2018 in Review: Student Housing Crisis

Artist’s rendering of planned new student housing at UC Davis West Village. Construction is expected to begin in December 2018 with the first apartments available in fall 2020. The completed project will have space for about 3,300 students.

We entered the year 2018 with student housing firmly the top issue.  Were it not for litigation, this might be a non-issue for 2019.  As it stands now there is a lot up in the air because of litigation.

In 2018, we saw both the city and university step in several fundamental ways to address the housing crisis.  The university set up a task force to look into issues like food and housing insecurity, and found that a sizable percentage of students were housing insecure for a variety of reasons (18  percent) and periodic student homelessness.

“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,” the Affordable Housing Task Force Report released in September stated.

The university issued 19 recommendations for improving access to student affordable housing.

The university in 2018 would increase the amount of housing they committed to build to 9040, that falls short of providing 50 percent of students with on-campus, but it does mark an increase from 28 percent to 48% over the course of the LRDP.

The university did agree to a timeline for building that housing – a timeline that may or may not be tested due to litigation.  However, two weeks ago, the university did announce the plan to begin construction of the next wave of housing at West Village.

Construction is expected to begin in December 2018 with the first apartments available in fall 2020. The completed project will have space for about 3,300 students, the university announced.

“This project is part of the significant commitment we’ve made to our students and to the community to provide on-campus housing for 100 percent of any growth in new student enrollment,” said UC Davis Chancellor Gary S. May.

Andy Fell told the Vanguard that litigation would not stop all projects from going forward.  He said, “we think it’s important to go ahead with this project so we can have units open in Fall 2020.”

The city however, may not be as fortunate.

It seemed like a battle all year long to get housing approved – but the city managed to achieve success.  They approved housing at Lincoln40 (708 beds), Nishi (2200 beds), and Davis Live Housing (440 beds) this year.  That followed the approval of (540).

There are also 550 beds being proposed at Plaza 2555, though it is less clear how many will be for student housing and University Mall is redeveloping with the potential for a number of student beds as well.

Current projects have the city approving roughly 3700 beds so far, with the potential for that to increase perhaps to 4500.  However, one barrier at this point is that Lincoln40 and Nishi are both in litigation right now.  Sterling has recently broken ground and on track for a 2020 opening and Davis Live will go forward, surprisingly enough, without litigation.

The second round of Nishi provided the city with the first ever voter approval of a Measure R project by a nearly 60-40 margin.  Clearing the way for approval was the fact that the developers restricted access to the university-only – meaning that Richards Blvd would be unimpacted by the new housing.

In addition, when the measure went down narrowly in 2016, many voters objected to the lack of affordable housing and instead a much lower than ordinarily required payment of $1 million for in lieu fees.  This time, the project had internal affordable housing that would be one of only two projects at that time (since Davis Live has been added to the list) for students.

The election was contentious, but the opposition was not reflective of the broader population.

For the most part, with the exception of Nishi, the student housing projects have been infill sites for apartment complexes.  Nevertheless, a number of issues have triggered broader pushback – there are some who believe that UC Davis’ enrollment growth has put an unfair burden on the community to respond in kind.

The university does bear a greater burden.  For years, UC Davis has been near the bottom in terms of on-campus housing.  The Vanguard analysis shows there is good reason for this – land is available in town and rents in town are relatively low compared to other UC host communities.

Nevertheless, with new growth control policies (since 2000) and a lack of new market rate student housing complexes since 2003, the university revised their LRDP to increase the number of students on campus from 28% and they agreed to add first 6200 and eventually up to 9040.

That would take percentages from 28 percent to 48 percent over the course of this LRDP.  While some argue that with 5300 acres of available land, the university could go higher, the Vanguard believes that the community got most of what it asked for.  The difference between 48 and 50 is relatively small and made up for by the 3700 to 4500 new beds in town.

Moreover, from talking to students, many have told the Vanguard that they would prefer to live on campus the second year or at least be given that option.  The reason is that they arrive as a freshman in mid-September.  They then have to find new housing as early as January – that is too soon to know the community and make an informed choice.

For many, however, they do not want to live on campus all four years – they want independence and to become part of the community.  In our view then, somewhere around 50 percent is the appropriate level of on-campus housing.

