Sunday Commentary: Rothstein, the Housing Issue, and Discrimination in Davis

We have seen a lot of side issues in Davis this year – from traffic congestion created on Mace to the issue of the homeless respite center and more. But this week was a reminder that, at the core, the housing issue still resonates.

Richard Rothstein gave about a 40-minute presentation last Monday at the League of Women Voters event in which he argued that during the civil rights movement, policymakers “left in place the biggest segregation of all” – residential segregation – and he traced the history of segregation specifically and explicitly to government policies, particularly on affordable housing.

It was nearing the end of the evening on Monday night. A packed house. More than 200 people there to see a discussion led by Richard Rothstein on housing discrimination. But there was something different about the audience. Intermixed with the “usual suspects” were scores of people that don’t normally attend such meetings – young people, professionals, students, and people of color.

The housing crisis has completely changed the dynamics of the city from what we might have seen even ten years ago.

As Assistant City Manager Ashley Feeney pointed out, when the city polled on issues facing the city, the issue of housing affordability was the top issue by far. We have seen a year when issues like Mace, downtown parking, the homeless and even the claw have dominated. But lurking below that surface is housing. And it’s not the stop housing movement that we have seen for years.

If you want a flavor, here it is. It was audience question time. Cards received. A card was read.

The person asked: “How can we maintain that small-town feel and still deal with our housing issues?”

Richard Rothstein rose to the mic one more time, and stated that a “small-town feel is a euphemism for segregated community.” The audience roared with approval.

It is hard to know what this means of course. It was one audience. But the small-town feel has been for years, probably decades, the rallying cry of slow growth Davis. It embodied the construction of Measure R, our ethos. And now at least someone on one night took the moment to call it for what it was – or what it seemed to be to an outsider.

I guess a critical question then, which underlies our policies and our politics, is whether the whole movement for growth control is linked to issues like small town feel, safety, preserving our character and the like – a racial issue.

As many of you know from the district elections discussion, I believe that Davis is not only a good deal more racially polarized than we have thought, but also discriminatory to people of color.

I would argue that race remains the defining issue in America.  We have been through the discussion on voting patterns nationally and the single biggest issue, I would argue – well above class, gender, and education level – is race.  The racial gap on voting is about twice that of even the gender gap if you look at the 2016 elections.

Someone came up to me later. They didn’t understand. Why does everything have to be about race, they asked? How do we get past racism when all some people want to talk about is race?

They don’t seem to understand. Race has been the number one driving force for housing policy for hundreds of years. What Richard Rothstein shows pretty conclusively is that the segregated patterns of the north – far worse in terms of housing than at any time in the south – is the result of deliberate governmental policy.

We can’t change those patterns by accident because, despite the euphemism – de facto segregation, it’s not that.

“This doesn’t sound to me much like de facto segregation,” Richard Rothstein argued as he described concerted efforts to keep neighborhoods segregated.

But the other problem – the worse problem – is that we keep this community segregated because we have so constrained a supply as to drive up prices.

Here’s the thing Mr. Rothstein has said: “[U]nless we confront the history of this country… we are not going to be solve this problem.” And he added that “decreasing density is not going to desegregate this community.”

But he claims: “Policymakers know how to fix this.

“There is nothing mysterious about how to redress segregation in this country,” he added.  He noted that Justice Roberts “maintains his staff by denying the history, but if confronted by the history, there would be no justification for not addressing this de facto myth.”

One solution, he says, is that “we should abolish zoning ordinances that prohibit the construction of anything but single-family homes, sometimes on large lot sizes.  Combine that with inclusionary requirements to make sure that we don’t simply increase density for the benefit of the middle class that’s also suffering from the housing crisis, but also increase density for the benefit of racial minorities who have been excluded from participating in decent housing in this country.”

He added, “We should reverse the priorities of things like the Low Income Housing Tax Credit which places a priority on low-income neighborhoods and requires that more of them be built in high opportunity neighborhoods.

