My View: Filling the Student Housing Need Is a No-Brainer

Panoramic image of the north side of West Village

Last spring when the city council approved Lincoln40, the council gave signals that they were close to their limit in terms of approving student housing projects.  However, when Davis Live was approved this past week, with another 440 beds for primarily students, the council hardly offered a murmur of protest.

What has changed in six months?  One clear and obvious answer is that the specifics of this project location made a student housing choice basically non-controversial.  After all, even Eileen Samitz, who has pushed back on what she has called “mini-dorms” and pushed for more housing on campus, on Tuesday acknowledged that the location of this project lent itself to student housing.

But, as I said earlier in the week, one impact of the litigation is that it might result in more student housing approvals than otherwise might have occurred.  Right now 3000 beds at Lincoln40 and Nishi are tied up in litigation by Susan Rainier and the law firm of Soluri Meserve.  Most likely, the 440 beds at Davis Live will also be tied up in litigation.

That means, of the 4200 or so approvals, only Sterling, which still has not broken ground, is free to proceed.  That means that 3500 of the 4200 beds approved cannot be built until and unless litigation ends.

Of the remaining projects, University Mall, a redevelopment and mixed-use project, is primarily set to be student housing – whereas, right now Plaza 2555 would only have a portion of its project as student housing.  When all is said and done, you could be looking at another 1000 beds on the upper end.

That would be around 5200 beds approved in the city primarily for students.  Some have suggested that the university at this point would not need to build anything.

As one of our commenters put it: “Given all of the approved and pending (“in the pipeline”) student housing proposals, it’s difficult to see why UCD would be motivated to build any student housing.  Approved developments include Sterling, Lincoln40, Nishi, Davis Live.”

Suggesting, “Taken together, I understand that the approved and pending proposals would accommodate more than UCD’s planned growth in enrollment, under their new LRDP.  (Leaving UCD to possibly deal with the backlog that was created in the past.)”

Even assuming that is a correct assessment, the current backlog has produced a 0.2 percent vacancy rate, has produced a vast increase in mini-dorms and student encroachment into single-family homes, and has led to housing insecurity, increased density in existing dwellings, and increased rental costs.

No one believes that 5200 is the only amount we need.  Recall that the push by people like Colin Walsh and Eileen Samitz going back to 2015 and 2016 was for 100-50.  One hundred percent was all of the new student enrollment.  But 50 percent of total enrollment goes well beyond that new student enrollment.  We calculated that to get to 100 percent, the university needed to put 10,000 additional beds on campus.

The city and Yolo County Board of Supervisors also agreed with that assessment and passed resolutions asking the university to get to 50 percent on-campus housing.

Even the university appears to agree that merely accommodating all of the new student enrollment projected for the next ten years is not enough.  They agreed to build 9050 additional beds, which takes us to 48 percent of the student enrollment being accommodated by on-campus housing.

Bottom line, I don’t see a reasonable way that the university could get away with not building any housing.  And if they tried to, especially after passing the LRDP with 9050 beds, the city and community could file a lawsuit and likely prevail.

As I have mentioned before, I believe that the immediate plans for housing and building 5200 to 6000 or so beds are likely to occur.  The bigger danger rests in that other 3800.  UC Davis has in the past agreed to build more housing, only to have that housing not materialize.

But some believe even what has been approved and is in the pipeline is not sufficient to solve the crisis.

Writing a comment in early August, Wesley Sagewalker pointed out, “Davis has not–even on paper–solved or ended the housing crisis. If we acknowledge that the rate of rental increases is outpacing inflation by a factor of 2-4x per annum for the last 20 years has created a rental housing market that is unaffordable to many students (as this blog has for at least the past year), then merely creating enough housing to theoretically accommodate the planned increase in enrollment (plus a little extra) is nowhere near sufficient…”

Adding to that view is that, given the litigation and uncertainty of most of the approved beds in Davis, the door is probably open for the city to do even more in terms of student housing.

As another commenter suggested, “I suspect that in 5-7 years from now when the full impacts of UCD’s growth come home to roost, the majority of Davis citizens may feel differently.  But by then it will be too late!”

That is certainly not a view I ascribe to.  The first problem, as I pointed out yesterday, is that the biggest impact of UC Davis growth occurs when we have inadequate housing.  That forces students into single-family homes and neighborhoods which leads to parking issues, noise, and the encroachment on available housing.  The conversion of single-family homes to mini-dorms is occurring at a rapid pace.

