Guest Commentary: Davis Should Adopt Policies to Support Affirmative Furthering of Fair Housing in Housing Element Update

By Don Gibson

In this year’s Davis Housing Element Update, Davis can take the progressive step of proactively overcoming systematic class and ethnic inequalities by embracing policies promoted by a relatively new law, Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH).

You might have heard on the presidential campaign trail Trump campaigning against Biden, saying that Democrats and Cory Booker will destroy the nice suburbs if elected. Trump was referring to a specific policy. The Trump Administration in 2018 overturned an Obama administration rule called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. In response, the California state legislature passed AB 686 in 2018 to put AFFH rules into state law.

AFFH recognizes that housing policies, on both a local and national level, exacerbated and enforced systematic inequalities. Many of the first housing and zoning laws were explicitly racist in their design, including in Davis, such as the College Park neighborhood.

To overcome generational disparities, AFFH calls for cities, counties, and state agencies to take proactive measures to fix housing inequality around race, national origin, color, ancestry, sex, marital status, disability, religion, and other protected characteristics.

In practice, this means building housing and Affordable housing of all income types in quality places or the “nice suburbs” that Trump was claiming Democrats want to destroy. To overcome this systematic race and class inequality that housing policy perpetuates, making sure housing is built so that all types of people can live in high opportunity areas such as Davis is a crucial proactive step.

Regional governments such as SACOG for the Sacramento-Yolo area now identify cities with “High Opportunity” areas. These census tracks are resource-rich areas, good schools, and access to quality jobs. More housing for diverse income types can open up traditionally exclusive and either explicitly or de facto segregated neighborhoods and cities. The ZIP code you grow up can be the best predictor of successful life outcomes. Opening these areas by having more housing and Affordable housing will help more people and families accumulate good education and jobs.

Many California cities have adopted in restrictive housing policies making housing prices skyrocket, such as Davis and “Progressive” places in the Bay Area like Berkeley & Marin County. However, they are often the highest of “High Opportunity” places, yet only people who already have significant resources can afford to live there.

In our region, Davis is one of the highest “High Opportunity” cities with 90% of Davis identified as High  Opportunity with far lower rates in the rest of the region. However, even within this identified area, Davis has a lower relative housing requirement than almost all cities in the area as assigned by SACOG. Furthermore in this latest cycle Davis has doubled the housing requirements but is still behind achieving the very low and low income housing levels in the previous cycle.

Many of Davis’s housing policies have exacerbated racial inequalities by limiting housing development. Davis is the most expensive city, in the region to live in with a medium home price of over $715,000 compared to the $450,000 range in neighboring cities. Additionally, Davis is a far less diverse city when you factor out the UC Davis student community, in comparison to Sacramento-Yolo metro area.

Today because of this new law, cities and local governments are required by the state to show they are Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing in their housing policy programs (Regional Housing Needs Allocation & General Plans). In plans being released across the state (I sit on the committee advising Davis, Housing Element Committee), policies are required to help overcome systematic housing inequality that has been baked into our laws for over a century.

These laws and policies supporting AFFH could include ways to build in high opportunity areas with fewer regulations that prevent new housing from being built. Approaches could include opening up older neighborhoods, some of which, when first built, included racial covenants to prevent Jews and non-Whites from living there, to allow minor increases in density such as allowing a duplex or triplex on a lot designed for a single-family home. Allowing an additional unit would be similar to the historic neighborhoods of Old East Davis and Old North Davis, which already allow two units on a single family lot.

Other ways are to reduce the number of construction requirements like removing parking minimums on new construction which drive up costs and promote dependence on the car. Davis is one of the few cities where ample biking and bus options make this a reasonable choice.

Promoting infill and making it easy to build the missing middle, such as low-rise apartments two or three stories, is a proactive step to promote a greater diversity of housing units. This can be promoted by limiting the number of city approvals needed, which can often kill or significantly reducing a project. Minimizing the number or eliminating the number of public hearings for small projects and reducing development costs and city fees are getting implemented by the City of Sacramento now, arguably one of the nation’s most progressive housing plans.

If there is not a liberalization of infill policy, then greater acceptance of peripheral development becomes the relevant question. Measure J/R/D has been in effect for 20 years now, and no project has broken ground to date. Of the six that made it to the ballot, only two passed and faced hurdles after already meeting the high bar of a Measure J/R/D vote. Nishi property has been caught up by CEQA lawsuits and now almost three years after the election have not broken ground. Although still moving forward, Bretton Woods was caught with issues with the Davis-Based Buyers Program. A program explicitly requested to appeal directly to the Davis voters.

Today in Davis, both infill and peripheral developments are difficult to approve, and Davis now grows even slower than the 1% Growth Cap, growing annually around 0.55% in the last decade. Limited housing growth is the top reason housing prices only continue to increase, displacing residents.

The options moving forward are fundamentally three broad options in the Davis context. 1) Make infill easier to build in Davis by increasing to density in traditionally exclusionary neighborhoods by modifying zone code. 2) make peripheral development more acceptable while recognizing Measure J/R/D is the law of the land, or 3) no significant change in city housing policies, thus increasing housing prices while furthering existing racial & class inequities Davis perpetuates.

