Commentary: If I Were To Vote Yes on WDAAC, It Would Be Because of Affordable Housing


This is the first of a two-part series.  This part focuses on the issue that would tip the scales for me in supporting Measure L, the West Davis Active Adult Community (WDAAC).  That is the issue of affordable housing.  The second part will feature my assessment of the issue that would tip the scales the other way and cause me to vote no on the project.

The positive of this project is that it would provide large scale affordable housing for low income seniors.  David Thompson points out that the project would be the largest in Davis and the 4.25 acres set aside would also be the largest in Davis.

As David Thompson pointed out at last week’s forum: “It far surpasses the city requirement – it is the largest piece of land that any developer has ever given for affordable housing in the city of Davis.  It will be the largest number of units ever built in the city of Davis.”

Alan Pryor quickly countered, saying that “we believe that the developer is not even meeting the minimum requirements of the city’s low-income housing ordinance by the donation of only 4.25 acres of land.”

But I am struck by the implications of those two statements, because if Alan Pryor believes that the developer is not meeting minimum requirements, it is odd that this would be the largest project in Davis on the most amount of land.

The reality is that it’s actually not even that close.  The largest current affordable housing project in Davis is New Harmony at 69 units.  That will soon be surpassed by Creekside, also developed by David Thompson and Luke Watkins of Neighborhood Partners.  They are planning to go up to 90 units on that site.

WDAAC would be larger than that – much larger – at 150 units.

The opposition argues, “You keep falling for the project propaganda hook, line, and sinker. The proposed 150 affordable ‘units’ are in fact all studio and 1-bedroom, as opposed to the 2-, 3-, and “3+” bedroom units on the rest of the site.”

David Thompson addressed the issue of why they are building studios and one-bedroom units: “Seniors do not need two or three bedroom units.  Elderly low income seniors, are usually single people.  HUD and other requirements are that we can only build a one-bedroom unit for them, they cannot live in a two bedroom unit.”

The highly successful Eleanor Roosevelt Circle is the model for this project.  That project, however, is 60 units of low income housing for seniors.

What I learned from meeting with David Thompson and Luke Watkins is exactly how high a need a facility like this is.

ERC serves mostly low to extremely low income residents, many of whom are on Section 8 vouchers.  Residents on average earn less than $13,000 a year, or around $800 per month.  That would be an unlivable wage if they could not find affordable senior housing.

In fact, 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.

The downside of ERC, it is only 60 units.  That means there is a huge demand for low income housing that has not been met.  According to their records, for ERC alone there is about a 224-person waiting list.  Some people spend three years on it before they find a place that opens up – many of them die waiting to get a space.

Overall, in just the four senior housing low-income sites in Davis – Kennedy Circle, Shasta Point, ERC and CHOC (Community Housing Opportunities Corporation) – there is a waiting list of 441 people.  These are people making at times less than $13,000 a year.

There is a clear need for this type of project in this community.

The problem that we face is obvious – I think most people would support the low income senior housing project if it were a standalone.   But the problem for many is that it is attached to the market rate and some have problems with the market rate site.

Basically the problem here is that we have a good affordable housing project attached to sprawl.  Part II of this exercise will show that I am not immune to that assessment either.  But there are several points to be made here.

First of all, without RDA or other affordable housing money, the only way to build low income housing of this sort is through land dedication.  When I went on the Sacramento Affordable Housing tour, I learned of the number of ways land is acquired.  As it turns out there are three key barriers to affordable housing – first, land must be acquired, second, infrastructure must be laid down, and third, there must be construction and also maintenance costs.

Getting land is the biggest hurdle.  A lot of the sites toured in Sacramento were acquired through RDA funds, land dedication, or other means.  In Sacramento, there are non-profits that can raise the money through grants and fundraising efforts to acquire land.  That hasn’t happened in Davis and so, for the most part, affordable housing is linked to market rate.

The fact that WDAAC is donating 4.25 acres for affordable housing is a big deal and not one to be diminished by opposition.

Second, infrastructure costs can be substantial.  I went to some of the Habitat for Humanity sites in Sacramento and they were able to build the sites pretty well with volunteer labor.  The biggest costs were getting the infrastructure laid down – and that is being done at the WDAAC by the developer.

Third will be the building and operation phase.  David Thompson said at the forum they were able to obtain $34 million for the Creekside project from grants and other funding sources and they are convinced that they can get the funding for this project as well.

There are downsides to the project but, on the whole, the development of 150 low income units for seniors, many of whom are making less than $13,000 a year, should not be criticized.  That is a key strength and without the approval of projects like this, until the laws change, this is the only way to get large scale affordable housing built in this community.

