Guest Commentary: Davis Religious Leaders Imagine What Affordable Housing Could Look Like In Davis

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At the Davis City Council Meeting on Tuesday, August 18, a 3-2 vote approved the University Commons Proposal. We, the undersigned faith leaders, express our disappointment at this decision. While we are encouraged by Brixmor’s increase from 0% to 5% affordable housing at the 80% median income for Yolo County, we also contend that this is not enough.

While the specific decision regarding the University Commons is the spark to this conversation, the housing crisis in Davis and across our state does not begin and end with this decision.

As faith leaders in the Davis community, we have the opportunity to engage with individuals from many walks of life, ministering with people of diverse economic, racial, generational, and educational backgrounds.

The ongoing problem of housing insecurity affects many Davis residents—students and families alike—from accessibility to affordability. This lack of affordable housing is not an isolated issue but has cascading consequences, leading to greater food insecurity, negative physical and mental health outcomes, decreased academic performance, and increased risk of other harms. The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic recession have done nothing but further exacerbate these realities for many low-income students and families.

In the August 20 Davis Vanguard Morning News, David Greenwald published his commentary on our letter to the Davis City Council in preparation for Tuesday’s meeting. He offered his critique that demanding more from our city leaders with regard to affordable housing is equivalent to “squeezing blood out of a turnip” – after all, 5% has already been committed. However, we offer an alternative narrative. Can we imagine a city guided by moral imagination, where we privilege the voices and experience of all Davis residents over the profit margins of developers and corporations? Let us live into the hope of a future where affordable housing is more than a compromise, but a testament to a city committed to inclusivity and equality.

Here’s what we’re asking: that the City Council pause and allow time to reconsider their vote before moving any further with this project due to the unaffordability of the rental of beds or units, including the “affordable units.” Moving forward, we affirm our previous commitment: to continue as partners in shaping a model city that overcomes the racial and economic injustices that plague our land, and creates opportunities for all people to thrive.

The Rev. Dr. Brandon Austin, Pastor, Davis United Methodist Church

The Rev. Beth Banks, Senior Minister UU Church of Davis

Rabbi Seth Castleman, Davis

The Dr. Pamela Dolan, Rector of the Episcopal Church of St. Martin

The Rev. Casey Kloehn Dunsworth, The Belfry Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry

Hamza El-Nakhal, Muslim Davis Engagement and Interfaith Network (DEIN)

The Rev. Dr. Eunbee Ham, Pastor, Davis Community Church

Anne Kjemtrup, Muslim Davis Engagement and Interfaith Network (DEIN)

The Rev. Dr. Chris Neufeld-Erdman, Pastor, Davis Community Church

Sara Tillema, Director and Campus Minister of Cal Aggie Christian Association (CA House)

Rabbi Greg Wolfe, Congregation Bet Haverim, Davis


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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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24 thoughts on “Guest Commentary: Davis Religious Leaders Imagine What Affordable Housing Could Look Like In Davis”

  1. Don Shor

    If the collective members of these congregations chose to tithe themselves 10%, they could probably raise enough money to form a non-profit development agency and build affordable housing. As such, it would be exempt from any number of the impediments to local development. They could do it efficiently and spread the costs out into the community. They could even solicit donations from secular residents and probably qualify for grants.

    I don’t like the use of the term ‘moral imagination’ when the upshot is they are calling for someone else (“developers and corporations”) to pay for it.

    Affordable housing is not free. It entails costs to someone. It isn’t all going to come out of the profit margins of the developers. The way to achieve it, in the absence of redevelopment money, is to fund it directly. Otherwise they are just advocating for the costs to be borne by others, ultimately at least in part by the other tenants in the development.

    1. Ron Oertel

      It isn’t all going to come out of the profit margins of the developers.

      Not if you don’t require it, that’s for sure.  Of course, their books aren’t open to the public.

      We’ve seen examples (locally) where they claim something doesn’t “pencil out”, only to find out later that it does. The small greenbelt that they wanted for a small proposal in Wildhorse comes to mind, among others. Turns out that they were able to build that proposal without obtaining that greenbelt.

      The entire process encourages a “straw man” offering, at first. And – one helluva acting job, on the part of potential applicants.

      There are VERY wealthy developers in the area. They didn’t get that way from having a 9-5 job. Some of them contribute to this blog, in more than one way.

    2. Ron Oertel

      And frankly, Don – your insinuation that local religious leaders aren’t already helping might be viewed as insulting, to some of them.  I believe some of them are involved with helping the homeless, for example.

      If I’m not mistaken, you have the same type of concerns that they do (which might beg the question, “what are you doing about it”)?

      1. Don Shor

        your insinuation that local religious leaders aren’t already helping might be viewed as insulting, to some of them.

        I didn’t insinuate that. Stop this.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Your words, Don.

          I don’t like the use of the term ‘moral imagination’ when the upshot is they are calling for someone else (“developers and corporations”) to pay for it.