In addition, there are those who believe that so-called mega-dorms with four and five bedrooms units, some of them bathrooms for each bedroom, many of them rented by the bed, are exclusive to students and should not be considered by the city for development.

This has always been a somewhat perplexing argument for a lot of reasons.  First, we agree there is a need for housing for others in the community, though we continue to believe apartments are not ideal for families with children – we also believe that the student housing structure can work well for workforce housing for those young recent graduates hoping to stay in Davis and live and work.

Second, we believe that housing for students was the most pressing need in 2016-2018 and perhaps beyond.  The easiest way to build that housing was to concentrate it in a few available projects.  Student housing addresses what is basically exclusively an internal need – we can build the supply and not worry that a student from Berkeley is going to take housing needed for UC Davis students.

Third, by building student housing mostly in walking distance from campus, we make a huge amount of housing available for students which will greatly reduce the demand for mini-dorms and the continued encroachment of students into neighborhoods.  That should eventually free up single-family homes for families.

Finally, we have always believed that housing was a shared responsibility and not simply the purview of the university.  The university is building about two-thirds of the new capacity – that seems like a reasonable allotment that allows us to fill a vital need.

Does this issue go away in 2019?  That will probably depend on the litigation.  As of right now, there is not projected to be any new housing for 2019 – 2020 will be the soonest new housing comes on-line.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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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46 thoughts on “2018 in Review: Student Housing Crisis”

  1. Alan Miller

    the developers restricted access to the university-only – meaning that Richards Blvd would be unimpacted by the new housing.

    UN-impacted?  Those people gotta go out one way or another, and some will go back into town and Richards, it’ll just take them longer than the Nishi I proposal, and because it’s so far, some will choose another exit.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Strongly disagree with you. The point I made is that with Nishi – Richards Blvd would be unimpacted by the new housing – I meant in a negative way. It might be positively helped though on a number of fronts. It takes people who were likely commuting to Davis and puts them less than a mile from campus where they’ll walk or bike. Or it takes them out of the neighborhoods and puts them in walking distance. And those folks won’t use the Richards exit, they’ll use Old Davis Road and the UC Davis entrance. Not sure what your point is here, but building developments like Nishi should help ease traffic problems not cause new ones.

  2. Craig Ross

    Good news/ bad news.  Good news it looks like housing will become more plentiful in 2020.  Bad news, that’s another year and a half of misery for many students, not that most of y’all care.

    1. Howard P

      Not sure it’s true, but have heard that the Chinese character for “crisis” is composed of the characters for, “danger”, and “opportunity”. Using that criteria, ‘crisis’ might make sense… as opposed to “emergency”, or “cataclysm”…

      [picked that up during training to serve on a ‘suicide crisis service’… worked on a suicide prevention hot-line for ~ two years…]

      Liked the cartoon though!

      1. Matt Williams

        Howard, I believe the word crisis is very appropriate in the suicide crisis service situation.  The situation requires immediate attention.  All four of your words are appropriate in that context.

        There is very real “danger” … not to the actual suicide crisis service counselor or the service itself … but definitely to the caller.

        There is absolutely an “opportunity” for a better outcome when one of those calls comes in … both for the caller and for the counselor.

        It absolutely is an “emergency” for both the caller and the counselor, although one could argue that for society as a whole there is no emergency inherent in any individual call.

        “Cataclysm” is more of a stretch. A lot depends on your personal perspective on life.  I believe the Chair of the Board of the Vanguard (not the Editorial Board) would absolutely see the end of  some suicide crisis service calls as “cataclysmic.”  On the other hand, for people like me who see our current individual lives as simply the current chapter of an infinitely long book, with many many chapters before it and many, many more to come, the ending of any individual current chapter is far from cataclysmic.  Rather it is a single event in the infinitely long energy/spirit/essence stream of which that individual is a part, and their spirit/essence has moved on to the next chapter.

        1. Howard P

          It absolutely is an “emergency” for both the caller and the counselor, although one could argue that for society as a whole there is no emergency inherent in any individual call.

