By David M. Greenwald
The big news statewide has been a migration of some out of the state. However, on a regional level, according to new data, the Sacramento region remains hot, fueled by people leaving the high cost of housing in the Bay Area.
While overall California’s population growth stalled for the first time in modern history, more people are moving to other states than moving to California and the birth rate has slowed—with older Baby Boomers passing away.
Still, the Sacramento region, led by El Dorado County, led the state in growth with Sacramento ranking 7th and Placer 11th.
Yolo County saw a more modest 8 percent increase in median housing prices, but that figure countywide of $460 thousand is considerably lower than what it would be in Davis. Sacramento saw a big growth in median housing prices, $420,000 compared to $360,00 a year before—nearly a 17 percent increase, the fastest growth since 2013.
The Bee notes that the prices in places like Sacramento, Yolo, El Dorado and Placer Counties remain far below median home prices in the Bay Area. Prices there remain absurdly high: San Mateo County was $1.42 million, San Francisco was $1.38 million, and Marin and Santa Clara were about $1.25 million.
Yolo County thus rates much more affordable than usual, while Sacramento is somewhat less affordable. Is that an artifact of COVID or part of a new potential trend? Students are staying away right now. Apartment vacancy is much higher than typical. We would expect that to change once students return to school, and a key question will be whether the housing crunch is over—or is this just a blip on the radar?
Even at $460 thousand like Yolo County, it takes about $95,000 a year to afford a house. In San Mateo County that figure jumps to nearly $300,000.
So what does the long-term picture look like in places like Davis? That appears to be in flux. For years, the city was struggling with low vacancy rates and the land-use battles were on creating enough capacity to accommodate current students and projected university growth.
Does that change now that COVID has hit? That’s a big question. Overall it does not seem that distance learning is popular. Students miss out on the college experience, prefer the classroom setting to the computer, and lose out of creating vital social and professional networks.
On the other hand, the cost of college and cost of housing had skyrocketed, especially in places like California.
There are some advantages to distance learning, but some decided disadvantages. We will have to see how that evolves.
That question will be critical for the future planning in the city of Davis. The council from 2016 until the past year approved a number of large student housing projects as a way to ease the housing crunch. In addition, the university agreed to add nearly 10,000 new beds over the course of its next LRDP (Long Range Development Plan).
If students are attending college in person far less in the future, obviously that will impact housing concerns. A lot of the new housing is more student-oriented, but the older housing could potentially be converted to other uses like workforce and family housing.
The bigger concern now, however, is the lack of housing in Davis for workforce and family. Even before COVID, we felt like the city and university had mostly planned enough housing to accommodate current needs and growth.
My bigger concern in the last few years has now shifted to family housing. We have seen the impact of a stalled housing market on the schools—enrollment in K-12 has been flat or declining in recent years, putting a strain on the district’s budget.
More important than that, however, is that the student enrollment can be viewed as the canary in the coal mine, illustrating the shrinking middle-age demographic, people who are 30 to 55. These are the people who are not only the ones with young children that fill our schools, but they are in the working demographic, the people who come for jobs, settle down, and raise families and produce the kind of vitality needed in a community.
If the core of Davis hollows, if people in that 30 to 55 age range decrease in population, increasingly we could see a dumbbell shaped curve with a large student age population 18 to 25 and a large senior population over 55, with a small population for the middle demographic.
What would that mean for the city? Declining enrollment. Decreasing schools and school budgets.
How do we change that? Some will argue that we shouldn’t. But to change that demographic shift, we will need housing that is affordable for families with children and jobs that can keep them in town.
That is going to be a primary focus in the coming years. How COVID changes that, or if it does, remains to be seen.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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