Commentary: A Bee Report Finds Few People Moving to Davis Over Last Decade

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By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – An article that appears in the Sacramento Bee finds that Davis only grew by 2 percent over the past decade despite being “one of the most desirable places in the region.”  The findings of course come as little surprise to anyone familiar with Davis.

“Steadily rising home prices and a lack of new housing development are two of the main reasons Davis grew by only 2% over the last decade, 2020 Census figures show,” the article notes.  “Among the area’s cities, only the tiny communities of Colfax and Isleton saw slower growth.”

It continues: “Davis remains one of the Sacramento region’s most desirable places to live. Its schools are excellent, regularly sending students to the best colleges in the state and nation. It is one of the most bikeable cities in the country and makes a collective effort towards sustainable living.

“Due to its proximity to the University of California, Davis, it has a higher proportion of residents with bachelor’s degrees than the large majority of cities in the state.”

I would of course argue that the steadily rising home prices are a product of the lack of new housing development.  The article finds that “Davis didn’t build much new housing over the last decade.   The total number of housing units in Davis increased by about 1,200, roughly 4.6%, Census data shows.”

It’s notable that the actual housing units increased faster than the population.

Interesting comments by Councilmember Dan Carson.

The article notes Measure J, which gives the voters the right to vote on peripheral housing projects.

Councilmember Carson acknowledged that Davis has not been a “sprawling community.”  Instead, “He said the focus has been to protect farmland, but he recognizes there are cases where accommodations need to be made for jobs and housing and said the council is working to address those issues.”

“This is actually a pro-housing Davis City Council, but we have in place, and voters just last year renewed, a local ordinance that says if you’re going to annex farmland or open space land to the city of Davis for urbanization, it can be commercial or housing that the public votes on whether to permit such an annexation,” Carson told the Bee.

The article then goes into just how unaffordable Davis is.  Citing RentCafe, the average rental for a 955 sf apartment is around $2400.  Home prices have been rising from a median of $494,000 in September 2010 to $832,000 in 2021.

That’s a bit misleading because 2010 was the nadir of the great recession and $494,000 was down from a high in 2005 of about $650,000—it took until the last few years to exceed the 2005 level, but over the past two years, housing prices have skyrocketed from around $700,000 to the current level.

While the article focused on housing shortfalls, it did not address what I would consider the core of the problem.

In their planning ahead section, Dan Carson focused not on new housing, but on “Reimagine Russell,” and the article says, “Which will work to address traffic issues on Russell Boulevard, a street Carson said is the north/south dividing line between where the city of Davis ends off and the campus begins.”

But it omits the growing challenge for housing in Davis.  If you look at the growth of new housing units, 1200 over the last decade, all of that was from infill.  The city voters did approve two Measure J projects, neither of which have been constructed yet—Nishi and WDAAC.

As the Davis Housing Element showed, finding locations for new housing is going to increasingly be a challenge.

The Housing Element was mentioned just once at the very end of the article.

Carson told the Bee that “there has been reasonable concern and a lot of debate in Davis that the city has not done enough to provide the new housing that is needed. He says a concerted effort is being made by the city to address these concerns through approval of housing projects targeted to meet the needs of the student population, the senior and disabled population and family and workforce population in Davis.

“Me and my colleagues on the council have repeatedly stated and have emphasized in our new housing element that’s an area where we need to do more work,” said Carson. “There are too many people who work in the city of Davis that can’t afford to live in the city of Davis, and we know we need to do better there.”

But missing here is the core of the problem.

First, the city has relied on infill for the most part—especially Cannery, the last large parcel in the city without Measure J requirements for most of its housing.  It has also approved some large apartment complexes, but the land in the city for large scale housing is largely gone.

Second, the construction costs are going to make redevelopment very difficult to manage.  The city has designed its downtown plan, to be taken up again in February or March, to look at redeveloping the downtown, but cost estimates may limit the ability to build housing there.

That leaves peripheral projects —and while it seems likely that we will see three or four peripheral projects that are either partly or fully housing, whether the voters approve them is dicey.

There was no discussion here of these limitations and, while the council has perhaps made a concerted effort to address some housing issues, there has been little discussion over the limitations of housing going forward, the costs and harms to the community (rising costs and declining school population) and the challenges of finding housing locations that voters will support.

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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15 thoughts on “Commentary: A Bee Report Finds Few People Moving to Davis Over Last Decade”

  1. Keith Olson

    Davis remains one of the Sacramento region’s most desirable places to live. Its schools are excellent, regularly sending students to the best colleges in the state and nation. It is one of the most bikeable cities in the country and makes a collective effort towards sustainable living.”

    It sounds like the people of Davis are doing an excellent job.

     

     

  2. Matt Williams

    Two quotes from the Bee article worth considering:

    “Steadily rising home prices and a lack of new housing development are two of the main reasons Davis grew by only 2% over the last decade, 2020 Census figures show.  Among the area’s cities, only the tiny communities of Colfax and Isleton saw slower growth.”

