Last spring, when the Vanguard attempted to find data on the student housing crisis, the information that the university had was very limited. The university could not tell us how many students suffered from homelessness or housing insecurity with any kind of accuracy.
Fortunately the Graduate Student Association (GSA) along with UC Davis commissioned a UC Davis housing survey. We now have a much better picture of what is happening.
We don’t have the methodology or the final survey released, but the snippet that Don Gibson provides us is alarming.
For those who argued during the campaign that the student housing crisis was not a real crisis, these numbers say otherwise. It is a crisis and, as GSA President Don Gibson put it in his column on Sunday, “what we found was even more illustrative of a crisis than we expected.”
The numbers point to another area of frustration – I kept asking the city last year to give us a number as to how many beds we needed to add. The city never did that and we have had to rely on estimates.
We are still relying on that, but, based on this survey, Don Gibson concludes: “If UC Davis builds everything it says it will, and if all projects that have been passed and are currently in the queue for debate and decision get built, we will still have a shortage of at least 1,200 beds by the 2022-2023 school year.”
If true, that is probably going to fall on the city to address in a few years, but in the meantime we have other numbers to chew on.
The most alarming news is that the rate of homelessness and housing insecurity falls right around the systemwide average.
They find, “19% of UC Davis students report some form of homelessness or housing insecurity (couch surfing). As a middle-class university town, we can do better.”
The number we have is that 9 percent of students experienced homelessness during the course of a given school year and 19 percent are considered housing insecure.
Putting numbers to percentages, we get an idea of the extent of the problem.
That means if we assume 36,000 students, 3240 students experience homelessness at some point during the school year. Another 6840 are what we call housing insecure. We need more precise definitions of both, but let me step out on a limb and state: that number is too high.
Both numbers are far higher than previous estimates.
Don Gibson also finds that the numbers understate the nature of the problem. The rise of mini-dorms has acted to mask the extent of the housing problem. The reason is simple: the less housing we have, the more students are forced into higher density living arrangements. This takes the form of mini-dorms, where large numbers of students stuff themselves in huge numbers into formerly single family homes.
The campus survey estimates that there are at least 465 “mini-dorms” in Davis, defined as 1.5 renters per bedroom in a detached home. There are approximately 2200 students living in them.
The problem here is that you end up with neighborhood impacts in terms of noise, parties, and parking. Mr. Gibson argues that these numbers represent pent up demand for additional housing.
He writes, “To reduce impacts on family neighborhoods these students need more options.” This adds to the belief that by simply building more student housing, we can start reducing the incursion of students into single family housing.
If we could free up 465 single family homes that could be for-sale or rental homes for families, that is just as good as adding a modest sized housing development in Davis – without the need to blow out the borders or pass a Measure R vote.
Just with this limited release of numbers we have a much clearer picture as to what is going on. We have essentially two problems with housing right now – the first is we need to get the approved housing built, and second is we are likely going to need more housing than currently approved.
The first problem is one of some urgency. The university has agreed to build some 5200 beds within the next five years. But to do so, they must gain approval of their LRDP (Long Range Development Plan) and EIR (Environmental Impact Report).
The problem in the city is more dicey, as the city council has approved and with the current proposals could provide up to 4400 beds. But 3000 of those at Lincoln40 and Nishi are tied up in litigation. If allowed to simply build those beds, there is a chance they could open in time for the 2020-21 school year, certainly by 2021-22.
But right now they are looking at about 18 to 24 months of litigation, based on the speed of previous suits. That means at minimum another year or two that 3000 students will have to live on couches and in libraries and cram into more single family homes, displacing families and other current residents, creating noise and parking impacts.
But beyond the immediate picture, as we have pointed out, the LRDP is silent on the timing and roll out of the last 3800 units – a problem the city has pointed out time and time again. And now, Don Gibson estimates that even if all of that is built, we are still looking at a shortfall of at least 1200 beds in five years.
The short-term problem is more severe, however. In the time it takes to get projects from approval to being opened, students are suffering and there is no short-term plan to address this housing shortfall – nor do the litigants seem to care about the impact that their suits are having on students living in housing insecurity and homelessness.
—David M. Greenwald reporting