By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – I have told this story a few times before, I chose to stay in Davis even though I would have trouble purchasing a house, largely because I preferred both the character of the college town as well as the small town feel.
After graduation, I spent some time living in Washington, DC, and later living in Sacramento. Ultimately, I came back to live in Davis because I didn’t like the ordeal of having to spent long periods of time driving to do simple things. We take for granted that we can go to a grocery store and get a meal and get back in 20 minutes.
That small town feel was a big part of why I supported the growth control measures in Davis, supported slow growth policies, and opposed many housing projects when I first got involved in local policies.
But that comfort and convenience comes with a downside.
What we did was attempt to keep Davis as it was in people’s minds when they first got here—whether it was the 1970s and 1980s for some, or the 1990s for myself.
Perhaps if I had been able to purchase a home in 1996, I would have the same thinking—freeze Davis in time, preserve what we have.
The problem is that you can’t actually do that. But we’ve tried to do exactly that.
The result is that we put Measure J in place in 2000. At the time, I supported the idea of the community having the final say over the approval of peripheral housing. A lot of people saw the rapid change in the way Davis looked from the 1980s to 2000 and wanted to slow things down.
But the result was that it made it too difficult in a place like Davis to build a reasonable amount of housing. We have seen and presented the data.
Davis over the last 23 years or so has built less than 800 single-family homes.
At the same time, it was about 17 years in between the last market rate apartments and the opening of places like Sterling, Ryder, and other apartments.
What that has done is helped drive up the cost of housing. Davis is, of course, not a bubble—despite how some may act—and so Davis was not alone in having a housing crisis, but Davis definitely did its part to help make that housing crisis more acute.
As a result—Davis was changing even without actually changing much over the last 20 years. Housing vacancies, both rentals and for sale, are difficult to come by.
We have talked a lot about the student housing crisis over the years, the fact that for several years, the vacancy rate in Davis was 0.2%. That had a huge impact on students. An increasing number suffered from housing insecurity.
Despite the fact that the university has built additional housing and the city has opened some apartment complexes in recent years, we still have a scarcity of rental housing as embodied by the fact that in January students reported having to camp outside in frigid temperatures lining up to sign leases for the fall—nine months away.
On the for-sale side, data from the month of May caught my attention. This year there were 39 home sales in Davis for the entire month. The average home was on the market just ten days. The median home price was $900,000.
There are those who acknowledge that we have a housing crisis, but they’ll argue that what we have is an affordability crisis—in that they argue we don’t need more homes for the wealthy.
But these days, $900,000 homes are not homes for the wealthy. They are the median home on the market, and frankly we don’t have enough of even those seemingly expensive homes—we had 18 or 19 total homes on the market in May that were for more than $900,000 and those were snatched up almost immediately.
The market and the state are going to force change. The state is going to compel the community to build more housing. The market is right there as well—that’s why we have five projects lining up for Measure J approvals, and now three projects in the downtown.
I was reading Rich Rifkin’s column in the Enterprise on the downtown infill: “I have already heard complaints that these multistory developments will destroy the ‘small-town’ character of Davis. No doubt our city will look different once they are built. But infusing new residents on foot and bike into the downtown will revitalize a core that needs new life.”
My response is twofold—have you been downtown lately? Downtown has been decimated. It was not in great shape before the pandemic, but it’s become even worse since.
And second, the small town character of Davis has been eviscerated by runaway home prices that have forced out the middle class and families. This community is not the vibrant place it was when I moved here.
There are those who have opposed new housing, fearing that Davis will become a new Elk Grove or Natomas, but in the process they are turning Davis into another Carmel—without the sea.