Sustainable Growth Yolo Hosts Webinar and Issues Statement on the City of Davis Draft Housing Element Update (+Video)

Statement by Sustainable Growth Yolo

The City of Davis Housing Element update is a key opportunity to address our region’s housing affordability crisis by facilitating critically needed housing development. Like many parts of the state, an overwhelming number of Davis residents face housing insecurity, an impact stretching far beyond the college student population. Updating the city’s Housing Element – a process that occurs only once every eight years – presents a vital opportunity to not only address longstanding inequity, but to improve the quality of life for all members of the Davis community.

However, in its current form, the draft Housing Element fails to incorporate material changes that will meaningfully increase the housing supply. The city is legally obligated to make a reasonable attempt to zone for new housing. However, in the last two decades, Davis has one of the lowest rates of new housing with zero market-rate apartments built between 2002 and 2019. In the previous site inventory for the 5th RHNA cycle, only 14 of the 25 sites or 56% were approved to be developed. Currently, the proposal’s projections fail to meet the requirement for low-income housing. The housing element draft significantly overestimates the rate of construction and does not modify zoning regulations to increase the likelihood of new housing.

To put it plainly, the current draft of the Davis Housing Element does not go nearly far enough to address the city’s severe housing affordability crisis, and if adopted in its current form, will only further exacerbate housing inequity in Davis and the Yolo County region. 

During the Housing Element public outreach process, the Associated Students of UC Davis (ASUCD) and the UC Davis Graduate Student Association (GSA) proposed a series of reasonable reforms that were not included in the current draft. Combined, these organizations represent up to 40,000 UC Davis undergraduate and graduate students and approximately 25,000 that live in the City of Davis proper. Sustainable Growth Yolo supports these reforms as clear and meaningful ways the city can facilitate more housing development in Davis, and advocates that the city does not adopt the updated Housing Element without including these modifications. The suggested reforms include:

Eliminate Parking Minimums: Parking is a significant cost to any new development with estimates ranging upwards of $30,000 per parking space. Space required for parking discourages biking and walking and promotes an unsustainable car culture. Davis, being one of the few suburban cities in the United States, built after WW2 with an effective bus and bike systems, should embrace these policies. Eliminating the requirement to build excessive parking will dramatically reduce the cost of new construction, helping promote more infill. It’s worth pointing out that downtown Davis would not have been built in the state many of us love if current parking minimums had been in place.

Fully Fund Housing Trust Fund: The current Housing Trust Fund (HTF) should be a major resource for the City of Davis to support Affordable housing. However, the HTF currently has very limited revenues. This fund can be used for upkeep on current Affordable properties, subsidize the creation of new housing, or purchase and renovate older properties to repurpose as Affordable housing akin to Project Homekey. Additional funding could be raised from programs such as a Real Estate Transfer Fee since it does not put a cost on the creation of new housing.

Rezoning All Strip Malls to Mixed Use: In the sites inventory, the draft housing element includes only one property to be rezoned as mixed-use. Together the Westlake Shopping Center, The Marketplace on Covell, Davis Manor, and Target Shopping Center have 16.5 acres of underused surface parking. By rezoning these properties for mixed-use, the city will immediately create the opportunity for denser and often more affordable housing to be developed with minimal impact.

By-Right Approval Process: Davis currently has an approval process consisting of multiple public hearings and veto-holding unelected commissions, resulting in not only a decrease in approved housing projects but even housing proposals. Uncertain processes lead to long politically contentious meetings, ultimately delaying projects and adding significant development costs. For example, the Sterling Apartment complex was first proposed to be a four to five story project with 203 units, but through the public hearing, the process was reduced to a mere 160 units. Plaza 2555 was first proposed with 646 bedrooms, but later reduced to 500 beds after a two-year delay between the penultimate public hearing and approval by council. Allowing projects to avoid the extended public hearing process if they meet the local zoning and Affordable Housing ordinance adds certainty and stability to the process, which will increase development and bring down costs.

