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.
“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