By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – A few months ago, members of the city council including now-Mayor Will Arnold and Vice Mayor Josh Chapman suggested the need for the city and school district to look into the issue of declining enrollment and how the city’s housing situation has contributed to it.
Chapman in October asked “how do we get more proactive when it comes to housing in this community? And how do we grow the number of families that are, that are living here who have school-aged children so that they can attend schools here and can be part of this community?”
Since then, other than the city addressing the Housing Element and creating a subcommittee of Bapu Vaitla and Gloria Partida to look into housing issues, particularly affordable housing, there has not been much movement from the city on housing.
One area where the city is looking is a possible modification or expansion of the affordable housing exemption for Measure J.
As Bapu Vaitla noted in January, “It’s time to talk about an affordable exemption for Measure J/R/D. It’s time. So let’s open the community conversation. Let’s hear about it.”
That’s what it is going to take—a large conversation about housing to get enough folks to be willing to even consider such a modification.
As we have noted, a large percentage of Davis residents (a couple of polls suggests 70 percent) believe that housing affordability in Davis is a huge problem.
The remedy to that is not clear.
The state has put forward some remedies that don’t appear to be working.
This week, Senator Scott Wiener, for example, introduced legislation to make the “Builder’s Remedy” permanent. Currently SB 35 is set to sunset in 2025, but the new legislation would extend it indefinitely.
Senator Wiener explained that, according to data from UC Berkeley’s Terner Center, they found that in the first four years the bill was in effect, 18,000 units of housing have either been approved or are in the process of being approved under SB 35, and “three-quarters of those units, are below market rate.
“We are desperately in need of new homes in California. We are short millions of homes,” Senator Wiener said. He added, “SB 35 is a good government measure that will allow us to accelerate home construction. It’s very simple. If you meet all the rules, you meet the zoning and setbacks and designs and everything else, you, you get your permit without a hyper-politicized, chaotic, process that can take years, uh, and lead to litigation because anyone who has an attorney can challenge you.”
But while 18,000 units of mostly low income housing is good news, it’s not exactly a gamechanger, especially over a four-year period.
Moreover, as Sustainable Growth Yolo pointed out in a tweet this week, “The Builders Remedy is great but won’t work in lots of places. City of Davis produced a report *last month* showing 20% low-income requirement is very hard to be feasible. Update Builders Remedy to factor in what can be accomplished in places like Davis.”
The other major housing law was SB 9 which was supposed to pave the way for duplexes—but hasn’t.
As Jason Ward, an economist with the Rand Corporation and associate director of the Rand Center on Housing and Homelessness in Los Angeles, wrote in an op-ed in the LA Times last week, “the law that some were convinced would make the sky fall (has instead) barely registered.”
He notes two requirements that “reduce its scope, curbing its ability to boost housing production.”
The first is the requirement that the property be owner-occupied. In short, “the law requires property owners looking to split a lot, the most consequential part of the bill, commit to living on the property for at least three years after approval.”
Second, “one individual cannot invoke SB 9 to split two adjacent lots, even if they own both.”
Ward explains these restrictions were added late in the process in order to assure lawmakers that SB 9 “benefits homeowners NOT institutional investors.”
Ward notes that “such restrictions effectively rule out any professional builder, large or small, from using SB 9 unless they want to purchase one property at a time and live on it while the lot is split and, at most, three new units of housing are created. This is an unlikely approach to making a feasible living in California.”
One of our commenters yesterday noted, “Davis doesn’t need more ‘unaffordable’ $900,000 homes. What it needs is more affordable homes selling for $500,000 or less.”
That’s a big problem.
Ned Resnikoff, Policy Director of California YIMBY, pointed out this week that it’s the middle- and lower-income people that are getting hammered by the housing crisis.
He said “the fact is that California has been losing lower- and middle-income residents to other states for some time while continuing to gain higher-income adults.”
And he added, “The biggest risk is not that California loses its wealthy population but that it continues to hollow out its middle class and plunge deeper into a second Gilded Age.”
That’s why Davis is in such trouble here, because it is losing its middle income base that formed the backbone of school-aged families that have been slowly and incrementally forced out of the community.
Declining enrollment is a huge threat to the character of this community because it threatens to erode the vitality of our schools, which has been one of the great assets of Davis.
So what is the answer?
I have put forward a variety of ideas including pre-approvals of a limited amount of peripheral land, exemptions for affordable housing, and city investment in vacant and underutilized properties, but at the end of the day, the community has to decide what it wants to be and what it wants to do.
So the first step is to have a sustained community dialogue on housing and schools—it needs to allow all voices to be heard but also educate the community on the dangers and risks of the current trajectory.
And it has to do this relatively quickly. 2024 is just around the corner. The council has a lot of work to do if it wants to put something on the ballot for 2024—it has to lay the groundwork otherwise the forces of the status quo will simply shout down another round of proposals.