Commentary: Some New Insights into Housing and Support for Development

It was only two years ago when people were questioning whether a Measure R project – any Measure R project – could win.  It was one thing for the 2005 Measure X, at the end of a huge swath of large developments and a massive 2000 units in size, to be soundly defeated.  Measure P in 2009, during the heart of the great recession and real estate collapse, made a lot of sense.

But Nishi in 2016 losing by 700 or so votes created a lot of doubt.  Here was a project that was largely infill.  It filled a vital need, both for student housing as well as R&D space.  It had support from the council and across the community, and yet it lost.

Could any development project win?  In hindsight, the lack of affordable housing was probably a huge death knell, and people’s concerns about traffic on Richards – even with a work around and mitigation – played a role as well.

In 2018, with those off the table, Nishi cruised to a huge win.  But perhaps surprisingly so too did WDAAC (West Davis Active Adult Community) at the end of the year.

There are a lot of questions going forward that we have laid out in the last few months.  We have Aggie Research Campus (ARC) with 2.6 million square feet of R&D space and 850 housing units, we have the Measure R renewal, and we have the Davis Downtown Plan as well as a probable General Update.

As we have pointed out previously, we have a lack of housing space in town, with questions about the ability and willingness to approve peripheral development, and a lack of commercial space – where are we headed?

To answer these questions we have pulled together some recent public and private polls along with various conversations, and will present what should be read largely as a snapshot in time – less than a prediction.

We have talked a lot about traffic in the last several months, but how big a factor is it really?  When the city asked that question in May – already the issue of Mace was burning on people’s radar – traffic registered but five percent of people’s concern as the biggest issue, behind things like affordable housing, growth and sustainability, homelessness, pay for teachers, and the city budget.

The sense from people talking with others in the community is that traffic is definitely an issue, especially in south Davis.  People want to minimize the impact on traffic, but they have other issues that appear more important.  How will that play out if a project like Aggie Research Campus comes before them?  That’s a good question.

We firmly believe that addressing traffic concerns is going to be critical to passing ARC – but, looking at a mound of data, it is not clear that traffic concerns alone will be enough to defeat a project there or anywhere else.

On the other hand, the biggest issue by far seems to be affordable housing.

The city polled voters to volunteer their top concerns, and lack of affordable housing ranked at 31 percent – the top issue by far.  The next highest was 10 percent, growth and sustainability.  Followed by homelessness at seven percent.

Breaking that down, we see that the groups between ages 18 and 50 are most concerned about housing, with the older groups much less concerned.

In a way, this underestimates just how strong the need for housing is viewed in Davis these days.  In other surveys, we have seen that between two-thirds and three-quarters of Davis residents see issues like housing that younger people can afford, affordable housing and workforce housing are crucial.

Against the backdrop of a statewide housing crisis, those issues in several surveys rank above issues like funding for public schools, jobs, and economic vitality of the downtown.

That is also reflected in the overall view of residents – many of whom say now that they would be more likely to vote for new development in Davis than voting against.  In a generic match up, it is more than a two-to-one margin and approaching three-to-one.  Compare that to a decade ago when three quarters of voters voted against Measure P, and you now see a huge sea change in Davis.

Finally, we do see an interesting split in terms of younger voters and also how long people have lived in Davis.  Those under the age of 45 are highly supportive of new development, while those over 45 are only marginally in favor of new development.  The split is even more interesting depending on years in town – those who moved here in the last five years are more supportive than not by a three-to-one margin, while those who have lived here over 20 years are still supportive, but by a less than two-to-one margin.

Renters are more likely to support new development, but owners are still more favorable than not.  And the group that is least likely to support development is the middle class, while the poor and wealthy are more likely to do so.

Are these definitive views?  By no means.  But we do have two data points where Nishi passed by a 59 to 41 margin and WDAAC passed by a 56 to 44 margin.  It is notable that in neither case was traffic a major consideration.  So there is that.  But at least right now, while there is concern for traffic, that concern appears to be dwarfed by other considerations.

—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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  1. Alan Miller

    I read this article before.  Where was it?  I think it was in the Davis Vanguard.  I also read the comments that follow somewhere before . . . it’s like Groundhog Day all over again.