If I vote yes on this project, it will be because of the affordable housing component.

—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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30 thoughts on “Commentary: If I Were To Vote Yes on WDAAC, It Would Be Because of Affordable Housing”

  1. Eric Gelber

    “HUD and other requirements are that we can only build a one-bedroom unit for them, they cannot live in a two bedroom unit.” ~ David Thompson. Not entirely true. If an individual requires the assistance of a live-in aide or caregiver, for example, they can request a two-bedroom unit as a reasonable accommodation. But, then, as the name says, WDAAC is for “Active” seniors, not those who may actually need services and supports associated with aging. It’s all about excluding families with children.

    1. Ken A

      My parents are in their 80’s and are still at home but I have many friends with parents that have moved to “senior” housing.  Before Eric says “it’s ALL about excluding families with children” he should talk to the MANY seniors that moved to age restricted housing so their slacker genX and boomer kids in their 50’s and 60’s can’t move in with them anymore (Wednesday night bridge in the clubhouse is just a bonus).

    2. Rik Keller

      David Greenwald is missing the larger point that it is not why the proposal is for studio/1-bedroom units, but how those “units” get counted to meet the City’s affordable housing requirements that is the main issue. The Affordable Housing Ordinance requirements are for units to be counted at a minimum rate of 2.5 bedrooms per unit (a mix of 2- to 3-bedroom units with at least 50% 2-bedroom). So the 150 “units” would only count as a maximum of 60 equivalent dwelling units (EDUs), and likely much less than that depending on how the studio units are being counted.

      It is noteworthy, that contrary to the requirements of the City AHO, the project has not even bothered to include calculations of its actual affordable housing requirement in the “Affordable Housing Plan”. So, not only is the project attempting to meet its obligation using good ol’ “fuzzy math”, but it is using no math at all in ignoring required calculations of what that obligation is in the first place. Alan Pryor, on the other hand  has provided extensive documentation and calculations of the obligation and it is about twice what the project in implying.



  2. Ron

    Again, I would ask what happens to the external Affordable development funding, if this proposal is not approved.  Would those same funds then be used by another Affordable development, not necessarily in Davis?

    In other words, what other Affordable proposal doesn’t get funded, if this proposal is approved?  Or, do we only care about “taking care of our own”?

    I sincerely hope that a certain commenter doesn’t weigh in again, suggesting that Affordable funds are “unlimited”, and that no proposals are turned down as a result.

    1. Ron

      I would also ask if those on the waiting list include those from outside of Davis, who might be on multiple lists.

      In other words, is this not necessarily even about “taking care of our own”, in the first place?  And, would those same people would be served, regardless of the local city in which an Affordable development is funded and built?

      Where are these people living, now? (Not specifically for each person, but in general?)

      Also, if the only way that Affordable developments can be funded is via sprawling, land-donation sites, there are more serious problems with the funding structure than are demonstrated by this one proposal.  Such a structure would ensure that Affordable developers act as “agents of sprawl”, for each and every peripheral proposal. I’m certainly going to remember this, when considering statewide propositions which would facilitate this problem.

      I find it amusing that no one ever speaks about the elephant in the room, which is how much the primary developers could actually afford to subsidize Affordable housing, themselves. There’s some mighty rich developers, in the region. Do you think they got that way from normal jobs?

        1. Ron

          That owner is certainly wealthy, from what I understand.  I believe he owns the site of the proposed Covell Village, as well. Not sure what other properties he owns.

          Maybe those questions should be asked (e.g., what can a developer actually afford), when they seek changes in existing plans and zoning to accommodate a given proposal.

          I’d suggest you ask Rik about the Affordable program at Nishi.  Seems to me that it’s been thoroughly debunked.

        2. Craig Ross

          The owner can be wealthy, that doesn’t mean that the project is going to pencil out with additional costs.  They arne’t paying for the project in cash, they get financing which means they have to show it earning a certain rate of return.

          Why would I ask Rik about anything?  He’s not an expert. It would be like asking the blind to lead me out of a canyon.

        3. Ron

          Ah, yes – the old “pencil out” (and totally unsubstantiated) reason that’s put forth.

          I recall that this is the same reason that was put forth by the WDAAC developers, when they tried to include a city-owned greenbelt in another development they proposed.  Turns out that they didn’t need to include that greenbelt, after all.  Nor did they need to cram in so many houses onto that small property, as they first proposed.

          When you do 1/4 the amount of actual research and analysis that Rik performs and presents, maybe you’ll have something worthwhile to say. (Until then, you’re completely dedicating yourself to acting as a one-sided developers’ shill, without adding anything of value to the conversation.) Essentially a scorched-earth method of political battle, on behalf of developers (whom you somehow / and for some reason have completely aligned yourself with).

          [Moderator: “developers’ shill” is definitely derogatory. Please don’t use it again. And I’d urge you to tone down the personal attacks, please.]

        4. Craig Ross

          “Ah, yes – the old “pencil out” (and totally unsubstantiated) reason that’s put forth”

          Yeah it’s amazing how banks and investors won’t simply give out money to projects that won’t make money.  Absolutely amazing. They’re really fickle this way.

        5. Ron

          Uh, huh.

          When you’re privy to the specific finances involved for a given proposal (including how much money the developers have at their own disposal), please present them on here. Perhaps you could also show the expected rate of return, over a period of time.

          Again, when developers are seeking a change to existing plans or zoning, only a fool would blindly accept unsubstantiated claims regarding whether or not a proposal “pencils out” for developers.

        6. Craig Ross

          There are three separate issues here.  One is the basic concept of a project needing financing – do you dispute this?  Second is making basic projections as what the likely costs would be – this is basic modeling – do you dispute that we can get rough estimates based on known costs?  The third is what you are talking about, specific costs.  There you are correct, we do not know the exact costs, but that does not mean we don’t know there is a need for a project to pencil and it does not mean someone cannot develop a model as BAE or Plescia have to project what those costs should would be.  What is it that you are disputing here?

        7. Ron

          Again, I provided an example regarding Paso Fino (in which the developers’ initial claims regarding “penciling out” were apparently not accurate).  There seems to be similar claims regarding “penciling out” with other developments, including Trackside.

          Regarding external financing, the amount needed would be dependent upon how much a developer has at his own disposal, and how much he’s willing to personally fund.  An example would be downtown redevelopment, in which it was noted that owner-developers (who run businesses in the buildings that they own) are not bound by external requirements to obtain funding.  And, are therefore more willing to accept a lower rate of return.

          Yes – we agree that we are never presented with actual, verifiable information regarding specific proposals (in which developers are seeking a change to existing plans and zoning).

          Regarding Nishi’s Affordable proposal, I recall that the developers seemed eager to accept the city’s interim requirements, regarding Affordable housing.  Just my impression from viewing that hearing.

          Again, one might ask how developers became so wealthy, including (but not limited to) the Nishi developer. They’re not getting that way from working at normal jobs.

          Ask the Tsakopolos family, how the did so well for themselves. A lot of “penciling out”, apparently.

        8. Jeff M

          The other component of ROI is risk.

          I understand that the sales at The Cannery have been somewhat underwhelming.  Properties taking longer to sell that expected.

          That is one risk.

          Cost over-runs are another risk.

          Economic downtown before the units are sold is another.

          Ron and others attempting to paint the developers are greedy SOBs unwilling to give more their filthy, stinking mound of profit are likely people lacking experience doing anything with their money that would present similar risk.

          Expected ROI factors risk.  If a project makes higher ROI than previously calculated, that would be offset by all the projects that achieved lower ROI than expected.  Much of what happens to the end financial result of a long-term development project is uncontrollable.  That uncontrollable risk demands a higher potential return.

          And you can tell if NIMBYs and others layer on too many requirements and restrictions to cause the project to no longer pencil out.  They developer goes away.  And we had the previous North Davis Innovation Center that Ron supports now… go away.  So did the Mace Innovation Center when it was denied more housing be allowed.

        9. Ron

          Jeff:  The only developments that are “going away” are commercial developments. And, even then, I haven’t seen evidence that other nearby communities (where there are fewer restrictions) are “cashing in” on those, at this point. And, those proposals often include housing, as well. (In the case of Aggie Square, it’s even on UCD’s own land!)

          Developers are, on average, far more wealthy than those who work at a job.  Some are fabulously wealthy.

          Again, when a developer (seeking to make a change in zoning or plans) makes a claim that something doesn’t pencil out, it may, or may not be true.  It appears that it wasn’t true, in the case of Paso Fino (which happens to be from the same development family that’s pursuing WDAAC).  That’s all I’m really pointing out.



        10. Jeff M

          Developers are, on average, far more wealthy than those who work at a job.

          Silly comparison.  Without developers, few would have a job.

          But your list leaves out the Developers that went bust.  That is the main difference between a developer and those who work at a job.  Those that work at a job don’t have risk of going bust related to their work.

        11. Craig Ross

          It gets hopeless after awhile trying to discuss anything with him.  He has not inherent knowledge.  Most developers are not full time developers.  They do something else as their primary means.  In fact, let’s look at the last several developments in Davis…

          Sterling and Lincoln40 were put forward by out of the area companies.  But Trackside was a bunch of first time local investors.  The Nishi developers primary source of income is not development but managing apartments.  Plaza 2555 are first time developers.  The Taormino’s are primarily real estate people.  So his comment is basically silly.