Everyone needs housing from students, seniors, workforce, family, university staff, traditionally disadvantaged communities, and more. For Davis to adopt the progressive housing policies that Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing calls for, City policy must either expand the ease of infill options or allow more peripheral growth.  If neither happens, Davis will only continue to perpetuate systemic ethnic and class inequalities that national and state housing policy is starting to reverse.

Don Gibson is a recent PhD from UC Davis and a Committee member with the Davis Housing Element Committee.

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  1. Matt Williams

    To overcome this systematic race and class inequality that housing policy perpetuates, making sure housing is built so that all types of people can live in high opportunity areas such as Davis is a crucial proactive step.

    Don has provided us with a thoughtful article with the clearly articulated basic premise above.  However, the article, and Don’s argument, suffers from a glaring omission. Specifically, it never mentions the University of California Davis as either a source of the housing problem, or as being responsible for complying with the provisions and spirit of the new law, Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH).

    That glaring omission is especially evident in the following statement in the article.

    Many of Davis’s housing policies have exacerbated racial inequalities by limiting housing development. Davis is the most expensive city, in the region to live in with a medium home price of over $715,000 compared to the $450,000 range in neighboring cities. Additionally, Davis is a far less diverse city when you factor out the UC Davis student community, in comparison to Sacramento-Yolo metro area.

    The statement (and the whole article) only focuses on supply.  Housing prices in all markets are the result of both supply and demand, and I believe most economists would agree that the $715,000 median home price in Davis, and especially the difference between Davis prices and the $450,000 prices elsewhere in the region is much, much more the result of the volume of housing demand generated by the presence of UCD immediately adjacent to Davis.  Each year, UCD contributes a incremental infusion to that Davis housing demand when it (A) admits new students and (B) awards degrees to students.  UCD alumni wanting to go back to the home of their alma mater is a component of housing demand for Davis that does not exist for the communities elsewhere in the $450,000 average home price region.

    Bottom-line, both the problem Don discusses and the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) solutions need to include a robust participation by UCD.  In fact, as I have formally stated to the Planning Commission and to City Council and to City Staff, the Housing Element needs to include UC Davis as a voice at the table.  California Law does not mandate that UCD must participate, but failure on the part of both the City and the University to make it happen is a failure on both their parts.

    Don, and all UCD alumni, should be putting just as much pressure on UCD to comply with both the provisions and spirit of the new Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) law.

    With that said, I thank Don for continuing to call attention to the housing issues of the Davis community.

  2. Matt Williams

    In an accident of timing, the front page of the Davis Enterprise ran an article entitled Davis Among Youngest and Most Expensive Cities in the US.  The article stated,

    The study, conducted by the business insurance resource company AdvisorSmith, defined small cities as those with fewer than 100,000 residents.

    According to the study, the weighted average home price in Davis is $664,773 and the median household income is $60,619, making the city’s price-to-income ratio 11 to 1. According to AdvisorSmith, the nationwide average was a price-to-income ratio of 4.8, less than half that of the ratio in Davis.

    The study used housing price data from Zillow’s Home Value and Index and household income, composition and population data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The housing price data from Zillow was collected in January while the American Community Survey was conducted in 2018.

    Davis ranked 7th in the small city category and 9th in the all cities category.  The other cities in the top 10 were,

    Palo Alto was rated the least affordable, followed by
    Newport Beach,
    Santa Monica,
    Santa Barbara,
    Santa Cruz,
    Miami Beach and
    Redwood City.

    The article went on to say,

    Of the University of California’s 10 campuses, seven are in cities that were rated among the least affordable in the country, the exceptions being Merced, Irvine and Riverside.

    I find the study to be very useful on a number of levels.  For the person(s) looking for a community to settle in affordability is an important consideration.

    However, like Don Gibson’s article, the study is missing an important piece of information.  The price-to-income ratio that the study uses to calculate its proxy for “most expensive” is affected by both the average home prices and the average household income.  The average household income in Davis is highly skewed downward by the large number of UCD students, whose income is limited to after-school, part-time jobs.  There are two possible solutions to that statistical problem, (1) exclude UCD student households from the calculation of the ratio, or (2) include the houshold income of the parents of the UCD students in the calculation.

    The Enterprise article also points out that “Meanwhile, another study released this week found that Davis is among the youngest cities in the U.S.”  That finding is consistent with the high proportion of UCD students who live in Davis.

