while it seemed reasonable to believe that we could have a glut of new housing on the market by then, it appears increasingly unlikely to be the case.

Take UC Davis.  Right now the plan is to have 5200 beds online in time for the 2020-21 school year.  That includes the expansion of Webster, Emerson, West Village and Orchard Park.  But 2020 may well be too ambitious and, at the rate of construction, 2021 or even 2022 seems more reasonable.  In their March announcement, they said 5200 student beds over six years, which takes us to 2024.

Then you have Lincoln40 which, under ideal conditions, would probably have a 2020 opening date as well, but that project is waiting to get underway due to litigation.

Then you have the newly-approved Nishi project which could also have its first wing opened by 2020, but it is stuck in the same place as Lincoln40 – waiting to resolve the litigation.

Realistically, while it looks like Sterling has a tight window, it can make its 2020 opening date.  But for the rest of the projects, you are probably more reasonably looking at 2021 if not 2022 before they open.

That means we will get between 7000 to 10,000 beds online, but maybe not until 2022 – that’s five more school years realistically.

Therein lies a huge problem.  There is a tendency to believe, hey we approved a whole bunch of housing, the student housing crisis is going to be solved soon.  And it may be – in five years.

But, in the meantime, students are at the very best going to continue to live under the same conditions as before.  And. in fact, there’s a reasonable chance things get worse before they get better as UC Davis continues to add up to 1000 students each school year – the housing crunch will get worse before it gets better.

Some are calling on UC Davis to get up to 50 percent of the enrollment housed on campus.  At this point, you are talking about 1000 additional students arriving.  That’s certainly not a significant number, but it is dwarfed by other factors.  Instead of pushing on the university to go from 9050 to 10,000 new beds, there are other things that would make a bigger difference.

First, my biggest concern is not whether UC Davis will add 1000 more beds to the plan, it’s what happens after they add capacity for 5200 beds in the next six years.  In March, before the Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) announced the rollout of their final DRAFT LRDP, they announced plans for 5200 beds over six years.

The key question is what their plan is for getting that final 3850 beds after six years.  My concern – and I think one shared by a lot of other people in the community – is that once the LRDP is done, once they roll out with their first 5200 beds by 2024, what’s the plan for the last 3800 beds?  Will the pressure be off at that point and those beds not get built?  University officials say that’s not going to happen, but the city and community have no assurances here.

Second, those who have filed the lawsuits that are slowing Lincoln40 and Nishi need to understand a few things.  First, no one is going to settle with them.  The city figured out some time ago that settling just brings more lawsuits.  So the city is going to wait out the developer and push it through the litigation process.  No one who has gotten a decision by a court has actually won one of these.  The only way anyone has won has been when there is a settlement.

In addition, a court during a housing crisis statewide is unlikely to invalidate an approved housing project, ESPECIALLY one approved by the voters with a sizable affordable component.  I laughed when someone said that political factors don’t matter to courts, but, more importantly, they seem to forget that the law while important is subjective with a lot of gray areas.

At best, litigation is not going to stop any of these projects, it is only going to delay commencement.  Delayed commencement hurts students in need of housing sooner rather than later.

So by delaying the building of 3000 beds in town, and pushing back the opening date perhaps from 2020 to 2022 or later, the litigants are hurting student renters and heightening their misery.

Finally, just because the city has approved a bunch of student housing projects does not mean that they are done.  In fact, a project like Davis Live Apartments is pretty much shovel-ready and, if approved soon, could also open by 2020.  That would add over 500 beds and would do a lot to alleviate the worsening of the student housing crisis.

In our view then, all actors – the city, the university, and private litigants – can do their part now to help prevent the student housing crisis from getting worse.

The university needs to make sure it gets the housing built to open in two years and needs to make sure it builds the full 9050 beds over the next 10.  The city can approve additional beds.  And private litigants can cut their losses and drop their suits that are only going to delay the inevitable and, in the process, make things worse.

—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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13 Comments

  1. Don Shor

    The university should put up portables wherever on campus they can for the immediate housing crisis their students are facing. I was driving out to the Foundation Plant Services facility, which is out near the Haagen-Dazs Bee garden (worth a visit, by the way) on the road to the Primate Center. There is a group of derelict looking old buildings out there, probably not suitable for housing but evidence that there is electricity and water service to the site. Portable FEMA-type trailers could be moved there and I’d bet a lot of students would happily move in. There are probably sites like that elsewhere around campus. UCD needs to understand they have a current housing crisis that needs attention.

    1. Howard P

      There is definitely precedent for that… right after WWII, surplus quonset huts were used to house an influx of male students, seeking to use their GI Bill educational support … current site of Davis Commons/Aggie Villas…

      Manufactured housing/portables are do-able… a good interim measure…

    2. Highbeam

      Some of the “temp” buildings (they are id’d as TB #__) have experiments going on, some are storage for entities like Whole Earth Festival and Picnic Day…yes, there is electricity and water to the area.
      cathy

    3. Jeff M

      I think that state and local building and fire codes would not support that.  Also, don’t forget CA Nanny-State Tile-24.   FEMA-type trailers get a pass for disasters, but unless you can declare the student housing shortage a disaster, you are going to need to provide all the bells and whistles.

  2. David Greenwald

    But you guys are getting off track.  That is all a temporary solution, the point of my article is there is still substantial work to be done on a more permanent housing solution.

    1. Howard P

      The low vacancy/availability rate is “real time”… more apartments/dorms are two years out, if UCD started today… we are NOT off-track (except the silly “tent” thing) in suggesting “bridges” that could well be implemented in 3-4 months…

  3. Ron

    From article:  “Second, those who have filed the lawsuits that are slowing Lincoln40 and Nishi need to understand a few things.  First, no one is going to settle with them.”

    What makes you think they’re pursuing a “settlement”? 

    What advantage (to the litigants) would there be, in simply delaying a development? If you think there’s a “benefit” in pursuing delays, would it be worth the cost and effort to the litigants?

    From article:  “In addition, a court during a housing crisis statewide is unlikely to invalidate an approved housing project, ESPECIALLY one approved by the voters with a sizable affordable component.  I laughed when someone said that political factors don’t matter to courts, but, more importantly, they seem to forget that the law while important is subjective with a lot of gray areas.”

    “And private litigants can cut their losses and drop their suits that are only going to delay the inevitable and, in the process, make things worse.”

    The legal basis of the lawsuits has not been discussed on here.  Mostly, just armchair political analysis and predictions from someone who has no legal expertise.

    1. David Greenwald

      “What makes you think they’re pursuing a “settlement”?

      What advantage (to the litigants) would there be, in simply delaying a development? If you think there’s a “benefit” in pursuing delays, would it be worth the cost and effort to the litigants?”

      Which does lead to inevitable question: what is the point of their litigation? They aren’t going to prevail in court. So why litigate?

      1. Ron

        I was asking you, since you seem to think that’s their only realistic/achievable objective.

        I don’t know whether or not they’ll prevail in court.  However, I don’t think that a defense consisting of a “student housing crisis” will have much sway, if there are actionable/legitimate legal issues.

        1. David Greenwald

          Actually I don’t know that they have a realistic goal.  I’m not sure why they would file a lawsuit here and think it has almost no chance of prevailing.

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