Commentary: New Numbers Offer Different Look at Davis Housing Shortfall

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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


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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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31 thoughts on “Commentary: New Numbers Offer Different Look at Davis Housing Shortfall”

    1. Bill Marshall

      Or, Alan, a new version of the “Quartering Acts”?  ~150 years ago… any ’empty’ or semi-’empty nester’ is obligated to accept a student, homeless person, etc., for the “good of the order”?

      The quartering acts were part of the “Intolerable Acts”…

      I’m pretty much agreeing with what I surmise your point is…

      On the other hand, suggesting that folk may want to provide housing (rental or freebie) in vacant/unused bedrooms, is not an inherently bad idea…  has some merit… and, some risks… my grandparents did that in the 40’s, 50’s… all good outcomes… Dad got to meet and live with folk from India (he learned how to play Cricket), and another guy who ended up managing Eisenhower’s farm just a bit away from Gettysburg… visited it, but Ike was in Kansas at that particular time… got to meet a 2-star general who was staying at the farm for a few weeks…

      Suggesting to folk about renting out unused rooms, at affordable rates, should be in “the tool box”,  but should not be seen as a “solution”… IMNSHO.

      Might have multiple benefits…

       

  1. Craig Ross

    Rifkin’s stats are really interesting.  His solution, not so much.  The trend has been that students are packing more and more into mini dorms due to lack of other housing.  Rifkin’s solution is simply to continue that trend by expanding into owner occupied homes. The real solution is get more housing, the one great thing that Rifkin’s data do is put to rest the claims by Rik Keller that we’re growing fast enough.  We’re not.  This proves it.  Population is outstripping housing growth. That’s a recipe for problems.

    1. Ron Oertel

      “The trend has been that students are packing more and more into mini dorms due to lack of other housing.” 

      Much of the planned student housing (megadorms) will consist of double-occupied bedrooms.

      I suspect that many students will continue to live in “mini-dorms” – due to lower rent, more flexibility, proximity to campus, availability of parking, etc. I see no stopping this phenomenon – especially for properties near campus. Those neighborhoods will continue to change.

      However, there was a recent article in the Vanguard, which showed a very significant drop-off for non-resident student enrollments. And, only a very slight increase in resident enrollments.

      1. Craig Ross

        Some of it will.  But they will be in rooms designed for two people rather than crowded into.

        Most students don’t want to live in mini-dorms – lack of privacy, neighbor impacts.

        1. Ron Oertel

          “But they will be in rooms designed for two people rather than crowded into.”

          Not seeing a great deal of difference.  Also, it’s possible that a single, private (non-shared) room in a mini-dorm will be cheaper than a shared room in a megadorm.  Mini-dorms can also provide more opportunities for free parking, and are often conveniently-located, near campus

          Actually, I wonder how many “mini-dorms” there already are, in the city. Owners of properties are ultimately the ones who decide whether or not to pursue this option. Seems likely that a “market” for them will continue to exist.

          Most students don’t want to live in mini-dorms – lack of privacy, neighbor impacts.

          Privacy depends upon the number of occupants in mini-dorms, which (unlike megadorms) can be determined on an individual basis.  Regardless, it’s likely to remain significantly less-expensive.

          Regarding “neighbor impacts” – a lack of concern (by some occupants) is presumably what’s leading to problems in the first place.  Probably not “high on the list” of concerns, of most current and potential occupants.  And, no landlord around to “control” it.  (In other words, “freedom”.)

        2. Ron Oertel

          The following two statements (from the article) suggest that there hasn’t actually been much increase in the number of “mini-dorms”:

          “Interestingly he found that there hasn’t been a large conversion of single-family homes to rental properties.”

          Another note from the article:

          He wrote, “The density of the units in Davis for multi-families has gone from 2.4 to almost 3.”

          “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.”

          Actually, the numbers don’t specify “where” density is increasing (e.g., single-family homes, vs. apartments). Most likely, some combination of the two. “3” per unit doesn’t sound particularly overwhelming – especially since houses are included in the total.