Don Gibson, pulling from the UC Davis Affordable Housing Task Force survey, estimates there are about 460 mini-dorms in Davis.  That’s about 2000 students living in mini-dorms that could be better served with new apartments like this project, he argued.

Adding a few apartment complexes to the city to accommodate student growth, in my view is not likely to cause huge impacts on the city.

Some have suggested that there will be impacted intersections, but for the most part adding housing near campus takes students out of their cars and onto bikes, buses or even on foot.

The negative fiscal impacts seem far-fetched.  For instance, Sterling Apartments’ fiscal analysis used a higher rate of employee compensation growth than recommended by consultant Bob Leland and still ended up a net-fiscal positive right until year 15, where it turned slightly negative.  I have argued that pushing projects out that far is unreasonable, because at some point what you are measuring is not the impact of a development but rather the impact of city fiscal decisions.

Bottom line – the city needs to contain the rising costs of employee compensation and find other sources of revenue.  If they do that, projects like Sterling are not going to be a drag on the city coffers.  If they do not do that, projects like Sterling are the least of our problems.

Bottom line for me – student housing was always the most pressing and most solvable problem facing this community.  Pressing because of the sheer magnitude of students and their impact on the rental market.  Solvable because building capacity actually fixes the problem.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

Get Tickets To Vanguard’s Immigration Rights Event

Eventbrite - Immigration Law: Defending Immigrant Rights and Keeping Families Together

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.

Related posts


  1. Matt Williams

    Perhaps there is a message here … zero comments in this article 19 hours after its publication.  Are the readers of the Vanguard tired of reading variations of the same article day after day after day after day?

  2. Ron

    David:  “But, as I said earlier in the week, one impact of the litigation is that it might result in more student housing approvals than otherwise might have occurred.”

    David’s reasoning is not explained, here.

    Is David suggesting that developers view the litigation as having a reasonable chance at success (and are therefore responding with more proposals)?  Or, is David suggesting that the litigation is viewed as a “temporary delay”, and is encouraging other developers to suddenly change their plans?  (And, that the city will also change/compromise its own zoning and plans as a result of the delay?)

    Either way, it’s nothing but speculation, by David. (Perhaps Alan had the right idea above, regarding this article.)


    1. David Greenwald

      I agree – it is speculation.  How could it be anything other than speculation?  It’s a future event that hasn’t played out.

      As to why I believe that – until actual housing is built, the pressure will remain on the city to alleviate the housing shortage.  The longer that those projects remain in limbo, the more the city will look for other ways to reduce that shortfall.

      1. Ron

         The longer that those projects remain in limbo, the more the city will look for other ways to reduce that shortfall.

        So, you’re suggesting that developers and the city will change its plans and zoning as a result of temporary delays.  And, that the entire issue regarding student housing is ultimately the city’s responsibility.

        Maybe some do view it that way, and are willing to compromise the city’s own plans (and other needs, including rentals suitable for non-students, commercial development, etc.).  That type of thinking and decision-making would certainly harm the city’s interests as a whole, and would further encourage/enable UCD to avoid building sufficient housing on campus (as has already been demonstrated in the past).

        This would also (ultimately) facilitate efforts to expand the city peripherally, as existing sites are used exclusively for student-oriented housing. (But, that goal also seems to fit in with the Vanguard’s advocacy, regardless.)

        If you’re correct, such an approach could conceivably create a “glut” of student housing (e.g., if the litigation fails and other proposals are approved), at the same time that the city is neglecting its own needs.  (Especially if UCD does follow-through on its own student housing plans.)

        In reference to Davis’ original name (“Davisville”), perhaps it should be changed to “Dormville”.

        1. David Greenwald

          How do you think markets work?  Demand generates the incentive for investment and creating additional supply.  If the demand is not filled, then that pressure will continue.  In this case, we have approved around 4200 or so beds, but 3500 could be tied up in litigation.  The longer that litigation is not resolved, the more the market will compel new suitors to enter.  That’s how a market system works.

          Right now we have approved a total of four apartment complexes.  THere were dozens of existing ones.  I don’t think approving additional apartments is going to alter the nature of this community.

        2. Ron

          David:  One thing that (successful) developers do is analyze risk.  They are not likely to change their plans if they view the litigation as a temporary delay (with ultimately no long-term change in the overall ability of a local market to meet demand).