      1. Rik Keller

        Is there some sort of new poll? The headline states “new insights,” but there is no further information provided in the article.

        Isn’t this the same polling information that Vanguard has already covered ad nauseum? Why not provide a link?

  2. Ron Oertel

    What a bunch of b.s.

    It’s not just traffic, it’s the resulting greenhouse gasses from a freeway-oriented development.  Something that the Vanguard periodically claims to be concerned about.

    Then there’s the loss of prime farmland, sprawl beyond a logical boundary for the city, etc.

    Before we even start talking about traffic from a 4,340-parking space development.

    Comparisons to Nishi are not applicable. Nishi is student housing, adjacent to the campus, and was viewed as “infill” by many.

    (Although we’re still not seeing any reason that ARC wouldn’t essentially be student housing, as well.)

      1. Ron Oertel

        Does it matter?  Ideally, I would have liked to see UCD own that land. Partly to relieve the city of responsibility/costs of serving the student housing. Other reasons, as well.

        But ultimately, I’m less-concerned about Nishi, than ARC. ARC is car-oriented sprawl. I suspect it would also lead to further sprawl, “down-the-road” (so to speak).

        And partly because of that, I doubt that it would be any kind of “fiscal savior” for Davis.

  3. Ron Oertel

    As a side note, any inclusion of a dedicated Affordable housing site at ARC would reduce the claimed “economic benefit” to the city (which is supposedly the original justification for the development proposal).

    Affordable housing does not contribute any property taxes. It is even more of a drain on city finances than market-rate housing is.

    1. Alan Miller

      Affordable housing does not contribute any property taxes. It is even more of a drain on city finances than market-rate housing is.

      Yeah, but, like, rich people should subsidize poor people, like, man, so . . . .

      1. Ron Oertel

        The primary problem is that the city itself won’t be subsidized (or even contributed to), from Affordable housing.

        Probably a reason to examine how much of it the city can ultimately afford to accommodate. Perhaps an even bigger concern in a development that’s being touted as a “solution” to the city’s existing fiscal challenges.

        Hopefully, any analysis would include an examination of the fiscal impact of any such proposal.

        Either that, or we’d better hope that the new residents in the proposed market-rate housing don’t mind bailing-out the city to an even greater degree than what some are promising.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Not sure,  but I believe that the lack of contribution toward property taxes only applies regarding Affordable housing that exists on a separate, dedicated parcel.  (In other words, the type that the Vanguard often advocates.)

          I wonder if the workers and market-rate residents at the proposed site would know in advance what’s “expected” of them, regarding “solving” the city’s pre-existing fiscal challenges. Well, let’s just hope that they’re super-efficient. 😉

        2. Richard McCann

          Whoa! So now providing Affordable Housing is a cost burden that the City should be wary of? Rik Keller, where are you on this statement? All of these statements imply that (1) we should do nothing to address the high price of housing in Davis, and (2) we should do nothing to create a more diverse community by allowing those with less means to live here.

        3. Ron Oertel

          I was just pointing out facts.  Affordable housing does not contribute toward property taxes.

          I’m never comfortable when the peripheral/sprawl developers “make a deal” with the Affordable developers, and then “sell the development” to voters in that manner.  (We’ve already seen that playbook, with WDAAC.)

          As a result of the WDAAC campaign, my personal opinion of Affordable housing developers is (let’s just say) not-so-positive.

        4. Ron Oertel

          Do you recall the Affordable housing developer essentially “advocating” on behalf of WDAAC, on this very blog?

          By the way, “non-profit” does not necessarily equate with “personal profit”.

        5. Ron Oertel

          Land dedication (in-and-of itself) does not necessarily imply “making a deal” (other than to “sell” the proposal to voters).

          It does, however, provide an opportunity for an Affordable housing developer to advocate on behalf of the primary/overall development.  As we essentially observed, with WDAAC.

        6. Ron Oertel

          I don’t believe that you’re “confused”, at all.  Look at your own comments.

          Now, I guess we’ll see if the ARC developer will give up some of his 850 market-rate units, for Affordable housing instead. (I understand that 850 units is the “maximum” under the EIR – including Affordable housing.)