  3. Bill Marshall

    Could folk agree to differentiate  between “affordable housing” (for sale, ownership), and “affordable housing” (rental, whether MF or SF)?  Seems they are often “conflated” (and yes, I still hate that word)…

    All the data, statistics relying on that data, get really ‘skewed’ if one does not differentiate… two different “markets”… a whole lot of folk are perfectly happy not “owning”, with all the costs thereof… many folk see “home ownership” as an investment, even with all the additional costs… many studies have shown that someone can be much better off, financially, including long term, by renting… anecdotally, know of several relatives where that was, demonstrably, a ‘true story’…

    Failure to differenciate gets to a number of points Matt W makes…

    ‘Terms’, like ‘words’ matter…

  4. Eileen Samitz

    I agree with Matt’s comments and particularly the point not covered in Don Gibson’s article which excludes any reference to the need for UCD to be more responsible for providing the need for affordable housing on campus for its students and its faculty and staff as well. As has been pointed out many times, UCD is the largest UC with over 5,300 acres and a 900-acre core campus. UCD is completely capable of providing far more housing that the minimum they agreed to to simply providing housing for just their current LRDP additional growth, while completely ignoring the backlog of on-campus housing that they needed to provide for the past 20 years.

    If UCD actually did what they need to do, is build far more housing than they are trying to get away with, then student housing would be affordable on campus. Further, there would not be the issue of students needing to get out of leases like the present situation in the City, if and when issues like the pandemic present. The land component is the biggest cost factor in building housing now, and UCD has plenty of land which is free, and which can provide far higher density housing than what is being built. Yet, UCD prefers to continue pushing its housing needs off campus impacting the cost of housing in Davis more than any other factor to students as well as Davis’ workforce and families. The way to get more affordable housing in Davis is clearly for UCD to provide far more on-campus housing instead of deflecting UCD’s housing needs onto the city and surrounding cities.

    UCD’s last MOU with the City did nothing to address the backlog of two decades of negligence to provide on campus housing despite UCD’s accelerated student population growth. The low density of the housing planned by UCD on campus is embarrassing compared to the two enormous 7-story student housing projects approved in the City. This also raises the blatant hypocrisy of UCD teaching “sustainable planning”, yet not practicing it itself with its own on-campus planning.

    Further, while all the other UC campuses have committed to providing at least 50% on campus housing for it students, UCD has not. Why not? Why is that issue not being addressed by housing advocates like Don Gibson and other students concerned about the affordability of housing?

    That said, Don, himself, was part if a Task Force of UCD students working with UCD administration,  and while I raised this subject before on the Vanguard with some follow-up questions, none of those questions were addressed. So, I will post them again and I would so appreciate a response from Don.

    Also, while one of the points “agreed to” by the UCD administration was limiting increases of admission of new students (so that the campus is not so over-impacted as it has been and reducing housing demand). Instead, this year UCD has admitted more new students then ever before. (Note: this is also during a pandemic which is still not under control, which seems rather unwise). Also, why does UCD continue to refuse to start a student housing fund like USC did which yielded hundreds of new student beds? Why has this none of this mentioned or addressed either?

    Here is a section of what I had previously posted:
    “So at least 5,281 student beds have been approved in the City of Davis. Therefore, even without Nishi, 3,081 student beds would be produced compared to 2,200 beds at Nishi. However, rather than you continuing to try to imply that more student housing is needed in Davis, what is the update of progress from the 2018 UCD task force report that you helped developed for UCD to address the need for more affordable housing.

    Since you took a leading role in this task force, thanks if you can provide feedback on what actions that you or others advocating for more student housing have taken to get UCD to produce more affordable student housing on-campus.

    Also, if you can also please give feedback on why Orchard Park, the former large graduate student complex demolished over 6 years, is still a vacant development site (i.e. located on Russell, near Hwy 113)? What progress has been made on it by UCD? UCD was originally proposing very low-density apartments, compared to Davis which has approved high-density 7-story student housing. Is there any progress on this density issue to get at least 6-7 stories there as well? Also, what is the plan for the site, and when will it be built? Have you met with UCD on this recently and if so, what was the update?

    Also, here are just a few excerpts from the task force’s 2018 document “Turning the Curve on Affordable UCD Student Housing” that you helped develop with other task force members including UCD administration members:

    From: Turning the Curve on Affordable UCD Student Housing

    1) “Limit future enrollment increases. The time has come for an era of much slower, incremental growth in the student population, enabling the campus to catch up with infrastructure needs, including housing, classroom space, and student support services.”

                2) “Increase the campus housing supply by building more units. We welcome the   Chancellor’s recent decision to increase the target of new housing units to be built on-campus to include 9,050 beds, but our analysis of the available data suggests that number needs to be higher in order to reverse the trend toward increasingly unaffordable housing.”

                3)“Identify funds to support student housing…” including philanthropic sources… like USC. which raises millions in private donations to help fund student housing in USC Village.

                4) “Design for Affordability and Prioritize Affordable Designs in New Campus Housing.”

    Thanks, if you can share any updates including what actions or meetings have occurred to implement these UCD task force objectives, particularly since so much time and effort went into developing the document by you, and others including the UCD administration.”

  5. Bill Marshall

    VG administrator…  when a comment posting exceeds word count from the actual article, perhaps it should be a separate ‘article’?   Just a thought… same goes for two comments posted ‘back to back’ with no intervening comment…

    Again, just a thought… not a criticism…

    Doesn’t happen much, but does occur…

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