Monday Morning Thoughts: Lawsuit Angers Student Housing Advocates

Just when it seemed like we were on the verge of solving the student housing crisis, another lawsuit popped up – this time filed by AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) against the UC Davis LRDP (Long Range Development Plan).

Last week, the university and city and county had settled on an agreement that would have provided student housing to be built on campus.  Fifty-two hundred beds were slated to be built by 2023, with a binding and enforceable agreement.

While AFSCME, which represents university employees, has legitimate concerns – it really has nothing to do with the LRDP.  Instead, they are trying to gain some leverage on the regents, concerned that UC is breaking labor laws and able to get away with these breaks due to changes in how the federal government is doing enforcement.

We can read between the lines here and read the complaint as a statement about the outsourcing of employees and employee compensation.

“The EIR fails to identify and mitigate a potentially significant conflict with UC policies related to employee commuting.”  Here they point out that a mandatory UC policy requires that by 2025, single-occupancy vehicle commute rates be reduced by 10 percent compared with the baseline.  But the EIR fails to provide analysis for how this can be achieved.

Moreover, it fails to analyze the impact of UC Davis’ reliance on non-UC employees in the future, which they say will be doubled over the current planning period, as “part of an increasing reliance on public-private partnership projects.”

They point out: “Non-UC staff are not provided housing opportunities on the UC Davis campus, are not paid living wages, and are not provided the public transportation subsidies that are provided to University employees. The State Auditor found that outsourced workers make up to $8.50 per hour less than UC workers performing the same work.”

The problem is that the suit is likely to cause a lot of hardship for students who are already struggling to find housing and afford that housing.

This could delay the beginning of work at West Village and Orchard Park by perhaps a year or two.  That will push the completion of 5200 beds back to 2025.

Associated Students of UCD put out a statement on the LRDP challenge, signed by ASUCD President Michael Gofman, ASUCD External Vice President and Director of OASR (Office of Advocacy and Student Representation) Edgar Masias-Malagon, and Sean Raycraft, who sits on the Vanguard board and is also a union steward.

The statement reminds AFSCME of the role that ASUCD and students have played in support of AFSCME’s efforts over the past few years.  It reads: “We the students have marched with you during your strikes, lobbied to increase your wages and benefits, even at the expense of our own tuition, and paid in time and money to go to your conferences to learn more about labor organizing.”

They then state: “Students are facing the worst housing crisis in Davis’s history.  Freshmen are not even guaranteed housing in the dorms for this coming year, and Davis’s vacancy rate of 0.2% will likely further shrink.  It is appalling and disheartening that (at) a dire time like this one of ASUCD’s coalition partners would take an active stance against more housing for students, and we urge AFSCME to drop this lawsuit and support the students that have supported them.”

They ask AFSCME to refrain “from pursuing any efforts that would delay progress on the University’s housing plan, condemn the use of students’ welfare as a bargaining chip, and urge AFSCME to consider the effect on students their actions will take.

“Students are homeless, students are sleeping in their cars, students are struggling to find their next meal, students are being taken advantage of by landlords, and students understand that on campus housing will play a role in fixing this. So we again urge AFSCME and all other parties to understand the real and acute consequences we the students would feel in any delay, and the relief to student homelessness and skyrocketing rental prices in the city that this project will provide.”

This, interestingly enough, comes right at the same time UC Davis came out with the Affordable Housing Task Force report.

The task force found, “A dramatic 47% upsurge of enrollment in Davis campus programs between 2000 and 2017 has outpaced local housing availability, helping drive up rents in the city of Davis by over 31% (in inflation adjusted dollars).”

A recent ASUCD Graduate Student Association Housing Affordability and Insecurity Survey finds that “during the past year (2017-18), about 7% of the students surveyed were homeless for a period of time and 2% spent time living in their car or another place not intended as housing (see Figure 2 and Appendix C for details). Almost 18% of respondents experienced either homelessness or some other form of housing insecurity, such as making only partial rent or utility payments, doubling up in rooms without a lease, moving in with others because of financial problems, or moving more than twice during the year.”

