A poll released over the summer showed that the top issue among Davis voters was the issue of affordability of housing. We have seen some other polling that internally bears that out as well: affordable housing, not necessarily subsidized big “A” affordable housing but housing that is affordable, leads the way in Davis in what is a sea change.
Given the perhaps surprising robust support for housing at the polls last year in June on Nishi and in November on WDAAC (West Davis Active Adult Community), it seems the polling is borne out.
But that’s where it becomes tricky. Affordability itself is a difficult matter. While Davis is not the Bay Area, the cost of housing here is quite high. Market rate housing figures to be costly. The average home price in Davis was around $600,000 by one measure – that’s more than other areas in the Sacramento region but pales in comparison to the $1.4 million cost in San Francisco.
Still, the question of how you achieve affordability for homes is vexing.
All the more so because all signs point to a renewal of Measure R by the public next year. We have not seen polling numbers on that question as of yet. We have also not seen a council discussion on what renewal looks like. But based on past results, we would estimate that Measure R would be renewed somewhere in the range of two-thirds to three-quarters of the vote.
That is significant because not only does Measure R figure to restrain any peripheral growth, it also puts a limit as to how much the city can create affordable housing through the increase of supply.
That means there are two other possibilities. One is affordability by design. There has been talk about tiny houses. But given the cost of both land and construction, even small homes figure to be costly. It would be hard to imagine getting the cost of a new home much less than $400,000 – that would clearly be more affordable than median and well below the cost of new homes at the Cannery, but the cost remains prohibitive.
Affordable housing – big A – remains difficult. To date, the legislature has dealt with some affordability – for instance, through the affordable housing package signed into law in 2017. But that is not a replacement for RDA (Redevelopment Agency) funding. As a result, most of the affordable housing that will be available in Davis will be bootstrapped to market rate housing. In addition, most of that housing will be rental rather than ownership housing.
With the likelihood that Measure R will remain in place another decade and the current lack of RDA funding for affordable housing, locations for housing seem quite limited.
For the most part, the city and university have provided about 13,000 or so new beds for student housing. At least for the time being that would seem to meet current needs for increases in student housing.
Increasingly, people have looked to the need for workforce housing as well as family housing.
As I have argued previously, for the most part we should be looking toward houses rather than apartments to meet the needs of housing for families. Apartments tend to be expensive for families, they are small, and they lack a lot of the desirable needs for children.
But again, looking at maps, it is hard to see where there is going to be a good deal of single-family homes or even a lot of townhouses in the future for families.
Workforce housing seems a bit more likely.
We have the approved project on Chiles that will provide some workforce housing. The University Research Park (URP) is looking at a mixed use project that could provide for some workforce housing, particularly for employees at the URP.
We see a draft EIR for the University Commons which has been designated for student housing, but we think, given the 4000 beds approved by the city already, that housing might be better suited as workforce housing despite the proximity to the university.
Finally, while it is in its early stages, there are roughly 850 units proposed at the Aggie Research Campus, which would be primarily workforce housing for the employees at the new park.
One area of interest is also the downtown. We have noted it is underutilized in terms of overall land use, and the downtown plan which has been released in draft form contains proposals to consider mixed-use there as well.
Housing is a key component. But that comes with some caution.
As the plan indicates: “The analysis of market conditions has shown that there is adequate housing demand, but supply has been hampered due to constrained infill conditions (such as small parcel sizes) and a cumbersome regulatory process.”
Housing in the downtown figures to be small and dense, but amenable to workforce housing needs.
Given the cost of housing, we will likely be looking at greater intensity and density for development in the core.
But Matt Kowta from BAE Urban Economics told the Vanguard, “While variance from project to project could be significant, I think the financial analysis demonstrates that it will be challenging for developers to put together feasible projects in the downtown area, particularly if they have to acquire sites in the open market that most likely include an existing structure with some economic life left.”
The analysis shows that if the city wants redevelopment, they are going to have to reduce costs and risks.
Finally, outside of the immediate issue of housing are issues like jobs-housing balance, where we have a large number of people who work in Davis, but are not able to afford to live in Davis and thus commute into town. At the same time, a large number of people who live in Davis have not been to find jobs in town, and thus commute to Sacramento or the Bay Area.
The result of this along with regional housing-jobs issues has created huge traffic problems internally in Davis, as well as on the freeways.
On the one hand, voters and residents of Davis are concerned about the cost of housing and availability of housing – but on the other hand, many are complaining about things like traffic congestion and the lack of available parking, especially in the downtown.
All of this will make the issue of addressing housing very tricky in the coming years.
—David M. Greenwald reporting