“We should resist the gentrification process that simply converts low income segregated neighborhoods into high-income white neighborhoods,” he said.  “We should do that with policies like rent control, limits on condominium conversions, inclusionary zoning requirements.”

He said, “These policies are well known – what is missing is a new civil rights movement that’s going demand that these policies be implemented.”

He added that “fixing this is your responsibility – it’s our responsibility.”

In a community that says affordability of housing is the top issue, we will see how much of this actually gains traction.

—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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36 Comments

  1. Rik Keller

    The Vanguard in this article: “ They don’t seem to understand. Race has been the number one driving force for housing policy for hundreds of years.”

    The Vanguard regarding criticism of  the exclusionary and discriminatory WDAAC project: “a dangerous playing of the race card.”

    1. Eric Gelber

      Exactly. And to those who respond that WDAAC is old news, so get over it, I’d say that WDAAC serves as a very current example of how housing policy and design subtly perpetuates housing segregation and discrimination.  This is a development intentionally designed for older and, thus, whiter Davis residents and other seniors with connections to Davis’ less inclusive past. It excludes a younger and, thus, more diverse demographic. Even the affordable senior apartments, likely to be more diverse, is to be located on the southern edge of the development, on Covell, thereby minimizing the need for these low income residents to travel through and interact with the single family home neighborhood to enter and leave the site.

  2. Rik Keller

    In this second article on Rothsteins’s talk, the Vanguard managed to include one of Rothstein’s primary policy prescriptions that was completely missing from the original article: combining eliminating exclusionary large-lot single family zoning with strong inclusionary requirements so that increased housing and density is actually affordable.

    However, the Vanguard completely neglects to provide context of this issue in Davis where the City”s inclusionary affordability requirements were weakened in 2018. The City still hasn’t produced the studies and proposed updates that it had earlier promised to deliver by the end of 2018 and is now delaying until at least mid-2020.

    The Vanguard routinely tries to minimize this one policy that actually produces affordable housing in Davis  in the dozen years before the requirements were weakened, 25% of all housing built in the City—was affordable. And now, with by-the-bedroom lease schemes like at Nishi, developers are skirting even the weak 15% mandate. In the recent Olive Drive proposal, the developers propose not only to not meet the City’s Low Income inclusionary requirement, but also not to even address the affordability requirements for Extremely Low and Very Low Income  households at all.

    The article states “In a community that says affordability of housing is the top issue, we will see how much of this actually gains traction.” given that the City is slow-walking beefing up its inclusionary requirements and that leaders like Mayor Pro Tem dismiss concerns about segregation saying they are an “appropriation of civil rights issues for a land use dispute,” there is clearly not a lot of traction.

     

     

  3. Rik Keller

    In this second bite at the apple, the Vanguard also dues not mention one of Rothstein’s other policy suggestions: “The city of Davis should be buying up homes for $800,000 in (Oeste Manor) and reselling them to qualified African Americans for $100,000. That would be a narrowly targeted remedy for a very specific constitutional violation.”

    Perhaps that will be included in a third article.

    1. Don Shor

      I thought that was a really interesting suggestion. Rather provocative and I’m not sure how legal it would be. But it did have the effect of making the point succinctly. He also acknowledged that it was “an extreme policy….”
      A point he made that I think bears repeating is that the policies of housing, which discriminated, allowed those who purchased homes to build equity (he used ‘weath’).

      “used that wealth to send their children to college. They used it to finance temporary unemployment emergencies. They used that wealth to finance their own retirements and they used that wealth to bequeath wealth to their children and grandchildren who then had down payments for their own homes.

      “African Americans who were prohibited from participating in this wealth-generating exercise gained no such wealth,”

      The ability to use one’s home as a long-term investment, even a vehicle for retirement or college funds, has been really important.
      Renters don’t build wealth.
      He makes a very good case for more home-ownership by a broader cross-section, demographically and ethnically, of our communities.
      But in order to make that happen, you need more homes available for purchase at lower cost.

