By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – If there is a consensus at least on a problem in Davis, affordable housing seems to be there. A survey from the spring found it was by far the top issue of concern with over 30 percent of the respondents self-selecting affordability of housing as the top issue, and nearly 80 percent overall found it to be a problem.
Moreover, when we talked to Bapu Vaitla, who appears likely to have won the council election, he noted that he felt like the conversation around affordable housing has changed.
He said, “What we kept hearing again and again … and I think the culture in Davis around affordable housing has changed. People’s kids who grew up here can’t afford to move back and rent, let alone buy.
Vaitla noted, “As the number of homeless goes up on the streets, as we see how many low income units we’re obligated to build that we haven’t made any progress on. I think it’s just people start being open to how do we build affordable, dense housing.
He said, “So we heard that a lot. Just kind of this new openness to what do we do about sensible housing.”
An LA Times editorial called it “a housing wave on election day.”
Up and down the state, voters largely backed pro-housing ballot measures, including taxes and bonds to build affordable housing, and rejected several measures aimed at making it harder to build.
We have seen support for affordable housing in many jurisdictions in California.
In Los Angeles, a mansion tax led as of Thursday with 53 percent of the vote. The measure would impose a one-time tax on residential and commercial property sales that exceed $5 million. Proceeds would go toward the construction of affordable housing.
It was more mixed in Berkeley, with a revenue bond—that would have set aside $200 million to create 1,500 affordable units for low-income residents and people experiencing homelessness—which had only received 56 percent of the vote on a measure that needed a two-thirds threshold.
On the other hand, a vacancy tax in Berkeley appears to have won with 62 percent of the vote and a similar measure in San Francisco leads narrowly with 52 percent of the vote.
In Santa Cruz, that same measure appears to have failed with 60 percent voting no.
In Oakland, a bond measure that sets aside $350 million to buy, rehabilitate and build affordable housing, led with 71 percent of voters supporting it as of Thursday morning.
PPIC (Public Policy Institute of California) released its survey of Californians on the eve of the election.
It found that 71 percent of Californians believe that the gap between rich and poor is getting larger and a similar number believe “the state government should do more to reduce the gap between the rich and poor.”
Among the policies, “overwhelming majorities favor government policies to increase the amount of affordable rental housing and to increase housing production so more Californians could purchase a home.”
Further, “Two in three adults, and three in four lower-income residents, support government policy to make college tuition free at both public two-year and four-year colleges.”
The survey found, “With California among the top five states with the highest average home prices, strong majorities of adults (73%) and likely voters (68%) favor government policies that would ease permit requirements and allow more housing to be built so that lower- and middle-income Californians could afford to purchase a home. Similar shares (76% adults, 71% likely voters) support government policies intended to increase the amount of affordable rental housing for lower- and middle-income Californians. Most adults across regions support these policies, as do majorities across all partisan and demographic groups.”
The LA Times concluded, “Californians want more housing that everyone can afford, and they proved that at the polls this week.”
Still, it remains to be seen locally what people are willing to do to get affordable housing. In 2018 in Davis, they backed heavily a measure that would add around 150 affordable units, but they have opposed two DISC measures, both of which contained sizable affordable housing components.
Davis will have to plan for over 900 affordable housing units in its next Housing Element.
When the Vanguard spoke to City Manager Mike Webb in June he was not concerned about meeting the affordable housing allotment of just under 1000 affordable units.
“I don’t really think it will be a problem,” Webb said. The city will have to lay out a rationale for the sites that will have to be pursued. But even with the loss DiSC, Webb expects they can lay out enough infill sites to not have a problem meeting the housing needs. Though he did say HCD might want to see a timeline where the housing can be built sooner rather than later in the cycle.
The Vanguard has been warning, however, that the city is running out of infill options, and here Mike Webb agrees.
“The next Housing Element cycle, that’s where the community will need to be reengaged,” Webb acknowledged. “I don’t see us infilling our way to a Housing Element next time.”
Can we get there even this time, when the city is heavily relying on the downtown and infill to reach its numbers estimates? That’s an open question.
The public says it wants more affordable housing, but is it willing to do what it takes to get it? That remains an open question.