Commentary: State Housing Growth Slows, but Community Still Has Needs

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The population in Davis ticked up about 1 percent from 2018 to 2019, according to an article that appeared over the weekend in the local paper – about an increase of 762 people, taking the population to the brink of 70,000.

Perhaps more surprising is that rate was faster than either Woodland or West Sacramento and more than double the rate of California, which at .47 percent from 2018 to 2019 marked the slowest growth rate in state’s history.

The growth rate was a bit surprising for Davis, given that the recent wave of approved developments have not been built and inhabited – Sterling, Lincoln40, Nishi, Davis Living Housing, Chiles Road Apartments and West Davis Active Adult Community.

The article attributed the growth to the increase of enrollment at UC Davis, along with homes at places like the Cannery and Grande Village.

Some have suggested that the growth rates and especially their comparisons to other communities are “inconvenient facts” for those who want to push for more development in Davis.

I have a different view, both of the comparisons and what we need in terms of additional housing.

My first point here would be that likely either the fact of the housing crisis or its perception has likely helped to lead to the slow down in growth.  Some have argued that that slow down will alleviate the housing crisis – but that’s not entirely clear.

That said, most of my focus will be on local housing policies.  I will say this – in general, I don’t favor a lot of new housing.  I especially do not favor additional single-family homes on the periphery at this point.

However, I do think that this city continues to have several housing needs.

For several years the Vanguard supported additional student-oriented housing.  That was true for a number of reasons – first, the continuation of the university’s historical growth.  Second, from 2002 until Sterling Apartments opens probably in 2020, there will not have been a single market rate apartment complex opening in Davis.  That marked an 18-year gap.

As a result, we saw vacancy rates dwindle, we saw housing prices go up, but mostly what we saw was more students crowding into existing facilities, pushing them beyond their ordinary capacity.

Regardless of state and regional housing growth rates, the city of Davis has been in need of adding capacity.  Through the approval at Sterling, Lincoln40, Davis Live and Nishi, the city largely has filled those needs, along with 9050 that UC Davis has committed to building over the next decade.

While there are clearly additional housing proposals – most of that either infill or redevelopment – I do believe that we have filled the major student housing needs for the next decade.

Do we have other housing needs?

A number of people pushed back against recent development proposals, arguing that what we need is more housing for families, for the workforce, and affordable housing.  I don’t believe that it is an either/or situation.  I still believe that the most immediate housing need in this community has been for student housing.

That doesn’t mean we don’t need workforce housing.  We have already seen housing approved at Chiles Road that would fit that niche, we will see some at the University Research Park and, while it is unclear at this point where Plaza 2555 stands, that could fill the niche as well.

In addition, I had a good discussion recently with some city planners who are working on the downtown plan – as the city looks at where the next wave of housing will be built, one of the answers is likely to be in the Davis Downtown.

It makes sense if you think about it.  There is a decreasing likelihood that we will see more peripheral housing.  In fact, it is unclear where the next such project would be.  The idea of adding more single-family detached housing to the city doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Infill spaces where there are vacant parcels zoned for residential seem to be dwindling, so where do you go?  One answer is redevelopment of the downtown – densification and building up.  That could help meet the needs of workforce housing – those people who have recently graduated from UC Davis looking to find jobs in the emerging high tech industry.

From my vantage point that would be a local housing need that exists irrespective of state or even regional housing trends.

The other area of need would be for those people who work at UC Davis or even in the city of Davis, but cannot find or afford housing here.  Generating housing that enables those folks to live here and not have to commute from, say, Elk Grove makes not only planning sense but environmental sense.

I also agree with those who believe we need more housing for families, but think we are probably going to have to build more affordable or subsidized housing to accommodate young families with children.  That would seem to be a longer term need and it is not immediately clear where such housing could be developed.

Bottom line, I see Davis as having specific housing needs – in part due to the growth of the university – which will exist independently of state housing trends.  Moreover, I am not envisioning a period of huge housing growth.  At this point the community seems focused on finding infill and redevelopment sites rather than building outward.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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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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28 thoughts on “Commentary: State Housing Growth Slows, but Community Still Has Needs”

  1. Alan Pryor

    …in general, I don’t favor a lot of new housing.  I especially do not favor additional single-family homes on the periphery at this point.