      1. Rik Keller

        Don Shor said “ But in order to make that happen, you need more homes available for purchase at lower cost..”

        And the only way to make that happen—as Rothstein points out—is to have inclusionary provisions that mandate it.

        1. Richard McCann

          “And the only way to make that happen—as Rothstein points out—is to have inclusionary provisions that mandate it.”

          Not the only way, and that’s only a very small increment of the housing supply in any case. The more broadly effective way is good old supply and demand–increase housing supply more broadly, and reduce effective demand by moving seniors and students out of family housing in housing more suited for their individual needs.

        2. Ron Glick

          I have long argued that adding supply of any type helps relieve demand for that type. By not building much in the last twenty years we are behind in many categories of housing. However, we are starting to crawl out of the deep hole that the dichotomy of  a no growth scene in the host community of a growing university town has put us into. With Cannery providing market rate housing, much student housing in the pipeline and WDAAC opening up some family housing as people downsize, we now are seeing a proposal for 75 small workforce housing units on Olive Dr. Notice that as projects in each category get approved different projects come forward to address opportunities in under supplied categories. This is why if we let market forces work we will be better off than if we try to demand one or another market category of housing be filled to the exclusion of other types.

        3. Rik Keller

          Richard McCann: That’s not how housing markets work.  Your kind of simplistic laissez-faire “solution” is what has led to housing crises markets all over the country. How’s that working out?

        4. Rik Keller

          McCann: let’s do a quick and easy test of your housing solution. I have the data readily at hand, so all you need to do is name 3 jurisdictions in the SACOG region that most closely meet your criteria of a relatively unconstrained housing market and a high housing production/growth rate. And then name 3 jurisdictions on the opposite end of the spectrum: relatively constrained market and lower housing production rate (I’ll assume Davis will be one of these). I’ll then provide comparative data on the rates of increase of housing prices and rents over the past few years.

          While past performance does not guarantee future results, I am confident in the likelihood of my prediction that you will come up with one excise or another not to do this.

          Meanwhile, before the City weakened its inclusionary affordable housing provisions, 25% of the housing produced  in Davis over the previous dozen years was affordable. This is hardly the “very small increment of the housing supply” that you characterize it as.

        5. Ron Glick

          Rik pick a value for X. 25% of 0 is less than 15% of X? How many affordable units were actually approved in the 10 years prior to the change in the affordable requirement?

        6. Rik Keller

          Ron G. I’ve posted the numbers here before. The Vanguard has been on a long campaign of misinformation to try to minimize that, so it’s not surprising that people have the wrong impression.

          Will did the numbers up again and post them later.

        7. Ron Glick

          Here is the real problem Rik 15% or 25% are both band-aids  on a hull seam of the Titanic. What we need is a New Deal style program where the federal government comes in and builds tens of billions of dollars worth of affordable homes in California alone simply to deal with homelessness. Newsom is trying and put a few billion dollars in his first budget but the scale of the problem is so big that CA can’t do it without the feds.

        8. Richard McCann

          The housing market isn’t immune from economics. And the the Northern California market is so interconnected that you won’t be able to untangle the effects of different housing policies on neighboring communities without a sophisticated economic modeling framework.

          Further, when you’ve done analysis, you’ve worked from the false premise that the housing markets across the region were all in equivalent equilibriums in 2010, immediately after the Great Recession. The fact is that the Davis housing market, due to a combination of its restrictive housing policies and education value premium, had not declined as much in price as other communities in the region. The amount of surplus housing stock that was available in 2010 had a wide variation across many cities. So of course the towns which were hit the hardest in 2008 have typically had higher price appreciation since 2008, no matter what their housing policies have been.