           

           

        3. Craig Ross

          Ron – of course you don’t see it.  You aren’t living that part of your life right now.  That’s why you’re left to wonder, while people my age live it every day – we don’t have to wonder, we’re living it.

        4. Ron Oertel

          Ron – of course you don’t see it.  You aren’t living that part of your life right now.  That’s why you’re left to wonder, while people my age live it every day – we don’t have to wonder, we’re living it.

          “Wonder” about what, exactly?  What statement have I made that you “disagree” with? And, what makes you think that previous generations didn’t have to make some of the same choices? More importantly, who “elected” you to speak on behalf of all young people?

          [edited]
          Certainly, things are more challenging everywhere these days – regarding tuition, housing, and the “value” of college degrees.  But, many of these issues were already a very significant factor in places such as the Bay Area, years ago.  And yet, my views were totally opposite of yours, even then.  Simply put, I don’t support endless growth and development.  Never have.

          I’d really suggest that you stop engaging in ageism.

           

        5. Richard McCann

          Ron O

          Simply put, I don’t support endless growth and development. 

          So what is your proposal for how the state will accommodate a rising demand for college education when the most cost effective and most environmentally friendly means of doing so is expanding the UC campuses? And how do you propose to handle that increased enrollment when 1) UC has shown that is not a great housing manager and 2) most students want to live off campus in the community at some point in their education career as part of their personal growth? Are you saying that we should have a ban on students being able to live in the City of Davis?

        6. Ron Oertel

          So what is your proposal for how the state will accommodate a rising demand for college education when the most cost effective and most environmentally friendly means of doing so is expanding the UC campuses?

          I’m not sure that the demand is still rising, or will continue to do so.  A recent Vanguard article noted a significant drop-off in non-resident enrollments.

          And how do you propose to handle that increased enrollment when 1) UC has shown that is not a great housing manager

          I’m not sure what this means, but it seems to indicate “room for improvement”.

          2) most students want to live off campus in the community at some point in their education career as part of their personal growth?

          Not sure if this is true, but it’s also not something that seems particularly “critical”.  They’ve got the rest of their lives to live off-campus. Not sure why a city would have a policy of specifically providing student housing (assuming on-campus housing is available), simply because some students would “prefer it”. Should it be priced below market for them, as well? Perhaps with “fries” included?

          Why would students merit “special” treatment?

          In fact, many students live at home (and attend local colleges – at least for the first couple of years), without any damaging effects to their psyches.  This has an added bonus of avoiding much of the crushing student loan debt that would, in fact, impact their “personal growth” for decades afterward.

          Are you saying that we should have a ban on students being able to live in the City of Davis?

          No.

          1. Don Shor

            Ron: “I’m not sure that the demand is still rising, or will continue to do so.”

            Even if demand levels off, they don’t have to adjust admissions. They only admit a fraction of applicants. It would be very imprudent to base local planning on any assumptions about reduced demand for UCD admissions.

            But one set of highly competitive institutions is announcing a modest decline in the number of applications. The University of California, systemwide, saw a drop of 3 percent. This follows 15 straight years of increases in application totals for the system.

            Particularly striking to many is where the declines are taking place. The three UC campuses with drops are Berkeley, UCLA and Santa Cruz — the first two for years among the most competitive public universities in the country in admissions. The system saw declines in applications from inside California, but also from out-of-state students, both domestic and international.

            But some campuses — such as Davis, Irvine and Riverside — had modest declines in California applicants, but gains for international and out-of-state domestic applicants. Riverside had just over 49,000 applications this year — 817 fewer from in state, but gains of 114 from the rest of the United States, and 1,108 from the rest of the world. The largest percentage gain for the year goes to Merced, which is smaller than the other UC undergraduate campuses, and which topped 24,000 applications with a 2.6 percent gain.

            All categories remain above where they were two years ago.
            ….
            Jon Reider, who recently retired as director of counseling at San Francisco University High School, said that all the attention admissions professionals are giving to the modest declines at UC illustrates one of the oddities of college admissions. “When things go up, you never explain it,” he said. “But when things go down, people worry about a death spiral.”