    David – The Vanguard took thousands of dollars in ad revenue and forum support from Taormino and published dozens of articles generally in support of the Wesr Davis Active Adult Community (WDAAC). WDAAC is entirely single-family homes on the periphery except for the segregated low income apartments.  So I’m sure you’re not surprised that some in the community view this statement as jaw-dropping and hypocritical.

  2. Ron Oertel

    “The other area of need would be for those people who work at UC Davis or even in the city of Davis, but cannot find or afford housing here.  Generating housing that enables those folks to live here and not have to commute from, say, Elk Grove makes not only planning sense but environmental sense.”

    There is no way that Davis will be able to attract significant numbers of workers/families, when nearby surrounding communities are building sprawling, less-expensive housing with larger houses, yards, etc.  Especially when they can send their kids to Davis schools, if they so choose.

    There are probably very few commuters from Elk Grove, since there’s so much housing available much closer to Davis, and so much more in the pipeline. And there isn’t anything that Davis can do to change the plans in other communities, even if that was the “goal”.

    Infill spaces where there are vacant parcels zoned for residential seem to be dwindling, so where do you go?  One answer is redevelopment of the downtown – densification and building up.  That could help meet the needs of workforce housing – those people who have recently graduated from UC Davis looking to find jobs in the emerging high tech industry.

    Regarding the “tech industry”, for the most part it doesn’t exist in Davis.  However, it might soon exist in Woodland to some degree, where they’re also building thousands of the type of housing that young families probably prefer.  With much more housing planned for the future.

    The strange part is that Davis’ growth is still exceeding Woodland’s and West Sacramento’s, at this point.

    As usual, the Vanguard is trying to create a “Davis need” that doesn’t actually exist.

     

    1. Craig Ross

      “There is no way that Davis will be able to attract significant numbers of workers/families”

      That’s a false comment. Davis doesn’t need to attract people.  Davis already has countless people who want to live in Davis because it’s a nice place to live.  There are literally hundreds if not thousands of people who work in Davis want to live in Davis but can’t.  What you’re suggesting is not an issue.

      1. Ron Oertel

        All of those folks that you’re referring to have found other options, and will continue to do so.

        A relative handful would be willing to cram into a smaller, more-expensive new home without parking in Davis. Then again, there’s no way to determine who would move into such housing. (Could be more seniors who prefer to live downtown, for example.)

        One only has to look at the Cannery, to see a housing development (DESIGNED FOR FAMILIES) that hasn’t added any significant number of children to Davis schools, for example. And, ended up being advertised in the Bay Area, if I’m not mistaken.

        1. Craig Ross

          That doesn’t mean they are optimal for either themselves or the planet.  I know people living in their car, that’s an another option I guess, not one I would prefer.

        2. Ron Oertel

          I agree, Craig.  I suggest that surrounding communities enact a Measure R-type requirement for their own communities.  But, I don’t think my voice would be heard there, above development interests.

          It’s difficult enough to keep it in place in Davis.

        3. Richard McCann

          Ron

          So you want to drive up housing prices for everyone. I’m not seeing how having Measure R solves the problem of making housing affordable for low income and younger households. It sounds more about protecting property values for existing homeowners and landlords.

        4. Ron Oertel

          Richard:  Measure R ensures that proposals are designed to meet Davis’ needs, as decided by Davis voters.  Perhaps the reason that two of them have recently been approved.

          However, in all honesty, there have been some articles lately which suggest that the (relatively) high price of housing in California is actually driving down the birthrate (thereby lessening future market demand).  In fact, this was noted in the Sacramento Bee, which cited some of the same figures that David used in this article. Are you suggesting this is a bad thing?

          https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article229910029.html

        5. Matt Williams

          Ron, Measure R does not ensure anything by itself, and it only comes close to ensuring what yoiu are claiming if its process is adhered to by all parties.

        6. Ron Oertel

          Matt:  I think that the majority of voters are usually smart enough to see through the “noise”.  I’m not entirely disappointed in the outcome of recent Measure R elections, although the fiscal analysis was short-changed (through no fault of yours that I can see).

