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