The numbers released by the university annual survey show that the housing crisis for students remains in effect. Actually the numbers are sort of better than last year, where the fall survey showed about 30 apartments, or 30 of the 7037 leased by the unit, were vacant – that’s 0.4 percent, up from 0.2 percent last year.
Looking at the units rented by bed, that number is 28 out of 3955 beds or 0.7 percent. That’s a little worse, as 1.6 percent of the beds were vacant last year. The total then is 0.5 compared to 0.3 percent.
Rents as expected are going up – by an average of 6.5 percent.
The average monthly rent for unit-leased apartments of all sizes was up 8.5 percent, from $1,673 last year to $1,815. The average monthly rental rate for a bed lease was up 6.9 percent, from $892 in fall 2017 to $954.
Don Shor posted 20 years of apartment unit vacancy rate – one has a tendency to shrug off the notion of crisis when looking at these numbers. Why? Because they are always low. The last five years have been below half a percent vacancy. But even the best years showed 3.4 percent vacant in 2010 in the heart of the recession and 4.2 percent vacant in 2005.
But that is not the full story. As we know, the city of Davis has yet to open Sterling Apartments which is in construction. When it opens that will be the first market rate multi-family housing built in the city since 2002.
In the meantime, the campus housing situation has changed a lot since 2002, with thousands of new students.
Part of what we learned in July of last year is that the vacancy rate is just one indicator. It demonstrates the difficulty of finding housing at any point in time, but it is not the leading indicator of the housing crisis.
Some numbers that came out from the affordable housing survey are perhaps better indicators. For instance, 19 percent of UC Davis students have reported some form of homelessness or housing insecurity.
You can regularly find students sleeping in the 24-hour study room or sleeping in their cars because they lack permanent housing. There are a number of students that are couch surfing. UC Davis is far from alone on the issue of housing insecurity, but this is a problem that should be solvable.
According to Robert Saper, a graduate student at UC Davis, “According to the survey, an estimated 600 students were detected as having lived in their car or somewhere else not designated as housing.”
Mr. Saper noted that rent prices have skyrocketed in recent years. He said, “I think these numbers reflect not a simple crisis of affordability, they reflect an absolute market stagnation and degraded quality of life. I don’t think this is a problem that the university can face on its own or the city can face on its own. It’s going to require a concerted collaboration.”
For Don Gibson, last summer he told the Vanguard that he had expected to learn that the shortage of housing was causing students to leave town in search of dwellings. But the regional housing market is itself tight and rents are going up.
Instead, what they found was that more students were packing into tighter quarters.
He explained at a council meeting, “The density of the units in Davis for multi-families has gone from 2.4 to almost 3.”
That means that in 2000, the average unit had 2.37 (rounded up to 2.4) people per unit and it now has almost 3 people per unit. This is not due to changes in the structure of units, and there have been almost no additional units built in that time – that is due to more students moving into existing housing units.
He said, “Not as many students as I suspected were actually leaving town – they were just having to double-up in rooms.”
He said, “That’s led to the mini-dorm problem that has garnered a lot of discussion here in town.”
In his op-ed, he pointed out, “Through our campus survey we have estimated that there are approximately 465 ‘mini dorms’ (1.5.renter/bedroom in a detached house) with approximately 2,200 students living in them. To reduce impacts on family neighborhoods these students need more options.”
He said in July, in order to bring the density back to the 2.37 it was in 2000, “We would need to approve all current projects and have the university build what they say they were going to build in the next five years, and then we would be short by about 1200 beds if we also wanted to get rid of the mini-dorm issue.”
Mr. Gibson said that is the way to get the single-family homes back to what they were designed to provide – housing for families. “We need places for students to live in student communities,” he said. “I don’t think students want to live in these situations where they have to double up… If we want to get to the situation where we free up some of our single family homes, we need to actually get students into housing specifically designed for students.”
Last week the council started to crack down on mini-dorms themselves. Many saw this as somehow being anti-student. But one of the proposed houses started at 18 rooms, which city staff believed could end up housing between 30 and 40 students and generating large neighborhood impacts.
For the council – they viewed their actions as helping to preserve the quality and character of neighborhoods and believed they did their part in helping students by approving 4000 rental units.
Dan Carson said, “We’ve worked hard to get city and voter approval for 4000 rental units in this town, we’ve worked hard with the university to get 5000 additional on-campus units in just the next five to six years. We care about providing housing for students, and our citizens in general, but we need to be careful about the impacts in our neighborhood.”
He said that “there’s no denying they have quality of life impacts.”
Lucas Frerichs agreed with the point about building housing especially for students, saying that “this is not a student issue at all, it’s a quality of life in neighborhoods issue.”
For students, help is on the way, but it may take some time.
The university pointed out through their MOU with the city that “the city of Davis and Yolo County, the campus agreed in September to grow the number of on-campus beds available to students, starting with the Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) baseline of 9,818 in 2016-17 and building to at least 15,000 beds by fall 2023.”
Some of those could come on line by 2020 or 2021.
In the meantime, the city continues to hope to have housing built. Sterling Apartments is in the process of construction. Davis Live Housing is approved and has no litigation.
However, Lincoln40 and Nishi – a total of 3000 of the 4000 approved beds – are stuck in litigation. Nishi still has engineering and approvals to work through and is slow-playing the litigation, while Lincoln40’s hearing was delayed until March 8.
That is still a few more years with a tight rental market, however, and Don Gibson last summer concluded, ““If UC Davis builds everything it says it will, and if all projects that have been passed and are currently in the queue for debate and decision get built, we will still have a shortage of at least 1,200 beds by the 2022-2023 school year.”
But things should be better than they are currently.
—David M. Greenwald reporting