          Rather than you conducting a poorly constructed study, here’s a list of studies that support the proposition that housing supply and demand drive prices:

          https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10511482.2018.1476899?journalCode=rhpd20

          https://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdf/10.1257/jep.32.1.3

          https://data.nber.org/reporter/spring04/glaeser.html

          https://data.nber.org/reporter/2009number2/gyourko.html

          https://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1460&context=edissertations

          https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/d378/6cf42b5dd9ffe2c451a150c8ec751a4a9a34.pdf

          https://ideas.repec.org/p/cbi/wpaper/08-rt-12.html

          https://www.jchs.harvard.edu/blog/2019-state-of-the-nations-housing-report-shows-us-housing-supply-falls-far-short-of-what-is-needed/

          http://www.freddiemac.com/research/insight/20181205_major_challenge_to_u.s._housing_supply.page?

           

           

           

        9. Rik Keller

          Richard McCann: of course economic principles affect housing costs, just not in the simplistic Econ 101 way that you imagine.

          It is 100% predictable that you would refuse to even look at data regarding housing cost and affordability in this region. One wonders how you can make the assertions that you do about housing costs in Davis increasing at faster rates than other areas in the region without actually looking at real numbers.

          If you are interesting in learning about the complexities of housing markets, especially in relation to affordability, inclusion, and nondiscrimination, I could supply you with some links. However it appears that you haven’t even digested the links that you sent that you thought supported your position. For example, in the very first one, the abstract itself  concludes with “Government intervention is critical to ensure that supply is added at prices affordable to a range of incomes.” This is exactly the point that Rothstein made and that I support, and that you have decided to argue against: “…strong inclusionary requirements so that increased housing and density is actually affordable..”

          I’ll leave you with this to digest:

          Build More Housing’ Is No Match for Inequality: A new analysis finds that liberalizing zoning rules and building more won’t solve the urban affordability crisis, and could exacerbate it.  

          “Upzoning is far from the progressive policy tool it has been sold to be. It mainly leads to building high-end housing in desirable locations.”

          https://www.citylab.com/equity/2019/05/housing-supply-home-prices-economic-inequality-cities/588997/

      2. Ron Oertel

        Don:  “Renters don’t build wealth.”

        I’ve seen multiple articles which state that this is factually incorrect, at least regarding “opportunity” to build wealth (e.g., via the stock market).

        In places such as the Bay Area, the amount it takes to rent a space is actually a “better deal” than trying to purchase it, at this point. (And of course this is even more true, if the space is under rent control.)

        However, one way that ownership beats renting (regarding building wealth) is that it “forces” one to build equity, via mortgage payments – regardless of what the housing market is doing.  It also “fixes” your payments at a certain amount.

        I don’t think that already-expensive areas will offer the same “return” in the future (regarding home purchases), as they did in the past.  This is also the same reason that those with more modest incomes were able to afford purchases (in areas that are now more expensive), in the “old days”.  Many of those who purchased long ago would not be able to do so, today. Those opportunities are gone, in already-expensive areas.

        As a side note, you can thank “economic development” (and the resulting uneven distribution of wealth) in those areas, for that.

        1. Ron Oertel

          And of course, the “forced” equity-building doesn’t apply, if one subsequently uses their home as collateral, to borrow money.

          And when the inevitable downturn subsequently arises, they might even end up owing more than their homes are worth.

        2. Bill Marshall

          Ron has this pretty much correct first post of his, above), depending how one defines ‘wealth’… my aunt never owned, always rented… near downtown Pittsburgh … 62 years… always had pretty nice places, in good neighborhoods, often travelled internationally, helped support her Mom, never denied herself anything she wanted… also gave lots to charity… and left an estate of ~ $100,000.

          She also never owned a car, she used public transit, and picked apartments within reasonable distances to walk, take transit, to go to work, attain any services she needed/wanted…

          She was always single, had no dependents other than her Mom.  She was 82 when she passed.

          I’d call that “wealth”.  Albeit, always a renter.

  4. Alan Miller

    I guess a critical question then, which underlies our policies and our politics, is whether the whole movement for growth control is linked to issues like small town feel, safety, preserving our character and the like – a racial issue.

