Commentary: Another View on Housing Costs in Davis from the Perspective of a State Worker

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – A letter to the editor caught my attention.  While the letter was endorsing one of the candidates for city council, the substance of the letter raised a lot of issues that relate to recent discussions.

The writer has lived in Davis for two years, is a member of SEIU Local 1000, and rents an apartment in a complex that is “largely filled by young professionals and graduate students.”

Naturally a big concern is the cost of housing in Davis.

The writer notes, “I’m alarmed by a recent report that shows 69% of state employees don’t make enough money to start a family.”

He continued, “The combination of slow State salary adjustments and fast rent increases in the Sacramento Metro area made this situation worse.”

He explained, “Many of the people who make up the wonderful community that is Davis are state employees — either working for the university or commuting to Sacramento. Just as we will lose our community if it ever sprawled across the causeway into West Sacramento, we will lose our community if the people who define the Davis community can no longer afford to live here, and instead are forced to pollute our air by driving 40 miles into work from Vallejo.”

Moreover, “With the state rejecting the city’s housing element because it does not contain enough affordable housing, we need a representative on the City Council who can listen to all sides and propose reasonable solutions to build more affordable housing in our community in a way that maintains the character of our town — in both the diversity of its landscape and in the diversity of the people who make up the community.”

The writer cited a report from the UC Berkeley Labor Center that found “that many workers essential to keeping the state running and providing crucial services are struggling to make ends meet. Ensuring a living wage to government workers is critical to helping the state recover from the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The report found “the state does not provide living wages to a significant portion of its workforce. This has resulted in many of the State of California’s working families facing enormous challenges including food insecurity and an untenable rent burden.”

Among the key findings:

  • More than a third of state workers represented by SEIU 1000 do not earn enough to support a family of four even with a working partner who earns the same salary.
  • More than two-thirds do not earn enough to support themselves and a child on their own.

“Our research finds that the very people providing essential services to help Californians emerge from the impacts of the pandemic are themselves struggling to make ends meet,” said Enrique Lopezlira, economist and director of the UC Berkeley Labor Center Low Wage Work Program. “California cannot recover economically or socially if workers do not earn enough to be self-sufficient and support a family.”

What’s more, 5% of workers represented by SEIU 1000 earn too little to meet basic needs on their own.

“We’re making barely $15 and some change an hour while the cost of living is skyrocketing,” said Jason, a building and maintenance worker in the LA Area who did not want to give his last name.

For many, like Karen, a custodian in downtown Los Angeles,  low wages mean taking on extra work.

“I work a side job, too. So I have to have that extra money to basically get through the month.”

At the end of the day, the cost of housing in Davis is keeping working people, families and others out of our community and in the end that is going to have a detrimental impact on our community.

I flagged the letter in this case because it comes from a voice that we often don’t here—a state worker, and his struggles with living in Davis.

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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14 Comments

  1. Ron Glick

    “…we need a representative on the City Council who can listen to all sides and propose reasonable solutions to build more affordable housing in our community in a way that maintains the character of our town — in both the diversity of its landscape and in the diversity of the people who make up the community.”

    But what is the “Character” of the town? In reality, everyone of us changes the character of the town. The town I moved to is different than the town you moved to. The desire to densify changes the character of the town. Going up or out both change the character of the town. And please don’t get me started on the history of diversity in this town. That is not something to maintain or be proud of.

    The reality is that with a growing UC campus next door change is inevitable. The question is what should that change look like? I would argue that going up changes the character of the town more than going out but in the end we need to do some of both. The dogmatism of only doing one or the other or, doing nothing at all, will change the character of the town more adversely than doing some of both.

  2. Keith Olsen

    “Many of the people who make up the wonderful community that is Davis are state employees — either working for the university or commuting to Sacramento. Just as we will lose our community if it ever sprawled across the causeway into West Sacramento, we will lose our community if the people who define the Davis community can no longer afford to live here, and instead are forced to pollute our air by driving 40 miles into work from Vallejo.”

    Wait a minute, I thought this is all about VMT.  Is Davis to build cheaper housing so people can live in Davis but commute to Sacramento?

     

     

    1. David Greenwald

      Your comment implies that there is a uniformity of views – there isn’t. I posted this specifically because this comes from a very different perspective than we generally hear.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Sounds like it’s a call to build more workforce housing in Sacramento.

      Oddly-enough, there’s also this from the article:

      He explained, “Many of the people who make up the wonderful community that is Davis are state employees — either working for the university or commuting to Sacramento. Just as we will lose our community if it ever sprawled across the causeway into West Sacramento, we will lose our community if the people who define the Davis community can no longer afford to live here, and instead are forced to pollute our air by driving 40 miles into work from Vallejo.”

