By David M. Greenwald
Pop quiz—if you are a family with two kids, a boy and a girl, how many bedrooms do you need? The answer that most people understand is three. You really are not supposed to have siblings of opposite genders cohabitate in the same bedroom after a certain point.
My family of five, with three kids, has been stuffed into a three-bedroom, but really we need four bedrooms. When I was growing up, three kids was pretty common and I had many friends who lived in families of four and even five children.
Even with one child, you are realistically looking at a two-bedroom.
You can point to stats like only 40 percent of married couples have kids these days, but the flip side is that 35 percent of families with children are not married.
I make this point because there were complaints that Plaza 2555 was basically just a scaled down mega-dorm.
In an email that went out from Eileen Samitz, for example, she said, “The Plaza 2555 project proposal is another charade for yet another group housing mega-dorm, with the slight variation of having a glut of 3-bedroom apartments instead of 4- and 5-bedroom apartments.”
There is a legitimate point to be made here—the unit mix for Plaza 2555 is definitely odd. They have just five micro-units and five one-bedroom apartments. I am not sure why they decided on that mix. But overall they greatly dropped the number of bedrooms from 646 in the original proposal down to 500.
Micro- and one-bedroom apartments would perhaps have attracted couples without children and unmarried workers. The current mix could attract families.
But it’s tricky, as I have pointed out. These are unit rentals, but even market rate unit rentals are expensive for families. As short-term housing for people who have moved to Davis to work, these apartments are perhaps convenient—close to campus, close to the University Research Park.
The council has approved some workforce housing—at Chiles Apartments and the University Research Park Mixed-Use. There is another small housing project proposed for Olive Drive.
The voters appear to have turned down DISC with its 850 units of workforce housing. Perhaps the best location for workforce housing could be the downtown, if we can make the financing work for redevelopment.
However, for longer term housing for families, if we are serious about demographic trends, projects like Plaza 2555 are probably not where it’s at. While families can live in apartments if they are of sufficient size, the economics run against apartment rentals if it can be avoided. A three-bedroom apartment for market rate in Davis is probably going to run over $2000 per month. You can rent a house or even pay mortgage on a house for about that much elsewhere.
Apartments are not great for families as they lack yard space and safe play areas for kids—so if we are serious about family housing, we need to look at subsidized housing, townhouses, and small single-family homes. For the most part, that is going to require peripheral housing developments, which will require Measure J votes.
Plaza 2555 really illustrates just how difficult it is to build housing in Davis. We are already three years into the planning for it, and we are looking at perhaps two more years before it is ready to open. That’s five years to build 200 units of apartments.
And they had to fight to get it approved.
Some on Tuesday argued that the affordable housing proposal is grossly inadequate. It is true, they are only offering five percent of the apartments as affordable. But, as always, there are tradeoffs here.
I found the council comments very thoughtful on Tuesday.
Will Arnold saw great value in having the Yolo Crisis Nursery be able to use this property and stay in town, but he clearly wanted this as a one-off.
“If it weren’t for the opportunity I see here, I wouldn’t plan to support this,” Arnold said, noting “our affordable housing need is so great,” and he wanted to make it clear this was “not intended as part of our long term affordable housing strategy.”
Mayor Gloria Partida expressed concerns about the level of change to the ordinance in this proposed amendment.
“I would be much more comfortable if it was written in a different way,” she said. She is concerned that this includes services. She understands the need for flexibility in how the affordable requirement is provided. “Our affordable housing ordinance as it’s written now states that the council at its discretion can approve higher or lower percentages depending on if the project is small.”
She also said, “This is why I’m not a fan of these little projects because I think we could get more density.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Brett Lee’s comments acknowledged “we have a lot of unmet needs” and “limited funds,” along with “limited funds that we can extract from the development proposals.”
He ultimately saw this as a place where kids who need a place to stay can do so.
Councilmember Dan Carson said, “There is a visible homelessness problem in this community and there is an invisible one. The invisible one relates mainly to women and children. They are couch surfing. They are out there. They are not so much on street corners and not so much in tents, but they are out there.”
He called “harmful” any comments that “diminish the value of this to addressing our homelessness issue in this community.”
Carson said, “At the end of the day, this is about protecting human life and the weakest and most vulnerable among us.”
Lucas Frerichs also echoed a lot of these comments as well.
First, I think it needs to be made clear that the Yolo Crisis Nursery provides key services to a key segment of the community. Second, for those believing that the developer is getting away with something, they could easily dedicate the acre of land and having an affordable non-profit raise the money to build 20 or even 30 units of affordable housing at the same cost to the developers as this is costing them.
So they aren’t really pulling a fast one or getting away with something. The question is really about best use. Some people believe that it would be better to have 20 additional units of affordable housing than the Yolo Crisis Nursery.
That’s a judgment call and a tradeoff.
With that said, I have a lot of problems with that argument, however. We just turned down DISC with 150 units of affordable housing. We have seen many projects with affordable housing being opposed by various citizen groups.
Ultimately, we get affordable housing by building market rate housing projects—as affordable housing these days is largely tethered to market rate projects.
We make these market rate projects difficult to pass, which makes them more expensive, and then we see people fight tooth and nail to increase the meager levels of affordable housing in these projects.
That is why, increasingly, I believe that we need to figure out how many affordable units we are going to build over the next eight years of the next housing element, and figure out the best way to distribute those among the anticipated projects—so that we don’t continually have to draw blood from a turnip and so we can allow some of these innovative proposals to be able to flourish.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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