          I don’t expect that everyone will have the same views that I have, but I’m glad that all Davis voters have an opportunity to weigh in. Other cities should be so fortunate.

           

  3. Alan Miller

    At this point the community seems focused on finding infill and redevelopment sites rather than building outward.

    I hand’t noticed.

  4. Richard McCann

    Price is the best determinant of “need”. Price represents the coordinated outcome of many buyers and sellers without requiring explicit communication or agreement at an individual level. No single individual or small group has explicit control over resource disposition so that the risks of any one individual making a substantial error are well diversified.

    So what does the average housing price in Davis tell us compared to surrounding communities? That there is substantial unmet demand for housing in Davis. We can go through different rationales such as school quality, proximity to UCD, community traits, but its a different set for each household interested in buying into the Davis community. That is our single best metric of demand.

    For the community segments that are being shut out by this process, such as students and working families, those household don’t necessarily need new housing to meet their demand. Getting them into existing housing that is opened up by others selling to them is just as good a solution. For example, at a recent Council meeting it came up that the average homeowner on Miller Drive is 70 years old. They are all living in houses designed for young families from the 1950s. And that situation is not unique throughout Davis. One potential solution is to figure out how to get those older households to move into more appropriate housing. The same can be said about apartments that are now occupied by families instead of students. But those solutions may require targeting the audience that currently lives in housing that is better used for other groups. The West Davis development was one such approach that is valid–we’ll see if it actually works as planned. In most cases, these types of solutions are much more cost effective and attract much more investment than the heavy-handed mandated projects.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Price is the best determinant of “need”. So what does the average housing price in Davis tell us compared to surrounding communities?

      It tells us that other communities are a “better deal”, for many (including younger populations/families, as well as some seniors from Davis – thereby providing opportunities for others who believe Davis is a better fit for them).

      In fact, the price in Davis already reflects demand. It’s in equilibrium.

    2. Matt Williams

      “Price is the best determinant of need”.

      Price is also a very good determinant of “value,” otherwise known as “quality of life.”

      Bottom-line, price is affected by many variables.  Need is only one of those.

      1. Richard McCann

        If we’re happy with maintaining an exclusive community for increasingly wealthy households, then yes, we are in equilibrium. And you can argue that we’re meeting our “share” of regional growth allocation and we no longer need to be concerned about anyone else. If on the other hand, you’re concerned about access to the community by a mix of household incomes and you realize that the amount of subsidized housing that could ever be constructed will provide for only a token “feel good” amount of lower income households, then you want to pursue policies that will lower the average house price to make the community more accessible.

      2. Ron Oertel

        I think there’s a name for this type of “guesswork”.  It’s called “sprawl”.

        The market is in equilibrium, and is also impacted by availability/price of housing in nearby communities. (Which unfortunately, aren’t as careful regarding development patterns as Davis is.)

  5. Ron Oertel

    For those who still cling to the belief that human population and development are not a serious issue, you might want to read the article below:

    “With the human population passing 7 billion, activities like farming, logging, poaching, fishing and mining are altering the natural world at a rate “unprecedented in human history.”

    https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/other/civilization-is-accelerating-extinction-and-altering-the-natural-world-at-a-pace-unprecedented-in-human-history/ar-AAAYvQK?li=BBnbcA1&fullscreen=true#image=2

    The reality is that the world is a long way off from addressing this on a global scale. But, as noted in the article, nature may soon address it for us.

    The question then becomes are steps being taken to address it where feasible.

    1. Ron Oertel

      I’ve seen various reports, regarding population projections. Unfortunately, the global population (at 7 billion, and counting) is already threatening the health and sustainability of the world (see article I posted, above).

      The U.S. is still among the fastest-growing developed countries (if not “the” fastest).  Why not start here, where we’re supposedly already “educated”?

      1. Richard McCann

        Controlling housing development isn’t population control, or even remotely related. (How you even have came up with that relationship is hard to imagine.) In fact, when Davis pushes away housing here, it pushes housing to other communities that are much less considerate of the environmental impacts across various dimensions. We actually can improve the regional and global environment by accepting more housing in Davis where we can control the parameters.

