My View: Unintended Consequences – Will Anyone Go above the Affordable Housing Requirements Again?

It remains to be seen what the outcome of Measure L will be.  However, one unintended impact of the opposition’s attacks on the West Davis Active Adult Community (Measure L) could be that future developers will not attempt the same type of affordable housing plan offered by the developers here.  From my perspective, given our need for affordable housing in this community, that would be a most unfortunate consequence regardless of your view of the current proposal.

The developers here have gone way beyond what they are required to do.  They have donated roughly 4.25 acres to the affordable housing site, on which 150 affordable units to extremely low-income seniors will be built.

But that has not stopped the opposition from attacking the project on these grounds.

To advance their argument, the opposition notes that Sterling Apartments, approved last spring on 5th Street, is putting in a total of 160 apartments, of which 38 will be dedicated and reserved as low income.  They have donated about 1 acre of land to the project and then, on top of that, they have made a $2 million contribution to the construction of that housing.

The opposition then points out that the developers are contributing in the Sterling project around $53,000 per apartment for their affordable housing contribution.  They then argue that WDAAC should be providing over $4 million in additional funding, to be making the same level of low-income housing contribution as the Sterling developers.

Instead, they argue, “The amount of money actually provided by the WDAAC developer for construction of his low-income housing obligation at WDAAC is $0.”

But this claim is misleading at best.  Part of the reason why Sterling was asked to pump in the additional money is that they were providing 71 affordable bedrooms in a development that had 611 total bedrooms.

While the opposition calculates the contribution to $53 per 38 apartments, the actual in lieu requirement is $75,000 per unit.  That comes to about 27 additional units, which would get the project to about 15 or 16 percent of the total bedrooms – or what has become the new standard for the affordable housing requirement.

Here is my favorite argument from the opposition: “If the same per apartment contribution to actually build the low-income housing was made by WDAAC as was made by Sterling, WDAAC would be providing over $4,000,000 in additional funding to the low income housing construction – 76 units x $53,289 per unit = $4,049,964.”

The opposition does not address why anyone would go above and beyond the requirement of affordable housing and then pay another $4 million on top of that in a cash contribution.

What we see at WDAAC is that the developer would have been required to build around 84 units in order to reach the 15 percent threshold.  The developer could have avoided much of this kerfuffle by simply donating 1.25 acres of the land, the minimum required and then pumping additional money just like Sterling did to help them build the housing.

The result is that the developers would have met the minimum 15 percent affordable housing requirements.  They would have had a cash contribution in there to assist with building the project.  And this attack by the opposition would not have occurred.

But is that in the best interest of the community?

Instead of 1.25 acres, they’ve donated around 4.25 – which means by their calculation, they have made about a $2.7 million contribution over and above what they were required to do.

In addition, there will be an additional 66 or so affordable units (there were some differences in what number that was originally required, but we will use 74 for the purpose of this argument).

Is it better to require the developer to build fewer units and pay a cash contribution for those units to be built, or is it better for them to donate more acres that will allow for more actual affordable units to be built?

The Vanguard spoke to David Thompson and Luke Watkins of Neighborhood Partners who are heading up the affordable housing proposal.  They have been doing affordable housing for 40 years.

One of the charges that the opposition has made has been that these units could never be built.

Mr. Thompson explained, “I have been doing housing for 40 years and I’ve built everything that I’ve taken on.”

He said that, “There is a lot of our own capital at stake when we do these things.  We would lose a lot of money if we every didn’t build something.”

Luke Watkins also said, “We’ve never not completed a project.”

Moreover, both of them believe that they will be able to, in relatively short order, raise the money necessary to build the units.

They pointed out that this project is modeled after the successful Eleanor Roosevelt Circle Project (ERC).  ERC was so successful that the project was exported to Dixon.  They were granted five acres of land to do it.  They have done two phases so far – first 60 units, then 54 units, and now 44 units next year will be phase 3.