          Why are you assuming that they’re not already helping?

          Seems to me that you’re the one who should “stop this”.

    3. Ron Oertel

      O.K., I will reword it:

      Don:  “I don’t like the use of the term ‘moral imagination’ when the upshot is they are calling for someone else (“developers and corporations”) to pay for it.”

      There seems to be an assumption in this comment that these leaders and organizations aren’t already helping.  (I believe that many are.)

      1. Don Shor

        There seems to be an assumption in this comment that these leaders and organizations aren’t already helping. (I believe that many are.)

        I make no such assumption and did not imply it.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Thanks for putting my comment back, but yeah – it is implied in your statements:

          Don:  “If the collective members of these congregations chose to tithe themselves 10% . . .” 

          Don:  “I don’t like the use of the term ‘moral imagination’ when the upshot is they are calling for someone else (“developers and corporations”) to pay for it.”

          As others have pointed out, these types of leaders generally sacrifice more than anyone else regarding this type of issue (e.g., helping those who need it).  It is an inherent and primary part of the underlying values of many faith-based organizations, and is the reason for their concern.

          I believe that Davis has had former (and current) council members who profess to these ideals (and are associated with faith-based organizations), and that these values are a primary reason for their support.

          I think you know this, already.

      2. Richard McCann

        These communities are helping tremendously in addressing housing for those that have the least among us, who are homeless or unemployed or otherwise distressed. But that population is not the one that will be most helped by affordable housing. These communities have not put together large investments for affordable housing (the exception perhaps being Paul’s Place which targets the first group I mentioned). So Don is correct that he’s pointing out that they are asking others, not themselves, to pay for this solution, at least based on what they’ve presented so far.

    4. Tia Will

      Don

      I strongly disagree with your premise that it should be up to what is essentially charity to fund adequate housing.I believe this is a communal social responsibility that should not be left to the kindness of strangers. Can you give an example either currently or historically in which private charity has ever been sufficient to meet the needs of the poorest?

      1. Don Shor

        A non-profit can leverage donations from other non-profit and for-profit corporations. I know that New Harmony received a lot of redevelopment funds, but they also received funds from groups like NeighborWorks.
        https://www.davisenterprise.com/business/neighborworks-america-gives-505000-to-mutual-housing/
        We need to get away from trying to mandate affordable units in strange places, and get back to building it directly. The problem is funding until some replacement for the RDA’s is finally implemented. But there is a lot of money out there if savvy grant applicants wish to cobble together financing for non-profit affordable housing construction. What the city should do, IMO, is seek land for the purpose from home builders, and then have others build the homes. That model has been used locally.

        1. Ron Oertel

          We need to get away from trying to mandate affordable units in strange places,

          Personally, I don’t think that infill redevelopments (close to services, downtown, and UCD) is a “strange place” for it.

          And in fact, I think that “integrating” these units with market-rate units is a more inclusive approach (as long as there’s a mechanism to establish and monitor compliance). With the latter two issues probably not best left to a developer, to implement.

          I think it’s a lot “stranger” when Affordable housing developers “team up” with primary developers to advocate for car-dependent sprawl, far from such services – in completely separate buildings (separate from the market-rate units), no less.

  2. Bill Marshall

    If the collective members of these congregations chose to tithe themselves 10%,

    You must mean over and above the “tithes” they individually contribute to the community (including, ‘social programs’) in the form of income taxes (Fed & State), property tax, ‘special taxes’ (DJUSD, for ex.), Social Security/Medicare taxes, sales taxes, etc.  For many, that would approach 30% of total income, before you get to the 10% suggested… and none of that even gets to the amount folk contribute to their clergy, facilities (maintenance, utilities, etc.), social programs, other charitable work, etc.

    Yeah, if we abolished all religions, had them sell off all their facilities and land, those folk who ‘belong’ would have plenty of discretionary money to do as you suggest.

    1. Todd Edelman

      taxes

      BM, you seem to describing a private business that also does “social programs” etc. Aren’t faith businesses taxed differently than other businesses?

        1. Bill Marshall

          Not fully true… you are correct as to property tax…  but not many other taxes… particularly as it relates to support staff…

          Parishioner, congregants are not exempt at all…

      1. Bill Marshall

        Todd… you tell it all about your views…

        faith businesses

        Scientology, Eckankar, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Hindu, Buddhists, Mormon, are all “faith businesses” to you, right?  Your right to view things that way…

        They should then either pay full freight taxes, or be disbanded, and all assets forfeited to “the state”, correct?

        That would free up a lot of land, assets, to accomplish what you deem important…

        1. Todd Edelman

          “views”

          Those things you mention are not “faith businesses”. They are religions, except maybe Scientology.

          Please explain why various congregations or associations etc of congregations are not businesses, as you seem to be saying. There’s nothing wrong with a business, per se.

          Faith businesses can have a substantial part of their activity un-taxed if it serves everyone equally (education, health care, social services, housing…).

  3. Todd Edelman

    This is very welcome, of course.
     