          However, they might actually view potential litigation as a reason to not put forth proposals, since they would view that as a potential risk.  (In fact, this seems much more likely.)

          One can only hope that the city is as smart as successful developers are, in analyzing risks, costs, and benefits. (But then again, even many successful developers had their “shirts taken”, during the last downturn. Of course, some probably also realized the opportunity to scoop up more land and buildings at bargain prices during that downturn – when there was no “housing shortage”.)



        3. David Greenwald

          The risk of litigation is definitely there.  It hasn’t seemed to deter people seeking to provide housing for students which I’m sure most view as fairly low risk overall.

        4. Ron

          Maybe so.  But, that undermines your argument.

          Developers may be viewing the other proposals as experiencing a temporary setback as a result of litigation, which means that they would ultimately be built (thereby competing with their own proposals, in the rental market).

          In other words, no changes (either way) in the ability of a local market to meet demand, as a result of litigation. Just a temporary delay.

          Overall, I strongly suspect that a high risk of litigation is more likely to be viewed as a reason to not invest in a particular market. (Even if the litigation is viewed as not likely to be successful.) It almost certainly would help “weed out” some developers/investors.

        5. Ron

          The premise in your article was “twisted”, right from the beginning.  🙂

          In general, the risk of litigation is a negative, regarding developer interest. (Not sure how the city views it, but it seems that they already have their hands full of it.) Also wonder how the change in city attorney will impact that view, and/or the results.

          1. Don Shor

            At this point the ‘risk’ of litigation is nearly 100%, since nearly every development project in town gets a lawsuit. It just adds to the known cost of doing business here.

        6. Ron

          Don:  Sterling was not subjected to it, nor was the entire Cannery or Creekside developments (to the best of my knowledge). Probably many others, as well.

          The ability to question the legality of local development decisions is a cornerstone of our society.  As David previously pointed out, litigation must first survive “summary judgement” – early in the legal process (when costs are low).

          I have yet to see a well-planned, desirable community that didn’t have active citizen involvement/interest, including the possibility of litigation. (And yet, the developers and their advocates keep coming, since they recognize the value of such communities. At least until the next downturn – which impacts the entire region/state.)

        7. David Greenwald

          Ron: I fail to see why there is something mutually exclusive between a well-planned community and having sufficient housing.  In fact, I would argue that if we fail to provide enough housing, our community will not be well-planned.

        8. Ron

          David:  It depend upon how you define “enough housing”.  And, I suspect that this is where we have a fundamental disagreement.

          (I am not referring to student housing, with this statement.)

          For example, does Marin county have “enough housing”?  I would argue that it does, and is bordering on providing “too much” housing.  (Perhaps not a sufficient mix of “Affordable” housing within its existing stock, however.) The same might/might not be true, in Davis, regarding Affordable housing.

          By the way, I’ve noticed a significant increase in traffic on Highway 80, in recent years (as the economy has recovered from the last recession).

        9. Ron

          I just saw the following article, regarding Marin county.  I do see parallels between Davis and the North Bay area (including Marin).

          And again, if Davis is going to approve nothing but student housing – which could have been accommodated on campus (which results in bypassing Affordable housing available to all, within the city), this could exacerbate problems for non-students struggling to pay rent. (Not to mention compromising sites which provided services for other needs, such as Families First, commercial development, etc.)

          Note the following quote, as well as the references regarding Affordable housing in Marin:

          “However, while a rising cost of living might help push wages up, that doesn’t mean wages are increasing fast enough to keep pace.”

        10. Howard P

          Ron… am very familiar with the IJ… it’s almost as reliable as the Winters Express as far as great reporting… look at the creds of the person you chose to quote… truly staggering… extremely authoritative…

          Thanks for sharing… completely on topic and pertinent…

        11. Ron


          Are you disputing something in the article?  As is often the case with you, it’s difficult to tell if you’re putting forth some kind of argument.

          Regarding credentials, the article referrenced the following sources:

            “Robert Eyler, chief economist of the Marin Economic Forum and a professor at Sonoma State University, . . “

          And, if you “don’t like” that source, another is mentioned in the article:

          “According to Insight Center for Economic Development, an Oakland-based nonprofit, a Marin family with two working adults, one school age child and one preschooler would require an annual income of $129,313 to be self-sufficient in 2018.”

          Anything else you have to say?  If so, please do share.  Note that David’s comment regarding “well-planned communities” preceded my response.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for