      (I believe Vallejo may be more expensive than either Sacramento or Davis. And is closer to San Francisco, than it is to Sacramento.)

      And in reference to the author’s comment – “Davis” has already sprawled across the causeway – it’s called West Sacramento, there.

      1. Keith Olsen

        And why Davis?  There’s plenty of other locals closer to Sacramento than Davis with cheaper housing.  These are some of the reasons that this whole housing crisis outcry often comes across as being pumped up.

        1. Keith Y Echols

          One of my comments here over the years was in opposition to the absurd notion that the city of Davis somehow owes UCD (through some arcane pact with the devil?) housing for students and staff.   The notion comes from the reasoning that UCD provides so much for the city…in particular jobs.  But what good are those jobs?  Those jobs are located outside of Davis (Davis gets little in terms of tax revenue from UCD…which outside of city limits and mostly exempt from local taxes anyway).  So those workers are just like any other worker that commutes to their job outside of Davis.  I’ve asked before does the city of Davis owe state workers housing?  Does Davis owe Kaiser and Sutter (the two largest private employers in Sac) housing?

          One of your previous comments concerned RHNA numbers calculations.  I’ve gone over this (though not in detail because it appears to be a byzantine system) and the best I can tell is that the RHNA numbers are calculated by figuring projected job growth and by extension population growth for a region.  So where there are jobs there is growth….seems to make basic sense.  But here’s where I have a problem; in those calculations there’s an assumed spill over of jobs to surrounding areas.  So if Sacramento chooses to grow then the surrounding towns have no choice but to grow because it assumes that the surrounding towns will grow (kind of a chicken and the egg thing).  If the RHNA system and policies were up to me, I’d specifically assign all the growth and necessary housing to specific towns where those jobs were located.  So that when a city grows (with jobs) that city is assigned the corresponding housing growth.  In fact, I’d require all new developments to have new housing built within a mile of the new jobs (which would mitigate some sprawl).

  3. Ron Oertel

    The writer has lived in Davis for two years, is a member of SEIU Local 1000, and rents an apartment in a complex that is “(largely filled by young professionals and graduate students.”

    Leaving aside (for the moment) the Sacramento location where some of these people supposedly work, “young professionals” in particular would benefit from rent control.  The reason being that unlike students, they may stay in their apartments for longer terms.

    Of course, if tenants (and those who support them) ever overturn Costa Hawkins, rent control would then benefit all tenants.

    And if I’m not mistaken, one of the on-campus housing developments (that is being rebuilt) is reserved for graduate students, but has taken a long time, already. With plans that have been criticized for not being tall/dense enough. But that won’t help “young professionals” working in Sacramento, regardless.

  4. Dave Hart

    I have an idea.  Replace all federal, state and local income taxes, sales taxes, excise taxes, every other tax, and replace all of it with property tax.  The tax is capped at 5% of the value of the parcel for a taxpayer’s primary residence, and is 20% for any and all other parcels the taxpayer owns or is mortgagee.  Boom!  No more tax complications.  Let’s find out how many properties are really available.  That second home in Davis all of the sudden costs an owner $100K or $200K to own.  There will be a lot of housing for sale that is empty or otherwise underutilized.  I’m serious.  Maybe not about the exact numbers, but the concept.  Everyone will have to start paying taxes if they have “deducted” out of the system or otherwise loopholed out and avoided taxes.  There will be no place to hide and a lot of people like me will be paying about the same amount of taxes we pay now living in our one little east Davis hovel.

    1. Keith Olsen

      The tax is capped at 5% of the value of the parcel for a taxpayer’s primary residence, and is 20% for any and all other parcels the taxpayer owns or is mortgagee

      Great Idea.  The average home price is around $600,000 in Davis so parcel taxes will only amount to $30,000/yr. per average household.  That shouldn’t cause any problems at all.

    2. Dave Hart

      I imagine a lot of properties would be sold off.  The housing market would dip when people decided not to own more than one property.

      A lot of people living in homes they own, if they pay their taxes, are paying over $30,000 in taxes already.  Or maybe that’s what they owe, but they are cheating.   In any case, their overall taxes wouldn’t change much; just who they pay their taxes to. Just think about how a guy like DT would have to deal with real estate taxes only and no way to hide the ball. No write-offs, no depreciation, no other sophisticated tax dodges. All those tax attorneys would have to get real jobs. It goes on and on.

      Interesting when you think about it.

    3. Richard_McCann

      I’ve calculated that a 2% wealth tax on all registered securities and real estate would generate enough revenue to replace the federal income tax. Real estate about half of that value.

      1. Mark West

        The current tax laws, especially at the federal level, are functionally ‘welfare’ for the wealthy. If we want to balance the budget, stop giving money to those who don’t need it.

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