        7. Craig Ross

          He has to – he has to allocate 15 percent of his 850 units as affordable.  That’s true whether they do on-site or land dedication.  (Although I guess he could do the in-lieu fees, but I don’t think council would go for that plus I thought they promised to do on-suite).

        8. Ron Oertel

          I don’t believe this has been settled, nor the method to accomplish it.

          In fact, the city commissioners recommended that the amount of Affordable housing be “adjusted” to whatever the city requires at the time that housing is actually constructed.  (It was covered on this blog just a few days ago, so I’m pretty sure you’re aware of that.)

          In the meantime, David is essentially arguing that the ARC developer should “make a deal” with an Affordable developer, in the manner that we’ve already witnessed with WDAAC.

        9. Rik Keller

          McCann stated “Rik Keller, where are you on this statement? All of these statements imply that (1) we should do nothing to address the high price of housing in Davis, and (2) we should do nothing to create a more diverse community by allowing those with less means to live here.”

          Thanks for calling me out by name, I guess? I don’t comment on every single thing having to do with affordable housing. Are we to take your statements here that you are finally on-board with the statement that “Government intervention is critical to ensure that supply is added at prices affordable to a range of incomes.“?

          As far as the ARC proposal, I would note that there simply isn’t sufficient demand for the commercial/manufacturing for the project to be economically viable. Hence the bait-and-switch to increased housing. The developers have decreased the land area for commercial/industrial uses and increased the land area for residential uses. Even though this project was originally justified as necessary because of a lack of industrial/manufacturing space, that use is only 28% of the total site area now, and the land area planned for residential uses are now about 50% of the industrial/manufactured land area–actually likely quite a bit more counting parking.

          I don’t think Ron O is correct about affordable housing not paying property taxes. In any case–regardless of an affordable housing component on-site that, let’s keep in mind, the developers are trying to get out of completely–the residential uses are going to be a net fiscal drain for the City’s budget. The project is a boondoggle.

        10. Rik Keller

          McCann: to further quote one of your favored articles:

          “Because the price effects of market-rate construction may be slow to materialize and are unlikely to be sufficient to address the needs of very low-income households, it is important for local governments to seek to ensure that new supply comes on line at a range of price points, so that growth is balanced among the various income levels in the community. Even in cities that have robust affordable housing programs, the supply usually is far less than the need, and may be fairly narrowly targeted to households making 50 to 60 percent of Area Median Income because of the structure of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program. Households with incomes below that level are often left out, as are those with incomes just above, many of whom also face affordability challenges in high-cost cities. To ensure that a range of income groups are seeing the benefits of the jurisdictions’ growth through new housing, local governments may want to use subsidies, together with a variety of housing policy tools such as density bonuses or mandatory inclusionary zoning, to achieve visible additions to supply at a variety of price points.”

          And, of course, you have ignored this article that was cited by them:
          Why market-rate housing makes the crisis worse

    2. Rik Keller

      Ron O. stated “As a side note, any inclusion of a dedicated Affordable housing site at ARC would reduce the claimed “economic benefit” to the city (which is supposedly the original justification for the development proposal).”

      This is correct to the extent that such a site is developed with the aid of federal funds (such as from the LIHTC program) for rental units. This would be a fiscal drawback to the City for such a strategy, as opposed to integrated affordable units dispersed throughout the development via an inclusionary requirement. Either way, as I mention elsewhere, the ARC project has an increasing amount of land area devoted to residential uses to the detriment of the supposed economic development benefits that supposedly justify it.

  4. Tia Will

    “It was only two years ago when people were questioning whether a Measure R project – any Measure R project – could win.”

    On a different note, I cannot help but wonder how much “of people questioning whether any Measure R project could win” was largely an urban legend promoted by frustrated developers. I have been the target as well as an observer of a narrative that includes name-calling citizens who have genuine concerns about the value of any given project, no growthers, NIMBY’s, and other less civil terms. Part of this disparagement requires a willingness to overlook support of other projects in favor of presenting a negative image to the community.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Hard to parse, as written, but…  whatever.

      Labeling folk who have genuine concerns is one thing, and not necessarily a good one.

      But there are folk who have more than earned their “labels”.

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