I was intrigued by data presented in Rich Rifkin’s latest column. One thing that becomes pretty clear is that just looking at population or housing growth alone does not tell the whole tale of what is happening.
While Mr. Rifkin focuses of the decline of people per unit in owner-occupied homes, there is another story perhaps in the decline of owner-occupied homes in Davis and the increase in student density in those single-family homes as the result of the lack of housing growth over the last decade – growth which is not keeping up with the rise in student housing demand.
Mr. Rifkin notes: “Despite the approval of some new housing units in Davis in the last few years — most not yet built — we have a critical shortage of rental units. Our apartment vacancy rate has been 0.4 percent or less for the last four years, according to UC Davis estimates. The result is higher rents and a transfer of wealth from the have-nots to the haves.”
He notes that since 2010 the city has grown by about 5000, from 64,842 to nearly 70,000.
But writes Mr. Rifkin, “Yet census figures suggest our total housing stock is stuck. We had 25,502 housing units in 2010. The latest estimate for 2017 is just 25,642. That’s a net growth of only 140 units in 8 years — not many for 5,000 more people.”
Interestingly he found that there hasn’t been a large conversion of single-family homes to rental properties.
He writes, “In 2010, we had 13,368 renter-occupied housing units in Davis. By 2017, that was up 402 units to 13,770. Owner-occupied units declined by 42 units over the same period.”
What has grown, he found, is the percentage of “owner-occupied housing in Davis that has only one or two residents. In 2000, 55 percent of owner-occupied homes had just one or two people living in them. That number more-or-less held steady until 2014, when it was 56.4 percent. The 2017 estimate is 58.6 percent.”
Meanwhile: “Only 23.7 percent of owner-occupied Davis homes had four or more people living in them in 2017. That’s down from 27.6 percent in 2009.”
One result is “the number of empty bedrooms increased by 23.6 percent from 2009 to 2017.”
What we are seeing then is really a decline in children in homes in Davis. That is an interesting finding unto itself. It also suggests that empty-nesters are holding onto their homes rather than downsizing. Will the development of housing like that at West Davis Active Adult Community (WDAAC) change that? I guess we will find out whenever those homes get built.
Rich Rifkin sees the potential of renting out some of those rooms, but notes, “Apparently, however, an extra $7,200 to $12,000 per year before taxes is not quite enticing enough to let a stranger move in; and most empty-nesters are not moving out.”
But I think there is a whole other story here. Mr. Rifkin notes the large number of people – around 5000 – who have moved into the city of Davis despite the relatively small amount of housing growth. We added a net of 140 units over the last decade to accommodate those 5000.
The number of renter-occupied units increased by just 400.
So where is the population growth coming from?
Last year, Don Gibson, Chair of the ASUCD Graduate Student Association (GSA) Housing Task Force and a member of the Chancellor’s Affordable Housing Task Force, found a huge increase in the density of units in Davis.
He wrote, “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.
That means that while the density in owner-occupied homes is declining, density in rental homes is increasing as more students are packing into the units.
He said, “Not as many students as I suspected were actually leaving town – they were just having to double-up in rooms.”
He added, “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.”
The city and university have sought to address this through adding more housing stock. That process has been slow – in part because the building process is slow and in part because there have been some legal barriers.
But the university has been moving forward on expanding West Village in hopes that more housing could open by fall 2020. Sterling is in progress and will likely open in 2020. Lincoln40 just cleared its final legal hurdles when an appellate court dismissed an appeal. And Nishi will be heard perhaps at the end of this month.
Rich Rifkin is looking at a plan to encourage owner-occupiers to lease out rooms in their residences.
Developers who build WDAAC, once again, have operated on a premise that they can induce empty-nest owners to move from large single-family homes to smaller homes in their development.
Rich Rifkin concludes: “Building more apartments and single-family homes in Davis is probably necessary. But if we could fill most of those 9,351 empty bedrooms, we wouldn’t need to add nearly as many.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting