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