By Gloria Partida
With the number of issues, a City faces, writing a monthly column should be easy. However, the abundance of choices and the speed with which one issue rises and wanes makes catching relevant items challenging sometimes. This week the City council launched work on its Housing Element by establishment of the Housing Element Committee. The creation of the Housing Element is an opportunity to pause as a community and take stock of one of the most critical human needs. More importantly it calls upon us to plan for how we will meet that need. As with most things that are deeply important housing is an emotionally charged subject. The conversations involve not only future housing and its occupants, but the impacts on current occupants. While most can agree that housing is critical, how and where it is built is more of a question. Universally people want housing that is affordable, sustainable, infilled and that does not cause traffic or parking issues. Often, these are competing purposes. To further complicate the ability to compromise, sometimes the real driver is a desire to build nothing. Or at least build nothing here.
I understand the camp of people that want nothing built. When I moved to Davis, it was the first time I could see stars at night. The experience of living in a small town has many benefits. Usually affordability is not one of them and by default neither is diversity. There are many places where staying small and “charming” is possible. Many of those places are rural and isolated. Davis by contrast is on a major corridor and home to a world class University. Our fate was cast when we were built at the junction of railroad lines that connected us to the rest of the country and when California’s Flagship University placed its satellite here. Our connection to higher public education places a moral obligation on us. Most the young people that come here are 1st generation college students. Their path out of poverty begins at the door to our community. I agree whole heartly that the University needs to be a partner in housing students and that work has begun. The greater challenge is ensuring that there is a diversified stock of housing to afford opportunity to the rest of our community that wish to live where they work or where their children go to school.
There are some external forces that will dictate how many total units the City must build and what amount of those must be affordable. California has required, through its Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), that all local governments (cities and counties) adequately plan to meet the housing needs of everyone in the community. This year the City of Davis By August 2021, must adopt a housing element that demonstrates how we plan to accommodate the assigned RHNA numbers, which are almost double of the previous cycle (2013-2021). This is an opportunity to seriously find solutions to not only meeting those numbers but to have conversations about how to keep the essence of our community alive.
For those that worry that the charm and lifestyle of our community is limited by size, I counter that the experience of a community is the relationship of its people. I think that the most important thing to support as our city grows is the facilitation of gathering spaces. We can have a strong and vibrant downtown by incentivizing and encouraging unique eateries rather than chains. We can make sure that all developments have spaces that support community gatherings so that neighbors can walk to catch coffee and conversations and perhaps some music. We have a strong cultural and arts division at the City. It is well poised to support artist and musicians to engage our community. We currently see how well the food trucks are received at the cannery. Neighbors go out for evening walks on Thursdays and catch up with each other. Food trucks are also a steady stream of innovation for unique brick and motor eateries. Many larger cities have an abundance of non-chain restaurants some of which originated as or were inspired by food trucks. I realize these things are limited currently but this will not always be the case.
I realize that the standard of living in a city is something that must be cultivated. It is also something that must be passed to the next generation. Currently that generation is priced out. While we have consistently built affordable stand-alone projects, we have struggled with inclusive housing since the loss of redevelopment revenue. The importance of affordable housing was highlighted to me after reading Mathew Desmond’s Pulitzer Prize winning book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. It is a heart wrenching read that illuminates the struggle of families to build lives when there is no housing security. An interesting idea raised in Desmond’s book, is universal housing vouchers. This Idea is currently part of Joe Biden’s platform. A strength of housing vouchers is that they have generally allowed assisted families to disperse more widely and to live in lower-poverty, less segregated neighborhoods. This ability has enormous potential to improve lives. Just the exposure to good parks, quality afterschool programs and safe streets makes an incredible positive difference in a young life. Like any other housing program, the details are complicated, but just like opening our community to students, we can uplift lives for the future.
The Housing Element Committee’s main functions are:
- Provide comments and feedback. To review the existing housing element and other documents, background information, and public input. To provide comments and feedback on (rather than prepare) the draft Housing Element for 2021-2029 to City staff and the project consultants with the goals of creating documents which are responsive to community goals and aspirations.
- Provide recommendations. To make recommendations to the Planning Commission and City Council at key project milestones.
- Communicate information. To communicate information about the project to others, provide status updates to the City Commission they serve on and encourage others to participate in the process.
The Housing Element will meet on the following dates:
- Housing Element Committee Meeting #1: November 5, 2020
- Housing Element Virtual Needs Workshop: November 12, 2020
- Housing Element Committee Meeting #2: December 3, 2020
- Housing Element committee meeting #3: January 14, 2021
A virtual Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) workshop will be scheduled after the first Housing Element Committee meeting.
Gloria Partida is the Mayor of Davis
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