    Say WHAT?  In what universe does “small town feel, safety, preserving our character” = racial issue?  You can’t have a ‘small town feel’, safety and preservation of character unless Davis is 100% white, not even Jews?  Are you freaking kidding me?

    1. Don Shor

      In what universe does “small town feel, safety, preserving our character” = racial issue?

      I think most people would agree that Dixon and Winters have “small town feel” and both are much more diverse ethnically than Davis. I think this assertion is misdirected and really undercuts the general thesis of the speaker and the author. Evidently the audience liked it, though.

        1. Alan Miller

          On that, we come much closer to agreeing.

          Though I am not that familiar if Dixon had similar or not, so just your statement, not necessarily the comparison.

      1. Rik Keller

        Don Shor said “Evidently the audience liked it, though.”  Even more than the audience liking it, Greenwald REALLY likes it. He likes it so much that he has led two articles on Rothstein with it. He still won’t talk about the City of Davis’ weak inclusionary housing requirements though. Maybe by the third article?

    2. Ron Oertel

      For the most part, I view the prevention of continued sprawl as a separate issue than maintaining a “small town feel”.

      Lots of sprawling areas have a small town, suburban “feel”.

  5. Alan Miller

    As many of you know from the district elections discussion, I believe that Davis is not only a good deal more racially polarized than we have thought, but also discriminatory to people of color.

    “Bad Davis!  Bad Davis!  Bad Doggie Woggie!  I’m gonna rub your nose the racial poop you left on the sidewalk near City Hall!  Bad Davis!  Bad Dog!”

  6. Alan Miller

    Let’s break down what he says we should do:

    We should abolish zoning ordinances that prohibit the construction of anything but single-family homes, sometimes on large lot sizes.
    Combine that with inclusionary requirements to make sure that we don’t simply increase density for the benefit of the middle class that’s also suffering from the housing crisis, but also increase density for the benefit of racial minorities who have been excluded from participating in decent housing in this country.
    We should reverse the priorities of things like the Low Income Housing Tax Credit which places a priority on low-income neighborhoods and requires that more of them be built in high opportunity neighborhoods.
    We should resist the gentrification process that simply converts low income segregated neighborhoods into high-income white neighborhoods.  We should do that with policies like:

    rent control
    limits on condominium conversions
    inclusionary zoning requirements

    Enjoy New Davis, my lovlies!

    1. Ron Oertel

      I think you forgot the claim that the “new generation” no longer drives, due to concerns regarding global warming.  And that includes Uber and short-term rental cars, visitors, etc.

      Nevertheless, some of them simultaneously support a 4,340-parking space development on prime farmland, outside of town.  Some also support freeway expansion.

      Some have supported a clearly-discriminatory housing development.

      Makes one’s head hurt, unless you understand where they’re really “coming from”.

        1. Alan Miller

          In the case of Greta Thunberg, Sweden.

          Because they stole her childhood, and her dreams.

          That’s where she “came from”. And if her boat doesn’t hit any big storms, that’s where she’ll eventually head “back to”.

        2. Ron Oertel

          They are “coming from” supporting development, even if it conflicts with their own stated concerns.

          I can (also) point out other examples that occur on this blog, as needed.

        3. Ron Oertel

          Somehow, I think that Greta is at least honest, regarding her concerns.

          Ask her what she thinks of a 4,340-parking space development, and freeway expansion.

          Probably won’t find that it conflicts with her stated beliefs/concerns.

  7. Ron Glick

    “If you are interesting in learning about the complexities of housing markets, especially in relation to affordability, inclusion, and nondiscrimination, I could supply you with some links.”

    My mind immediately wandered down to Elk Grove where the opposite extreme to Davis’ restrictive policies has created exactly what you describe. So it seems one solution is in fact building towards infinity creating a market based, diverse, affordable and inclusive community.

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