    .
    and

    “The city of Davis didn’t build much new housing over the last decade. The total number of housing units in Davis increased by about 1,200, roughly 4.6%, Census data shows.”

    .
    2% growth in population and 4.6% growth in housing units.  Those two numbers are worth pondering.

      1. Bill Marshall

        The article, as I recall, alludes to the fact that the 2020 census #’s were taken, the student population was declining, big time, due to Covid, and the related displacements… more and more vacant units.

        Another variable in time… the full effect was in flux…

      2. Matt Williams

        I haven’t broken it down but guessing that has to do with student housing

        .
        I’ve pulled the per-year unit numbers from the annual Housing Element Progress Report filings by the City of Davis with the State of California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).

        For the 10-year period including 2011 through 2021 the City reported the addition of 1,797 units to a reported 2010 base of 24,873 units.  That calculates to a 7.2% increase in units.  It appears that in addition to the many other errors in the Bee article, the 4.6% growth in housing units is actually 7.7%.

        They do have the Census population growth correctly reported when they say “Davis grew by only 2% over the last decade.”  The unrounded calculation is just under 1.9%.  It is useful to note that the Housing Element submitted to HCD by the City earlier this year shows a population of 69,183. That number includes the students “missing” from the Census figure of 66,850 … a difference of 2,333 persons.  Calculating the population growth rate using 69,183, population grew by 5.4%, which is well below the 7.2% growth in housing units.

         

  3. Ron Oertel

    It would be interesting to compare how much housing prices have risen in communities which allow (essentially) unrestricted development, such as Woodland.

    Even more so, given that many Woodland residents work at UCD (and have kids attending Davis schools – without being subject to the corresponding parcel taxes). Last I heard, DJUSD allowed something like 1,000 out-of-district enrollments.

    By the way, didn’t Dan Carson run on a platform of support for Measure J, without trying to “qualify” it?

  4. Ron Oertel

    The author of the Sacramento Bee article appears to have recently-graduated from Sacramento State (2020-2021). I’d suggest including a brief biography of the original author regarding any subsequent Vanguard article which is entirely “built” around said article – especially if the original is behind a paywall.

    How do you suppose this article came about?  Local YIMBY involvement?

  5. Eileen Samitz

    How interesting about the author. That might explain the misleading information and whitewashing of the actual primary cause of any housing shortage impacting housing prices in Davis. That of course is, of course, UCD’s decades of negligence to build adequate housing for its own accelerated growth. This major factor is not identified to any significant extent, in this misleading article.

    Misleading information includes the following excerpt which only mentions the number of students housed on-campus (11,000), without even mentioning that UCD’s student population is over 38,000 and that UCD has been pushing 71% of its student population off-campus for years. That overwhelming impact has been pushing local workers and families out of Davis housing and raising housing costs more than any other factor.

    “UC Davis is home to over 11,000 students each year, according to UC Davis Student Housing and Dining Services. Students either live in on-campus residence halls, university operated apartments or cooperative housing units.”

    Further, there is no mention of over 5,000 student beds approved in Davis, two of which are 7 stories when UCD refuses to building higher density housing over 5 stories (and there are very few at that height on campus). What about mentioning that Orchard Park will actually have fewer beds than originally designed and building on part of the land for faculty and housing?

    And what about the fact that UCD has made no progress in producing any faculty and staff housing on that reserved parcel on campus.? Instead, part of that parcel is now being used for Orchard Park parking. So, while UCD has produced all of this need for housing, and can come with almost a billion dollars in grant and research money, yet they will not build the needed housing on-campus to help relieve housing pressures that UCD is imposing on Davis, when the resources are available.

     

    In terms of what those resources are, it outrageous that UCD has not applied for any of Governor Newsom’s money allocated for UC and State student housing. This, like all of UCD’s other negligence regarding the need for far more on-campus housing, is inexcusable. All the other UC campuses are committed to building 50% of their student housing needs on campus, except UCD, yet UCD is the largest UC with over 5,300 acres and a 900-acre core campus.

     

     

  6. Keith Y Echols

    I’m not sure there’s much reason in pointing out the housing and population conditions without some additional framework to consider.  Namely, whether or not additional population and housing is desirable or warranted.  I think that’s the important part of the analysis.  I’ve previously stated that I support economic growth in Davis because I believe that it is necessary for the city fiscally and will increase the quality of life for the people in Davis.  And that I’d begrudgingly support population/housing growth if necessary.  And that’s the rub….the key…which is to demonstrate/prove that additional housing and population growth is necessary and ultimately desirable for the people that currently live in Davis.   To me that comes in the form of revenue to the city along with direct support/employment for local businesses (but to be clear, just because there are local businesses doesn’t mean you have to build housing….commuters that come to Davis to work and leave are usually going to be an economically a better deal for Davis….usually…but cases can be made for new housing to directly support businesses but those cases need to be made).