Include City-Owned, Underutilized Locations in Site Inventory: The City of Davis has multiple properties that are currently underutilized or vacant. Some sites that could be considered are a public works yard, outdated fire station, parking lots, sports complexes, and open spaces. These sites should be reviewed and assessed for possible inclusion in site inventory for future housing development.

Legalize Small Increase in Density in Residential Areas: Large areas of Davis are zoned as R-1 for single family only homes or as PD, Planned Development. Legalizing the addition of up to four units on a single family zoned lot would allow for more housing development without expanding the city footprint or contributing to urban sprawl.

These reasonable reforms to the Housing Element are supported by a broad coalition of community members ranging from housing advocates to student organizations to social justice groups. The City of Davis has a responsibility to represent all of its residents, and address equity issues that impact their quality of life. Sustainable Growth Yolo believes that ensuring the city’s updated Housing Element facilitates an increase in the supply of attainable housing is key to making Davis a healthier, more sustainable, and inclusive community.

Davis, being one of the best cities for high paying job jobs, good schools, and a high quality of life, in the Sacramento region should be a leader in ensuring it meets the RHNA allocation as opposed to likely missing the allocation in the current draft. For these reasons, Sustainable Growth Yolo calls on the City of Davis to incorporate the above mentioned reforms to its Housing Element update.

Sustainable Growth Yolo is a grassroots, volunteer-run housing advocacy organization. Our mission is to make the region an affordable place to live, work, and raise a family through access to quality housing and economic opportunities. You can learn more about our organization and how to get involved by visiting or email

Support our work – to become a sustaining at $5 – $10- $25 per month hit the link:

About The Author

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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  1. Ron Glick

    More housing less homelessnes. Who would have guessed? More housing lower rents. Who would have guessed? Higher vacancies lower homelessness. Once again I never would have guessed.

    See the article below:



    Homelessness is about housing
    The solution is to legalize more and more kinds of it

    Matthew Yglesias

    May 17

    Something that I took for granted in one section of “Some Thoughts on Faculty Lounge Politics” that I realize not everyone knows or agrees with is that homelessness is fundamentally continuous with general housing policy.
    This is at odds with how it is normally constructed in American politics, in which you have a discrete population of people who do not have a home and then a question of what to do about them. As a last resort, this tends to become a law enforcement question, but in essentially every city, there is also a social service provider community that is trying to help the homeless in non-punitive ways. So then you have a discourse about the funding of social services and what boundaries law enforcement should enforce. There are then micro-niche issues about how shelters for people experiencing homelessness should be run. And, there is a perennial conversation about root causes — the people sleeping on the streets are often suffering from addiction problems or mental health difficulties, and we maybe need to straighten those issues out somehow or other.
    These are all, I think, valid questions to ask in the sense that people need to take the world as they find it and deal with situations that exist.
    But broadly speaking, I think it misconstrues the problem as a “homelessness” problem with primary adjacencies to mental health, addiction services, and law enforcement. I think it’s a housing problem with primary adjacencies to questions like “why was New York City’s population falling even before the pandemic?”

    Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded
    The Covid-19 pandemic was unfortunate for many, many, many reasons, but for housing policy junkies, one downside is we wound up paying no attention to the 2019 NYC population decline since the following decline in 2020 was so clearly about the pandemic. In 2021, there is sure to be a post-pandemic bounceback and a lot of stories about New York’s struggle to come back.
    What happens in New York is always important both because it is by far America’s largest city, but also because the overwhelming concentration of media there tends to mean issues are read through a New York City lens.
    So the question of why people were fleeing NYC in 2019 — before the pandemic, before the school closures, before the rise in the murder rate — should have been an analytically significant issue. People can leave cities for all kinds of reasons, after all, but most of them would come down to “it became a worse place to live.”¹ But what you expect to see if somewhere becomes a worse place to live is that the price of living there falls thanks to low demand.
    But what we actually observed was a strong increase in rents over the decade.