          Emergent yes… emergency… maybe… I worked the shift from 7 P Friday to 7 AM Sat.  Bay Area… calls between 7-11 PM, predominantly non-lethal, minor lethality… many were “frequent fliers”… one guy, who was tired of his alcoholic wife, would dial the #,and turn the phone over to his wife so she could ‘vent’… very low lethality… ‘frequent flyer’… twice she got me to rank her as moderate lethality, but that was based on her very slurred speech, and that I was afraid she might have dangerously over-imbibed… and hubby had gone to bed…

          If I got a call (served alone on that shift) between midnight and 5 AM, the calls were usually moderate to high lethality… had to call authorities for “welfare checks” a dozen or so times over my tenure… almost all turned out to be non-emergencies, but our protocols and my gut were affirmed… they were in crisis, but not needing a 72 hour hold (that happened 3-4 times)… a “good call” for me getting authorities involved…

          The last two weeks I worked there, before coming to Davis “for reals”, where I had two highly lethal callers, where protocols and my gut told me it truly was an emergency… callers showing all the symptoms that “it was ‘going down, now‘…”

          Never heard any feed back on outcomes on those two… I was so upset (had I done enough, had I reacted in time?), that since we moved back to Davis, I have not worked SP since… lest I become a ‘caller’…

      1. Alan Miller

        “Eat the Rich”, Aerosmith

        Well I woke up this morning
        On the wrong side of the bed
        And how I got to thinkin’
        About all those things you said
        About ordinary people
        And how they make you sick
        And if callin’ names kicks back on you
        Then I hope this does the trick
        ‘Cause I’m sick of your complainin’
        About how many bills
        And I’m sick of all your b*tchin’
        ‘Bout your poodles and your pills
        And I just can’t see no humor
        About your way of life
        And I think I can do more for you
        With this here fork and knife
        Eat the rich
        There’s only one thing that they are good for
        Eat the rich
        Take one bite now – come back for more
        Eat the rich
        I gotta get this off my chest
        Eat the rich
        Take one bite now – spit out the rest

      2. Matt Williams

        Craig, I believe it is not a crisis if you have a car to sleep in.  When you get to the point of having no shelter, then at the individual level it becomes a crisis

        Using Howard’s four words above, knowing where you are going to sleep at night if you have your own car to shelter you is not “immediate” nor is it an “emergency.”  If you have no shelter, then your decision process is always immediate and frequently emergent.  If you have a car to shelter you there is very little real danger (here in Davis).  If you have no shelter, there definitely is much more danger.  If you have a car to shelter you there is quite a bit of opportunity that does not exist if you have no shelter.

        Finally, David is not using his political spin word at the individual level that you are.  He is using it at the community level.  There are lots of situations in the Davis community that are crises for a selection of individuals in the community, but do not have enough gravitas to be crises when viewed at the aggregate community level.

        1. Howard P

          “Crisis”is the eye of the beholder, Matt… I’ve known folk who have been despondent (critically so),  if they thought they’d be 10% short in meeting rent… objectively, they would not likely be evicted in near term… subjectively, it can feel like the end of the world.  Same for eating meals…

          Suspect you and I, Matt, have been mentally prepared for worst case scenarios… we knew we’d “get through it”… know I did, as an individual… had a different perspective, when “things got close”, and I had spouse/family to depended on me.  Different.

          Housing/food insecurity are very real to those who experience it.

          Bell curve… some can easily deal with it, others very far from so much… add ‘parent/peer’ expectations (as one internalizes those, often not necessarily ‘real’, but is perceived as such), personal difficulties in asking for ‘help’, etc. … that’s real world… as someone who has experienced ‘panic’ (physically, not just emotionally) in other matters…

          The phrase, “I believe it is not a crisis if you have a car to sleep in.”, reminds me of an infamous 18th century monarch, en france, who literally and figuratively ‘lost her head’ in part due to her reply about peasants not having bread… believe I don’t need to repeat her infamous quote, starting with “let them…  “

        2. Matt Williams

          Howard, are you saying I should change my first name to Marie?

          With that said, I repeat the point that I made to Craig.  David is not using his political spin word at the individual level that you are.  He is using it at the aggregate community level.