            There is no cause for concern at UC, he said. “A drop of this size, when so modest and concentrated on Berkeley and UCLA, is essentially meaningless.” The number of applicants “is so far above what they can admit that there will be only a trivial change in the admit rate.”

            https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2019/02/11/new-data-show-drop-applications-university-california-after-years

        7. Ron Oertel

          Don’s citation, above:  “But some campuses — such as Davis, Irvine and Riverside — had modest declines in California applicants, but gains for international and out-of-state domestic applicants.”

          And yet, from the Davis Enterprise:

          “The campus estimates it will actually enroll about 9,100 new freshmen and transfer students this fall, a decrease of about 4.5 percent from fall 2018″.

          Overall, 8,824 international and 3,939 U.S. out-of-state applicants were admitted, representing respective declines from last year of 16.7 percent and 3.1 percent.

          https://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/uc-davis-admits-more-california-residents-for-fall-2019

  2. Ron Oertel

    I have yet to see any analysis regarding the impact of developments in surrounding communities (such as “North, North Davis”), for people who either have, or had connections to Davis (or UCD).

    Nothing that Davis does will change the plans in surrounding communities. It’s unfortunate that those communities don’t have a Measure J/R in place – although I suspect that those residents are much more supportive of development, in general.

     

    1. John Hobbs

      “It’s unfortunate that those communities don’t have a Measure J/R in place”

      Not for them or Davis, since the slave wage force that keeps it tidy has to live somewhere.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Point understood, but surrounding communities aren’t exactly “cheap”, either.  And, likely attract more than a few professors and other employees of UCD (those with decent salaries).

        Truth be told, employees often seek out cheaper housing in communities adjacent to already-established towns.  It’s been that way since the Gold Rush, but accelerated greatly due to automobiles and other modern transportation alternatives. And as that occurs, housing costs also rise (generally to a lesser degree) in those adjacent communities.

        Some might view those who live in the valley (or in less-expensive Bay Area towns) as the “slave wage force” for wealthier communities in the Bay Area.  Even though many of them also earn a decent salary.

        Unless there’s a “law” enacted – that one has to live in the town where one works, there’s no stopping this phenomenon.

        If one wants to ensure that Affordable housing remains available in a given community, the only realistic way to do so is through Affordable housing and/or rent control.

         

    2. Richard McCann

      I have yet to see any analysis regarding the impact of developments in surrounding communities (such as “North, North Davis”), for people who either have, or had connections to Davis (or UCD).

      Not true. UCD has done a study showing the increased GHG emissions from those who commute from those communities to UCD, both staff and students. It’s part of their sustainability planning.

      And BS that what Davis does will change the plans in surrounding communities. The Covell Village vote the North North Davis development farther as just one example. That is perhaps the single most ignorant statement of denial that you have made.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Not true. UCD has done a study showing the increased GHG emissions from those who commute from those communities to UCD, both staff and students. It’s part of their sustainability planning.

        If UCD truly had “sustainability planning”, they would have provided sufficient housing to accommodate their growth plans, on campus.  And, would have likely come to an agreement with the city years ago.

        Regardless, that’s not what I was referring to.  I was referring to the impact on the housing market, in Davis (resulting from the developments in surrounding communities).

        And BS that what Davis does will change the plans in surrounding communities. The Covell Village vote the North North Davis development farther as just one example. That is perhaps the single most ignorant statement of denial that you have made.

        I suspect that the developers of “North, North Davis” would have pursued their plans regardless of what Davis approved.  Unfortunately, Woodland welcomes growth and development with open arms. And, they’re continuing to do so.

        It seemed highly disingenuous for the developer of a portion of the Spring Lake development to “complain” about conditions in Davis while simultaneously pursing the development in Woodland, as well as their later pursuit of WDAAC (and their Davis buyer’s program), and the development in Davis in which they claimed that a city greenbelt would have to be included. In addition to attending and sponsoring Vanguard fundraising attends (e.g., regarding “social justice champions”).  (At least, I believe this is all one developer family.)