          What’s a normal job?  What do you do for a living Ron?  Jeff?

        12. Ron

          Craig:  “It gets hopeless after awhile trying to discuss anything with him.  He has not inherent knowledge. ”

          Also – yes – developers ultimately make money from the development, itself (either by sale, or rental).  That’s the way it works.

          Trackside was different, regarding the types of investors.

          If you want to have a conversation regarding the amount of wealth of various developers (and their assets), I’m all ears.  But, it has the potential of violating the Vanguard’s “doxing” policy.

          Let’s just say that there’s no comparison whatsoever, between those who work for a living, vs. those who run successful development operations.

          Ask Tsakopoulos if he made his fortune by working at UCD. Or, how the Nishi properties, apartments, and Covell Village sites were purchased by working at the local car wash.

        13. Ron

          Craig:  “Those that work at a job don’t have risk of going bust related to their work.”

          Right.  Tell that to someone who has been fire/laid off.

          Even when companies go bust, those at the top usually come out “just fine – thank you”.

          During market downturns, successful developers are out snatching up properties at bargain prices (which they’re in a position to do, since they’ve already amassed wealth).

          And the rich get richer. It gets really amusing, when they recruit low-wage workers to do their subsequent bidding, on their behalf.

        14. Craig Ross

          Ron: I am a shill for development.  We need housing.  We don’t get housing without development.  Package deal.  The quote above is Jeff, not me.

        15. Ron

          Craig:  It appears that one of the quotes above is from Jeff, and one from you. (So, thanks for pointing that out.)

          However, in a sense, I have respect for your acknowledgement that you’re a “shill for development”.

          I have a different opinion regarding the manner in which cities should respond to market demand. I’ve seen what happens, when your approach is adopted.

  3. David Thompson

    Dear Vanguard Readers:

    First, we wish to thank the Vanguard for seeing our Davis Senior Housing Communities (DSHC) affordable housing proposal as a plus for the WDAAC project. We do see other values in the remainder of the project and think that the mix is well worth supporting from a planning perspective. Seniors like to be near hospitals so the location makes sense on that issue alone.

    All the apartments will be one bedrooms except for a two bedroom on site managers unit.  At Eleanor Roosevelt Circle we have 59 apartments for low income seniors and one managers unit.

    We have only three couples living at ERC. The other 56 apartments are all lived in by single seniors who are women.

    At ERC, 25 of the seniors living in the apartments do receive some level of care giving given that a large number of the residents have some level of disability. Some of the care givers do live on site. We also have a Social Services Director working on site to provide additional support to at least 21 of the residents on County rolls.

    We would expect a similar population at WDAAC and look forward to serving about 170 seniors in total. Of them, about one third will likely have disabilities and care givers.  And we will have on site social service staff. We introduced this format to Davis at ERC and we are proud to have adopted a set of services that allow more low income seniors to age in place rather than to be transferred to convalescent homes.

    DSHC at WDAAC will be a great boost for low income seniors in Davis.

    Thank you,

    David J Thompson

    Neighborhood Partners LLC.








    1. Eric Gelber

      Seniors like to be near hospitals so the location makes sense on that issue alone.

      I don’t know that many of us seniors think it’s important to be within walking distance of a hospital. (I’d rather be within walking distance of the Varsity or Trader Joe’s or Delta of Venus, or … .) I live about 2.5 miles from Sutter. I consider that close.

      1. Jeff M

        Cool.  After the project is complete, let’s approve another for a new theater, another Trader Joes and some restaurants.  There is plenty of land out there to build them. Then it would be close to everything except the DMV which is fine because in the People’s Republic we want fewer people driving.

        1. Eric Gelber

          You’ve misunderstood my point. (Or I was unclear.) Just saying that living within walking distance of a hospital is not really a factor in whether the location of a housing development “makes sense”, as David Thompson suggests.

        2. Craig Ross

          Right.  But the totality of the circumstance is that a lot of what seniors need are close by whether walk or drive.  It’s a location that makes sense for senior housing and a lot less sense for student housing, for example.

        3. Eric Gelber

          What’s close by are not things unique to, or that focus primarily on seniors. What’s close by are also what other households utilize–e.g., grocery store, drug store, eating places, coffee shop, bus/Unitrans service, etc. There’s no reason to exclude non-seniors.

        4. Keith O

          Craig, don’t you claim to be a student at UCD?  Correct me if I’m wrong.  I know you’ve strongly advocated for student housing in the past but it seems strange to see you now advocating for senior housing being a student.

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