    Many people look at “sprawl” like some out of control virus that will just keep spreading.  Probably because in many communities the local policies support unmitigated peripheral growth.  But just because there’s peripheral growth, doesn’t mean it has to become out of control sprawl.   But I think you can show specific case by case peripheral development can lead to directly to certain benefits (revenue for the city, amenities…etc..).  Unfortunately, the unwashed masses aren’t good at analyzing the costs an benefits of these types of projects.  It’d be nice if the masses could hire people to do these things for them.  Like represent them or something.

    I’m going to cut Ron O. off by jumping ahead and saying that this kind of analysis for new peripheral development is not the same as the ponzi like scheme of grabbing short term revenue for the city through development fees but new residential growth becomes an ongoing financial obligation to the city.  No, you’d have to show the financial and/or community benefit of adding new housing.

  7. Ron Oertel

    In regard to the title, this article does not account for turnover of existing housing at all. One would need to know that, before attempting to come to any conclusions at all regarding how many people are moving to Davis as a result of that turnover.

    All housing eventually turns over.

    1. Ron Oertel

      And even that figure would only address “for sale” housing, not rental housing – which is occupied by “people moving to Davis” even more frequently.

      Though no purpose whatsoever is provided regarding the reason that any of this is a “goal” for a given community.

  8. Don Shor

    Snapshot: current single-family homes on realtor.com.

    As any realtor will tell you, the only problem they have right now is lack of inventory. Problem is, except that Dixon is unusually high inventory right now, this has been a pretty typical ratio between Davis and the surrounding communities for years, certainly including the last decade. We finally broke the logjam on getting multi-family housing underway. Now it’s time to focus on a reasonable amount of new housing inventory for other demographics.
    Homes in Dixon are selling pre-construction as fast as the developers can put out the floor plans.

    1. Keith Olson

      Maybe a reason that Davis doesn’t currently have a lot of homes on the market is because they get snapped up quickly because “Davis remains one of the Sacramento region’s most desirable places to live”?

      Just a guess, but I don’t know…

      That’s only my second comment on this article today. I have room to run…

    2. Ron Oertel

      Given that the article claims that few people are moving to Davis (over a 10-year period), one has to look beyond the number of houses currently for sale (or rent).  You’d have to look at what occurred over that entire period.

      Here’s a whole bunch of recent sales:

      https://www.zillow.com/homes/davis,-ca_rb/

      Also, since California’s population dropped last year (by .7%), maybe they should start tearing-down some houses.  (No, not directed at anyone’s in particular.)

      In any case, demand is determined by factors other than “supply”.  As prices rise (or interest rates increase), demand drops, and supply increases since people then find other options.  That’s how it works.

      “Supply” for Davis also includes Woodland, Dixon, West Sacramento, etc.  Again, that’s how it works.

      Demand for housing in Daly City, for example, is influenced by its neighbors (San Francisco, and the entire peninsula).  And the jobs that are available in those surrounding communities.

      Prices are also impacted by the cost of labor and materials, which have both been in short supply due to Covid.

      Now it’s time to focus on a reasonable amount of new housing inventory for other demographics.

      If you mean “poor people” as a demographic (those who cannot afford to purchase an existing house), that would be subsidized housing.  Demographics by age do not always align with wealth, especially when people are moving in from other areas.  This is even occurring in places like Idaho, where existing populations are not as wealthy as those moving in.  Then again, it’s impossible to determine what demographic you’re referring to, or what the benefit is to target more of them than can be accommodated by existing housing, over time.  Or, whether or not they would actually “choose” that, if they can get more for their money nearby.  (Again, assuming that we’re not referring to subsidized housing.)

      All housing eventually turns over.  Everyone eventually dies or moves out.  Housing is essentially permanent (either the existing building, or a replacement), while people are not.

      Demand is also determined by the number (and type) of jobs in a given area, among other factors. Which is a reason that I find the support for DiSC (in particular) so baffling, among the “housing crisis people”.

      I’d suggest waiting for the next downturn, if you want to see “supply” increase without building a stick more housing.  As occurred between approximately 2008-2011.  Fortunately for Davis, that downturn did not impact Davis as much as it did in surrounding communities.  And one reason for that is due to its relative rejection of focusing on new “supply”, compared to just about every other valley community.

      Homes in Dixon are selling pre-construction as fast as the developers can put out the floor plans.

      Yeah, true everywhere right now.  This will change, as the housing market changes.  Regardless, Dixon is one of the communities which have few restrictions regarding new housing. Same is true regarding Woodland.  However, anyone who wants (and qualifies) to buy a house right now can do so – including in Davis. And even in Woodland, they are often from outside of the area.

      Davis itself is chock-full of people who were priced out of their original hometowns (e.g., due to the rise of and pursuit of the technology industry).

      My fifth comment for today.

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