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