By Gloria Partida
The current report commissioned by the city to evaluate the feasibility of integrated affordable housing in Davis, concludes that “– under current economic conditions – the Downtown Core Mixed-Use and Large Urban Mixed-Use are unlikely to be feasible, even without inclusion of any affordable housing requirements. Construction of the Large Traditional prototype may have the potential to be feasible, however, may not have sufficient net project value to support land acquisition costs in Davis.”
This report, while alarming, is also a good motivator for us to take a hard look at where we are around housing and where we would like to be.
Our policy of slow growth for many is seen as a shield to preserve a way of life that has been the foundation for investing in this community. The assumption that slow growth would prevent outside problems experienced in larger cities from creeping into Davis and so allow us to nurture the values we cherish, however noble, was false.
The biggest miscalculation in this assumption was the most glaring. The University of California, which is our whole reason for existence and which is in the business of advancing all things associated with progress, must be factored into every aspect of how we plan for quality of life in Davis.
While we have always known that the numbers of students and staff at the University would inevitably grow, we have stubbornly held to the belief that the separation at A street would include the ramifications of a University growing past local and national influence. Expecting that the University would be responsible for its growth, which it should, we have failed to acknowledge other truths.
1) Students will always want to move off campus. Regardless if the University provides housing for 100% of students, students will want to move off campus. Those students will live where ever they can. Projects do not have be “megadorms” or marketed to them, students will live where ever space is available. 2) Even if the University provided housing for faculty and staff on campus, this population would also access roads, parks, sewers, business in town. We have not adjusted for these realities.
We have instead meandered in negotiations about road and traffic impacts in the instances when they did propose developments to meet these needs. We have talked about infill, green building, integrated affordable units and walkable communities but have not built much.
In fact, we have built so little and driven our land value up so much that the current reports states that now it is prohibitively expensive to build even without affordable units. We have built so little that the people able to afford housing in our community are not the people that grew this community and defined the character we deemed so important to preserve that we instituted a voter approved land use measure.
In Richard Florida’s Book, “The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class—and What We Can Do About It”, he points out that land-use restrictions make places more expensive. Affluent residents of these places put pressure on local politicians to limit development, in order to protect the character of their neighborhoods and property values; the most expensive—and the most unequal and segregated—places in America today are also the most liberal and progressive.
Our own land use measure has created this dynamic and not only changed the economic demographics of who is moving into Davis but also the ideological demographics. Not only are we more segregated and affluent, we also have less people averse to voting for development outside of our city boundaries.
As we swiftly move toward the date for renewing Measure R, with the combination of information from this report, changing community demographics and housing shortage, it is time to acknowledge that sustainable systems require dynamic energy. We understand that sprawl is bad and urban boundaries are good. We must now make our values actionable. There will be many discussions around what to do with measure R. Some will point to the two measure R projects that have passed as proof that a voter approved land use policy works. That the projects passed because of their exceptional merit.
I admit that having these projects pass so well has assuaged my concerns around measure R. That perhaps our demographics have changed enough that the staunch no growthers are diluted out.
Recent negotiations with our new chancellor are promising. Perhaps the University will step up and meet their responsibility of housing and city impacts. The problem is that perhaps is not a good contingency plan and measure R has room for improvement. Perhaps these projects passed because of housing desperation. Desperation is certainly not a good contingency plan.
We see now where our limiting of growth has taken us. We have time to hash out ideas and explore what other communities have done. It is time to claim our identity as a community that cares about sustainability and social justice not just by decree but by action.
Not building on our farm land does not stop building on farm land somewhere. Preventing traffic on streets outside our front doors does not stop traffic from going longer distances to live other places but attend schools and jobs in Davis.
Lastly, the only thing worse than our housing crisis is our affordable housing crisis. As I read through the report two things occurred to me; affordable housing is now out of reach for even people making the median income in our community and we often lose sight of what the obvious goal for affordable housing is.
We tend to fixate on who is responsible for making affordable housing happen and what the perfect structure of it should be. Many expect that developers should be held to provide affordable housing. I agree with this, but this is not what they are in the business of doing.
On the other hand, there are many good agencies that are in the business of doing this. Agencies that would do this most effectively and serve the most people when they did it. Providing them a little of our precious boundary would give out community something even more precious.
It would give us people that are invested in our values because they grew up here or fell in love with us as students. It would stop the people who are barely maintaining housing from being the people that are living on our downtown benches.
When we look around at who should provide affordable housing, we should include ourselves. Donations to affordable housing nonprofits should be a part of every ones giving portfolios.
Gloria Partida is the Mayor Pro Tem of Davis