        BTW, the US is now just above replacement birth rate. The population “growth” is driven by immigration from other nations that either don’t provide the economic opportunities or oppress their citizens (too often with the complicity of the US.) The answer to stemming that population growth is quite straightforward–assist those other economies in being more self sustaining and do what we can to undermine the regimes that are oppressive. Trying to stop the flow at the border is truly futile.

  6. Rik Keller

    Testing this statement so that I know I can comment freely on population growth: edited

    [Moderator: you are free to comment on population growth.]

  7. Matt Williams

    David Greenwald said . . . “The growth rate was a bit surprising for Davis, given that the recent wave of approved developments have not been built and inhabited – Sterling, Lincoln40, Nishi, Davis Living Housing, Chiles Road Apartments and West Davis Active Adult Community.”

    I don’t think it is at all surprising given the high percentage of rental housing in Davis, and the trend toward by-the-bed leases, which typically increase the average population density of existing apartments and mini-dorms.

  8. Bill Marshall

    The ‘headline’… in part…

    Community Still Has Needs

    “Community” is not defined… those who already work, live, or study here?

    Those who wish to work, live, study here?

    That said, I subscribe to the concept that those who are, or hope to, work, live, and/or study here need  the opportunity for housing… to say otherwise would be hypocritical… I, and future spouse, sought to study here (there were reasonable housing choices)… later sought to work and live here (there were reasonable housing choices)… shortly later sought to raise a family here… (there were reasonable housing choices)…

    But we’re “newbies”… only been here around 40 years… in town… so guess we’re not qualified to say that we wish others have the same opportunity…

    Those who have been in town less than say 25 years, should butt out as to ‘growth’ or housing opportunities… hypocrites all?

    And yes, this post will in all likelihood be moderated or expunged…

     

    1. Ron Oertel

      Davis (and any city) provides the same opportunities for all.  Folks make choices based upon their own circumstances and preferences.

      Not everyone can afford to live in market-rate housing in quite a few locations. Salaries haven’t kept pace with the cost of housing, for all but top earners.

      I wouldn’t advocate that my original home town (or any other location that I might prefer) scrap its plans and grow endlessly in a fruitless attempt to ensure that housing is built “just for me”.  I would find it incredibly selfish and short-sighted for anyone to adopt that belief. That’s a recipe for sprawl and degradation of all life.

      I find views such as yours completely baffling.

      1. Richard McCann

        Ron

        So you want to protect your privilege for living in Davis. The most important single fact is that not everyone has had the same opportunities to improve their circumstances, so your premise false. Thanks to the various discriminatory oppressions, including the covenants identified by Rik Keller, many ethnic groups have not had the opportunity to accrue the wealth to buy into our community.

        I agree that not everyone can live in the housing or even the community that they desire, but when a community’s housing price grows to be far out of line with other surrounding communities, we need to ask why that’s happening. Part of that aspect is the relative quality of our schools, but in fact that quality difference is driven largely by the differential education level of our parents. That differential perpetuates the wealth differential that closes out others who can’t gain access to our education system. (See https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/06/the-birth-of-a-new-american-aristocracy/559130/) The factor that maintains that price differential is restricted supply. That’s an intervention in the marketplace to elicit a specific outcome.

        If you believe in that individuals should be satisfied with paying market rates for housing, then you also believe that markets are well functioning in all aspects. That then leads to the conclusion that you should oppose any interventions into the housing market such as development restrictions and public votes on new developments as unacceptable market distortions.

        So you’re left with having to  choose which of the three positions you stand for:

        1. Housing should be entirely market driven and we should have no regulatory/legal restrictions that would impede supply.

        2. We should maintain high property values and keep out undesirable low income and ethnicity groups that never accumulated sufficient wealth to buy in here through strict development restrictions that perpetuate the oppression of slavery and segregation laws.

        3. We should develop sufficient housing to reduce the housing price differential between Davis and surrounding communities so as to better accommodate demand from lower wealth households and students.

        You’ve given lip service to 1. but your general thesis has been consistent with 2.

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