They have easily been able to raise the money for it.

But here is the bottom line – and it was my concern from the start – the attacks on the affordable housing portion of the project were really attacks in general on land dedication sites.  We can require that the developers of sites build their own affordable housing, but we are not going to get 150 units of affordable housing for a 560-unit development if we do so.

So, we have ask – what is the greatest value for the community?  Less affordable housing but greater monetary contributions from the developers, or more affordable housing and more land dedicated by the developers for that purpose?

Unfortunately, these attacks on the project mean that if there is another peripheral site, the developer is going to be much less likely to go above and beyond their requirements – and more likely to play it safe by making a smaller commitment to affordable housing with a cash contribution.

—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. Ron

    As with most of the articles on the Vanguard, this one “defends” a development.  And, goes so far as to suggest that the opposition will be responsible for less affordable housing in future proposals.

    A truly twisted argument, as well as disgusting.

    Since this type of thing goes on day-after-day on here, it’s no wonder that it’s generated no comments (until this one) so far.

      1. Ron

        Your premise is not supported, and seems intended to “scare” Affordable housing advocates into supporting the proposal.  This further demonstrates your bias (which has become more clear/apparent to me, in this article).

      2. Howard P

        David… to state the painfully obvious… if you don’t actively (adamantly?) oppose development (aka, “BANANA”) you are pro-development, pro-developer, and are ‘in the developer’s pocket’…  c’est dommage that folk think that way, but gotta’ give them credit for being so vocal (and, ‘transparent’)…

        1. Ron

          David:  You’re asking me for ideas to support your speculation?

          You’re probably asking the wrong person, in the first place.  Maybe ask the developers? (You’re already using their figures regarding the value of the proposed Affordable housing site. I wonder how much that portion of the parcel, or the entire site is worth under its current zoning?)

  2. Eric Gelber

    The opposition …

    I would request that the Vanguard not use the definite article “the” when referring to opponents of Measure L, as is done throughout this article. The most vocal opponents do not speak for all opponents. Even the signatories to the ballot arguments are not “the” opposition. People, including me, have varying reasons for opposing WDAAC. I have no problem with the affordable housing plan or other aspects of the proposed development that “some” opponents do.  My opposition is based on the exclusionary nature of the development, including age restrictions and the ill-advised buyer preferences.

    1. Howard P

      Eric… je d’accord… my reservations are based on very practical matters… flood plain/drainage issues and sanitary sewer collection issues (not so worried about the processing/disposal part)… would have said I was a definite “no” vote before some of the posters here have inclined me to vote “yes”, just to refute them… I tend to go with my first instincts, but…

      1. Ron

        Howard:  ” . . . would have said I was a definite “no” vote before some of the posters here have inclined me to vote “yes”, just to refute them…”

        Really?  So, if those same commenters supported the proposal, you’d vote “no”, just to refute them?  (If they told you not to jump off a cliff, . . .)

  3. Tia Will

    The opposition does not address why anyone would go above and beyond the requirement of affordable housing and then pay another $4 million on top of that in a cash contribution.”

    Maybe to actually fulfill a statement that virtually every developer makes for essentially every development ? That statement is that their project will benefit “the entire community”. I have had the discussion with several developers who, in one on one conversation have all admitted that no project benefits the “entire community” and that there are always “winners and losers”. This is a bit of hyperbole that is regularly used to win support, but is essentially meaningless. Going beyond the minimum required would not add to their bottom line, but would come closer meeting their misleading statement.


  4. Sharla C.

    Certain people who oppose the project seem to view all measures as a “developer wanting something from them.”  So it is understandable that they would focus on wanting to know “what’s in it for them?” and attempt to barter for a better deal.  The vote is to change the zoning and expand the City limits to allow a particular use – industrial, commercial, residential – to happen that would satisfy a need.  Every project can’t satisfy all needs at once.

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