They write: “The bottom line is deeply troubling. Far too often, housing costs and unsettled or even abusive housing circumstances undermine students’ educational experiences while they attend UC Davis. These burdens exacerbate related problems with food insecurity and mental health, and often follow students into adulthood in the form of debt. Given our values and mission as a campus, these trends are not acceptable. Bold action is needed.”

While the university is looking at ways to ease the crunch on students, the chief means to do that was simply build more housing.  That has proven difficult.  The LRDP process has taken over three years and the university has finally agreed to go to 9050 new beds, to have a specific timeline at least for the first 5200 of them, and to have enforceable commitments with the city.

In the meantime, the city has taken its own steps so far, in approving Sterling, Lincoln40, Nishi and Davis Live.  The city passed Nishi twice, with the voters rejecting it in June 2016 but passing it in June 2018.

Still, of all these projects mentioned, only Sterling which recently broke ground is likely to come on line in the next two years.  The rest of the projects (anticipating Davis Live) are now being held up by litigation.

We have now seen lawsuits on most of the housing projects that have come forward: Trackside, Lincoln40, Nishi (twice), Davis Live Housing (anticipated), and now the UC Davis LRDP – and remember there was also litigation that delayed the original West Village.  There is also litigation pending on the not-yet-approved West Davis Active Adult Community (WDAAC).

This community has taken the steps needed in order to address the student housing crisis, only to see both the city and UC Davis hamstrung by litigation which in most cases will lose – however, that litigation increases the cost of doing business and the cost of rent, and delays the availability of new housing.

Students will suffer because of these delays.

—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. Alan Miller

    Another day, another lawsuit, another Vanguard piece wagging its finger at the plantiffs (because it delays housing).

    But we’re still in favor of Measure R, folks!  #la-de-dut-de-de-de-la-de-dut-de-de-de-la-de-dut-de-de-de-whaaaa-O-WHAAAA-peesh!#

    1. David Greenwald

      I’m not sure what the point of the second sentence is – the lawsuits are blocking housing regardless of whether they are Measure R votes or even in the city of Davis.

        1. Matt Williams

          David, does the old story about Lord Beaverbrook apply in this situation?

          Lord Beaverbrook and a visiting Yankee actress were engaged in a game of hypothetical questions, Beaverbrook asked the lady: “Would you sleep with a stranger if he paid you one million pounds?” She said she would. “And if be paid you five pounds?” The irate lady fumed: “Five pounds. What do you think I am?” Beaverbrook replied: “We’ve already established that. Now we are just haggling over the price.”

      1. Matt Williams

        David, don’t be obtuse.  You fully understand that Alan is calling out the apparent Vanguard hypocrisy on those two issues.  If I understand Alan’s argument correctly, he is saying that lawsuits slow the development of housing and Measure R slows the development of housing.  They are first-cousins, barely removed from one another.  Supporting one and not the other has every appearance of a non-sequitur.  Opposing one and not the other has every appearance of a non-sequitur.

        1. David Greenwald

          Your position is that if I support housing, if I oppose litigation, then I have to oppose Measure R as well?  Or do you believe there is room within those views for gray?

        2. Matt Williams

          That isn’t my position.  It is the logical conclusion.

          If you actually align the semantics, your statement should replace “I support housing” with words something like “I oppose tactics that delay the delivery of housing.”

          Yes there is plenty of grey.

        3. David Greenwald

          Fair enough.  I think I see a pre-determined voter process as being legitimate whereas using lawsuits to block housing as being arbitrary.  The voters collectively make decisions about the future of this community while a single individual or group of individuals arbitrarily imposes their will on the broader community.

        4. Rik Keller

          David Greenwald said:

          I think I see a pre-determined voter process as being legitimate whereas using lawsuits to block housing as being arbitrary.  