        If you’re going to use an example in an attempt to “prove” me wrong (or suggest that my statement is “ignorant”), I’d suggest that the developments in Woodland (and relationship to Davis developers) are not the ideal one to use. Bottom line is that they’d build them regardless of what’s built in Davis.

      2. Ron Oertel

        It should also be noted that the developer who wrote the “colonization” article (regarding the new developments in Woodland/Spring Lake) is apparently not the same developer who owns the site which was proposed for Covell Village.  (However, I understand that the owner of the site previously proposed for Covell Village also owns, and/or is a partner in Nishi.)

        Nor is the “colonizer” the only developer involved in the new developments in Woodland.  (I believe that the colonizer was primarily involved in some of the more “exclusive” new housing, in Spring Lake.)

        I’m sure that developers work together at times, and compete with each other at other times.

        I have yet to see any Vanguard article which thoroughly discusses who owns (and/or is involved with) various development proposals.

        In any case, I recall/observed that the “housing crash” hit Spring Lake pretty hard.

        Looks like there’s several Yolobus commute buses to Davis and UCD, from surrounding communities.  Not to mention the “regular service” bus line.  I suspect that these services work well for those who work regular jobs, on campus.

        http://www.yolobus.com/routes/index.php

  3. Ron Oertel

    Couple of intersting, related articles below:

    Housing affordability is now becoming a concern in the “heartland”, as well:

    https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/realestate/americas-housing-affordability-crisis-spreads-to-the-heartland/ar-AAF4a77?ocid=spartandhp

    More millennials living at home (with parents), in Sacramento.  Even while maintaining “significant other” relationships that might have been discouraged, in past generations.  Perhaps a culture shift occurring, in more than one way. Regardless, it certainly makes “sen$e” – at least for a period of time while becoming established (and paying off that ill-advised student debt):

    https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/sacramento-tipping-point/article232990972.html

     

     

     

    1. Ron Oertel

      In all honesty, one has to take a leave of senses to purposefully attend an expensive school (and incur living expenses) if closer and cheaper options are available (e.g., allowing one to live at home).

      One option is to attend community college, for the first couple of years.  It leads to the same degree.

      It’s difficult to muster-up much empathy for those who voluntarily incur expense that they could have avoided – while achieving the exact same goal.  (I understand that this does not apply to all.)

      And frankly, some degrees are simply not worth the expense incurred (in time, or money).

      It’s no surprise that student enrollments are dropping-off – especially for non-resident students.

  4. Richard McCann

    Rifkin’s proposal was ridiculous. Those owners who are not renting bedrooms are doing so because they have other values, not easily quantified economically, from wanting to live alone in a house. Security is probably the single largest reason which probably has a value on the order or hundreds of thousands of dollars, not the mere annual pittance of a rent payment. The only practical solution if we want access to those houses for rentals or larger families is to induce those households to sell their house and move into a smaller owner-occupied space.

    1. Alan Miller

      Induce?  That’s a word I believe I’ve only seen used paired with another word:  “induce vomiting”.

      RR’s proposal is indeed ridiculous.  These people are individuals not compelled to do anything as they own the house and often lived through raising a family there.  Perhaps they have taken over a child’s room as an office, or preserved it as a museum for the occasional visit and hoping they’ll throw out their own stuff ‘someday’.  Or a shrine to their favorite cult leader.  Or a hoarding room, or the seventh hoarding room (with or without mold).

      Regardless, suggesting that those who do not comply with allowing their rooms to rented should be fined or taxed is a bit outside the comfort zone of most Americans.  Not to mention, more regulation, more evasion.  Anyone who has had unemployment knows how to evade the system so as to continue to get benefits while #ahem# “searching for a job”.  In this case, run an ad to rent your spare room – and in order to keep your room empty, when people call just say, “I hope you don’t mind that both me and my cat smell like dry urine”.  Then show the government inspector your ad.  Viola!

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