          I have no quibble with any of the points you have made in your 1:37 pm comment, because they all are wrestling with concept of and components of crisis at the individual level.  The problem comes when David tries to paint the whole community with that individual level paint brush.

          In fact, I would venture to say you don’t even need to go up to the community level. I suspect that if you gathered 10-20 individuals who are clearly and actively dealing with housing crisis in their individual lives, you would find yourself in a Baskin-Robbins with almost as many “flavors” of crisis as you have individuals.

          Your paragraph, “Suspect you and I, Matt, have been mentally prepared for worst case scenarios… we knew we’d “get through it”… know I did, as an individual… had a different perspective, when “things got close”, and I had spouse/family to depended on me.  Different.” really resonates.  I hear you loud and clear … and agree for the most part. 

          The question that paragraph prompts for me is, “What percentage of UCD students (whether or not they are experiencing what Craig and David characterize as a housing crisis) meet the “different” qualifications of what you have said?  I suspect the percentage is very, very small.

          JMO

      3. Ken A

        I have known a lot of people living in cars (I personally lived in a SUV one summer traveling around) and anyone that is honest will admit that not a single person is living in a car since we have not developed the Nishi property (after the Nishi apartments open not a single person will move from their car to the new apartments). Anyone living in a car is doing it because they don’t want to work to pay for an apartment (I could have paid my way through college in 4yrs if I lived in my car, but I decided life would be better is I took less classes each semester and worked enough to pay for a room in a crappy apartment with roommates and graduated in 6yrs)…

        P.S. Unlike the SF Peninsula, there are not a lot of $1mm+ homes in Davis and I don’t think any Vanguard posters live in the “top 1%” of Davis homes…

        1. Craig Ross

          It’s funny that you say that, when we were looking at the homes owned by the anti-Nishi folks last spring, they were all in the $800-$950K range.

          Anyway, if you don’t believe me on the living in cars, go to the Safeway parking lot in early January around 2 am and see how many student age people you find in the parking lot living in cars just in that location.

        2. Ken A

          I know people are living in cars (and under bridges and in the bushes) in Davis  Many of these people have mental and substance abuse issues that prevent them from holding a job.  Anyone that can function at a level where they show up and pass classes at UCD who is living in a car is doing it because they don’t want to work enough to pay for a room (not because Nishi is still a vacant lot).  Many of anti-Nishi people do live in $800-$950K homes (a $800K home is not a “million dollar home” just like a 5’8″ guy is not “six feet tall” and an 80% B- is not the same as a 100% A even though both are “close”)…

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            ” Anyone that can function at a level where they show up and pass classes at UCD who is living in a car is doing it because they don’t want to work enough to pay for a room ”

            You have a remarkable ability to assess people who’s shoes you’ve not walked in

        3. Keith O

          Craig states:

          It’s funny that you say that, when we were looking at the homes owned by the anti-Nishi folks last spring, they were all in the $800-$950K range.

          Who’s “we” and why were you and others looking at people’s homes?

        4. Ken A

          Nice comeback from David (who I’m certain can’t name a single kid smart enough pass classes at UCD but not smart enough to get a job at 7-11 and find a room to rent).

          I’m sure David will be happy when the Vanguard’s three commenters next year all agree that we have suck a “crisis” in town that only Vanguard advertisers who want to “help” students by developing more property can fix it.

        5. David Greenwald

          Ken: How many hours do want students to work?  At current rates, if they work a full part time, 20 hour a week load, they may not be able to pay for rent and expenses.  I don’t know any students who are housing or food insecure and not working.

           

        6. Keith O

          David, how many students have absolutely no outside income either with loans, grants, parent backing or jobs?  I know it works well for you to always come from the worst case scenario.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Like I told Ken, most students work – especially those who are housing or food insecure. But they are limited as to how many hours they can work. So if they have to pay for housing and other expenses, they end up short. That’s why the incidence of housing insecurity is at 18 percent.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            I’m assuming waived tuition as well, which means money to cover living expenses only.

        7. Alan Miller

           . . . when we were looking at the homes owned by the anti-Nishi folks last spring . . .

          Why were you ‘looking at the homes’ of folks?  Isn’t that a bit creepy?  (sure glad I voted for Nishi, #phew#)

          . . . oh, K.O. already said this . . . great minds . . . we’ll miss you K.O.!

        8. Craig Ross

          Students are frustrated that community members who live in expensive homes that they bought when they were quite cheap are blocking access to housing – so we looked up where prominent no on Nishi folks lived and they almost all live in expensive homes, some of them worth near $1 million.  That’s why.

  3. Ron

    If you want to know what “actual” crises look like, you might want to search for the photo (apparently, from Africa) that was (inexplicably) included in an an article regarding the Yolo Food Bank. You know, folks that are actually starving to death, and/or are at imminent risk resulting from lack of food, medical care, displacement, natural disasters, war and violence.

    The same type of crises that have been going on since the dawn of humanity (and which have very little to do with anyone able to attend UCD).

    1. Alan Miller

      If you want to know what “actual” crises look like, you might want to search for the photo (apparently, from Africa) that was (inexplicably) included in an an article regarding the Yolo Food Bank. You know, folks that are actually starving to death,

      Yeah, I thought that photo was one of the weirdest things ever in the Vanguard.  I pointed it out in comments, but no one seemed to notice.  Glad you noticed, R!  And you comment about real crises brings perspective . . .

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Short answer was given here as well as elsewhere – I viewed student housing as the problem most easily and directly solvable in this community.

      1. Matt Williams

        Actually, bringing Paul’s Place to fruition is much more easily and directly solvable by the community.  Just ask Robb Davis, if you doubt that.

        With that said, what you appear to be saying David is that choosing between student housing and housing for the homeless is an either/or proposition.  I completely disagree with that.  You can actively advocate for both simultaneously … and with vigor.

        1. Alan Miller

           . . . when we were looking at the homes owned by the anti-Nishi folks last spring . . .

          Why were you ‘looking at the homes’ of folks?  Isn’t that a bit creepy?  (sure glad I voted for Nishi, #phew#)

          . . . oh, K.O. already said this . . . great minds . . . we’ll miss you K.O.!

        2. Matt Williams

          David, virtually all your articles about student housing have focused on solutions, yet none of your articles about homeless illuminate the one tangible, active solution that is in the works?  There is an imbalance there.

        3. David Greenwald

          I don’t that’s accurate.  I do think that the student housing shortage has easier solutions.  Robb Davis acknowledged there is not magic bullet for homelessness.  I do thing things like a parcel tax for housing the homeless, things like Housing First are good first steps, but unlike building housing in the community, the bulk of services for the homeless are funded by the state and county.  I think you’re picking at the wrong knit here.

  4. Keith O

    “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,” the Affordable Housing Task Force Report released in September stated.

    I only find experiencing homelessness as a crisis, all the other problems listed in the questionaire seem to be something not to be a crisis.  Secondly, this covers a whole year so sure the numbers will be inflated, the questionaire should’ve been asked as what’s your “current” situation.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Current situation is a snap shot, during the course of a year, gives you a better indication about how many people cycle through homelessness during a given year.

      1. Keith O

        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,

        These respondents aren’t homeless.

        1. Ron

          Indeed.  The megadorms are planned for double-occupancy.  Also, wonder how many “couples” (who want to live together) are being counted as “housing insecure”.

          The last phrase (moving more than twice during the year) might indicate someone who is difficult to get along with, but still has sufficient resources to move.

          An acquaintance (who knows very little about the housing situation in Davis) recently told me of someone who moved into the dorms, even though her family home was within an easy commute.

          Some on here count everyone living in apartments as “housing insecure”, which makes one wonder why even more apartments would be approved. 🙂

        2. Keith O

          My daughter shared a house in Davis with five other students while attending UCD.  I know if you had asked every one of them they would’ve told you: “moving in with others because of financial problems,” when the reality was they all wanted an animal house experience.

        3. Ron

          Seems to me that the “living on one’s own” experience while attending college doesn’t make much sense, anymore.  Maybe it never did, but has become more obvious as tuition and housing costs rise.

          I wonder what percentage of students fall into this category. (That is, voluntarily living on one’s own merely for the “college life” experience. Or, because their parents think that’s what’s best.)

          Of course, this wouldn’t include students who ultimately must attend a college far away from their homes, depending upon their field of study.

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