    Rather than New York becoming a worse place to live, it became a more expensive place to live. Construction of new units did not keep pace with the increase in demand. So the population fell as families who might have had three or four people living in a two-bedroom apartment were replaced with childless professional couples, and wealthy people combined units to make larger dwellings for themselves.
    Demand for housing is rising but the supply does not rise at the same rate, so people get squeezed out and the city’s population falls as people head for cheaper pastures in the Sunbelt. But what if you’re squeezed out of housing and you don’t leave for somewhere else? Well, then you’ve got nowhere to live.

    Homelessness is high where housing is expensive
    Leftists often raise the true-but-misleading factoid that the number of people experiencing homelessness on any given day is generally much smaller than the number of homes that are unoccupied on any given day.
    But as we covered in “Homelessness and Vacant Houses,” it’s not the case that homelessness is high where vacancy rates are high. Indeed, it’s the opposite — the vacancy rate is lower in places with more homelessness.
    Here’s an analysis looking at states:

    And here’s one looking at large metro areas:

    That’s because unusually high levels of homelessness and unusually low levels of vacancy are both caused by the same thing — scarcity of dwellings.
    According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness’ 2019 count, there were roughly as many unhoused in New York state on a given day as in Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Illinois combined, despite New York having a much smaller population. That’s because New York City circa 2019 was a huge engine of displacement, featuring net population losses and also people who, for whatever reason, got squeezed out without going anywhere.
    We think of the “homeless person” and the “moved to North Carolina to be closer to family and also to afford more space for the kids” as two entirely different types of people. But it’s a single underlying phenomenon. And who ends up in which category will come down to a mix of luck, whether or not you do in fact have family in North Carolina, and whether or not the forces pushing you out of the high-cost area come up on you slowly so you have time to plan.
    The top six states for homelessness rates are New York, Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington, and Massachusetts, which is basically just a list of states where housing is expensive. The highest homelessness rate in Texas is in Austin, which is the city with the most expensive housing.

    More homes, less homelessness
    I know it’s a little bit counterintuitive to people, but in a broad sense, the biggest thing we could do to take a bite out of homelessness in the medium term is build more luxury condos.
    When I first started making the case for land use reform, we had two legs to our argument. One was basic economic theory — more supply equals less scarcity equals lower prices. The other was cross-sectional analysis — metro areas with laxer land use regulation see more construction and lower prices. But we can now add a third leg to that analysis in terms of detailed empirical work. Here’s a good roundup of five studies from the UCLA Lewis Center that they did in February, and in April, we have “Local Effects of Large New Apartment Buildings in Low-Income Areas” and it says the same thing:
    We study the local effects of new market-rate housing in low-income areas using microdata on large apartment buildings, rents, and migration. New buildings decrease rents in nearby units by about 6 percent relative to units slightly farther away or near sites developed later, and they increase in-migration from low-income areas. We show that new buildings absorb many high-income households and increase the local housing stock substantially. If buildings improve nearby amenities, the effect is not large enough to increase rents. Amenity improvements could be limited because most buildings go into already-changing neighborhoods, or buildings could create disamenities such as congestion.
    The fact that the new buildings are not “affordable housing” in the regulatory sense doesn’t mean that they have no impact on affordability. Nor does the fact that a person existing on the margins of homelessness would be unable to live in such a building change the fact that allowing their construction reduces homelessness by increasing the affordability of other units.
    With this new empirical work, I’m increasingly confident saying that the key thing really is to legalize as much market-rate housing as possible. Not because there’s anything wrong with subsidized housing. But because market-rate housing generates tax revenue by bringing in new affluent residents, and that revenue can be used to finance an affordable housing trust fund or new public housing or whatever else you want. Cities looking to tackle homelessness should upzone for more market-rate construction and enhance their existing social service spending in line with the increased revenue.
    But they should also take a look at the range of building types that they allow.

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