    There’s probably some useful religious lesson that involves surface parking lots and a lack of housing, but though certainly of deep faith I am way too secular to know anything in detail in this area. 
     
    What’s interesting – but not surprising, however – is that nearly all of these congregations have facilities with relatively-modest parking lots. I am not clear how much undeveloped land they own, but I know that DCC is already supporting 4-story housing bordering 5th and C.  UUC and UMC are at the bottom, but their vehicle storage or empty land is nothing compared to Pole Line Road Baptist Church or the immodesty champion of them all, St James (at least they have solar panels..?). These two have not signed the letter. Coincidence?

    Services to homeless individuals are essential, but I am curious what’s being down to build housing on any of these lots. A robust study would be welcome!

    Now clearly, the other houses of worship in Davis: Target, both Nuggets, Safeway, Food Mart, Grocery Outlet are adjacent to much, much bigger lots.  

    Which Council members and Council candidates will push (incentivize, pressure…) both certain shopping center owners and congregations to build housing on their obscenely-sized parking lots?

  4. Eileen Samitz

    This is a wonderful article written by so many local religious leaders who understand the problem here of this University Commons project which does not offer any real affordable housing and offers a format of group housing primarily which does nothing to help provide housing for our workforce and families.

    The unaffordability of the project is evident of even the the “affordable units” as well as the astronomical costs of the market rate units. None of this helps provide the housing at affordable costs needed by students or our workers and families.  Here is the evidence from the last City Staff report for City Council on University Commons and a recent BAE rental housing vacancy and rents annual report.

    This is anything but affordable student housing!  The studio apartments are 19% higher than the most expensive studio apartments in the UC Davis annual Apartment Survey, and almost twice as expensive as the average studio apartment in the survey data (see below).

    The supplemental City Staff report reveals just how unaffordable the University Commons mega-dorm apartments would be. The Staff report quotes that their market rate studio apartments would be an estimated $2,229 monthly and their 2-bedroom apartments would be $2,898 per month!

    I covered this and many other reasons about why this University Commons project needs to be rejected:
    https://www.davisite.org/2020/08/the-disastrous-university-commons-mega-dorm-proposal-goes-to-city-council-august-18-for-final-vote.html

    In short, the University Commons project new proposal needs to be rejected because:

    a) the University Commons project has not been improved by merely lowering its 80-foot original height by 8 feet. It is still far too tall at 72 feet and would still have a monolithic appearance.

    b) the newly approved proposal merely lowers the project 8 feet, and consequence of this that that an entire floor of retail shopping would be eliminated and therefore the City would lose a significant amount of sales tax long-term. Why weren’t one or two floors of residential removed instead which impose more of the impacts including on our infrastructure and City services?

    c) the University Commons project is not offering any affordable housing in reality, since the all of the market housing as well as units claimed to be “affordable”  units are all more expensive than on-campus housing as well as the average equivalent sized units in Davis the most recent data provided by the BAE UCD rental housing vacancy report.

    d) the project with 894 beds would still have enormous impacts particularly traffic and does not have enough parking with the 894 beds.

    e) Former Mayor Lee publicly committed to not approving any more mega-dorms two years ago, but this project is yet another mega-dorm. University Commons needs to be sent back to the drawing board to re-design a more compatible project with traditional smaller apartments for all, including workers, families, and students which are more affordable. The City has already approve 3,888 of these group housing mega-dorm format beds which are exclusionary by design not offering a format of housing that our workers or families can use.

    https://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/city-council-oks-lincoln40-project/

    f) the Planning Commission opposed the University Commons unanimously with a 7:0 vote for many good reasons, well explained in the following article: https://www.davisite.org/2020/07/city-council-should-heed-planning-commissions-university-mall-recommendation.html

     

    1. Don Shor

      the newly approved proposal merely lowers the project 8 feet, and consequence of this that that an entire floor of retail shopping would be eliminated and therefore the City would lose a significant amount of sales tax long-term.

      I believe it is the commercial space that has been removed in the plan that was approved by the city council, not retail. There would not be loss of sales tax.

  5. Richard McCann

    Can we imagine a city guided by moral imagination, where we privilege the voices and experience of all Davis residents over the profit margins of developers and corporations?

    Unfortunately, this is a naive statement in the context of how our national economy is currently organized. Because the economic boundaries of Davis are completely fluid, if a development project doesn’t achieve an investment hurdle rate established in the national financial market, then the development won’t happen, and NO additional affordable housing will be built in Davis, and housing prices will increase, making housing even more unaffordable here. There is a bargaining point at which the developers are willing to contribute a share of affordable housing because of the real estate value premium that Davis has over other nearby communities (at least 75% over Woodland and West Sacramento). So the question has to be answered through imposing an inflexible demand, but rather understanding the negotiating positions of the parties and pushing them to achieve a better deal. (And as we found out with the BrightNight solar deal, the City may not be the best negotiator, but that’s a different issue.)

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