          Two points (not related to this specific lawsuit, but to others):

          1) When it comes to Fair Housing Act enforcement: lawsuits are the enforcement mechanism that has been in place for 50 years. It’s not “arbitrary” at all.  “Voter processes” are unable to determine the constitutionality of restrictions that may be discriminatory.

          2) There is a whole second part of enforcing the Fair Housing Act that has been ignored for decades until recently. This requires communities “to address patterns of racial residential segregation” and requires that they “analyze their housing segregation and submit plans to reverse it.” It should come as no surprise that the Trump Administration has suspended the 2015 Obama-era rule to finally implement this this key component of the Fair Housing Act.

          “Ben Metcalf, director of the California Department of Housing and Community Development, said the 2015 rule had spurred local and state governments to understand their housing patterns and make smarter policy decisions around them.”

        5. Matt Williams

          David Greenwald said . . . “I think I see a pre-determined voter process as being legitimate whereas using lawsuits to block housing as being arbitrary.  The voters collectively make decisions about the future of this community while a single individual or group of individuals arbitrarily imposes their will on the broader community.”

          There is a reason that the US Constitution was framed with three branches.  All three are “legitimate.”  If you declare lawsuits as arbitrary and illegitimate, do you apply those two assessments to the Supreme Court as well?

        6. David Greenwald

          Matt – Let me answer that this way – when Mike Harrington stopped the water project in 2011, he did the right thing and the city was forced to go back ot the drawing board and create a better project.  But what it unleashed in the end proved harmful – almost every project has now gone the route of litigation and for the most part I don’t see what the benefit has been.  So to your point –  in moderation, there are legitimate purposes.  As blanket litigation, it ends up harming the folks purportedly helped.

        7. Rik Keller

          Greenwald: you started off making a blanket statement you saw “using lawsuits to block housing as being arbitrary” and now you say “in moderation, there are legitimate purposes.”

          So who decides as to their legitimacy? The courts? You?

  2. Ross Peabody

    This isn’t an anti-growth lawsuit, David, like many you’ve outlined previously.  It’s a pro-labor lawsuit.  All lawsuits aren’t the same and shouldn’t be treated as such.  I understand (and agree) that student housing is important and needs to get done, but that can’t be at the expense of other people, particularly the same people whose livelihoods are threatened by the outsourcing of labor – the same people that you advocate on behalf of in your non-student housing arguments.  You make an argument that the lawsuit is the problem here and that it hurts students.  Maybe the solution isn’t to drop the lawsuit, but for the UC to abide by it’s agreements with the union and supply “…housing opportunities on the UC Davis campus, … paid living wages, … provided the public transportation subsidies that are provided to University employees.”

    1. Ken A

      Any idea why they decided to sue to stop a housing project if their goal was to get “UC to abide by it’s agreements with the union “?

      If my boss was not abiding by an agreement we had I would take him to court to enforce the agreement (not file a lawsuit to stop his wife from building a “she shed” in their backyard)…

      1. Ross Peabody

        Companies use public/private partnerships to leverage themselves out of or to get around union agreements all the time. It’s a pretty standard stunt and David describes it pretty concisely in the article re: “concerned that UC is breaking labor laws and able to get away with these breaks due to changes in how the federal government is doing enforcement.” and “UC Davis’ reliance on non-UC employees in the future, which they say will be doubled over the current planning period,”

        This isn’t about “stopping a housing project,” it’s about ensuring that that University lives up to to certain labor standards (agreed to in negotiations with the unions) in all of its projects.

        The University could get the project back on track simply by employing the University workforce or, likely, abiding by the union standards for the non-union workforce, which is often considered acceptable as long as certain caveats are agreed to.

        1. Ross Peabody

          It’s the employees doing the labor of building the housing and all that goes with it, from administration to breaking ground to driving trucks to payroll.  How exactly is it NOT related?

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