Guest Commentary: Annexation Proposals Are Hastening Climate and Affordability Crisis

by David J. Thompson

This piece is a slightly longer piece based upon remarks to the Social Services Commission on Monday, August 21, 2023.

Since 1983 in a professional role, I have helped gain approval of and the building of over 500 units of affordable housing in Davis.

With the Social Services Commission now reviewing the two annexation proposals I wish to remark not on the specifics of the rubric you have been asked to review but on the overall status of key elements of affordable housing in Davis.

Here are some key facts the commissioners should consider;

    • The Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) of the Sacramento Area of Governments (SACOG) directed the City of Davis to show where 530 Very Low Income (VLI) and 350 Low Income (LI) units could be built within the city.

 

  • To get those 930 VLI and LI affordable units (@ 15% of market rate units requires building 6.200 new market rate apartments within the City of Davis. Can anyone see 6,200 market rate apartment units being built in Davis over this RHNA cycle? I do not.

 

  • VLI units can only reach affordability with the deep subsidy projects get from competing in the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee (TCAC). Statistically, you can only win a subsidy for VLI units if you have a free site of two acres on which you build at least 50 plus VLI and LI units. How many free sites of at least two acres are there in Davis? Certainly not enough (about 23 free sites of two acre needed) to build 930 VLI and LI units.

 

 

  • When David Taormino asked me to do the affordable housing for Bretton Woods I said I would if he doubled the land required for affordable housing. Taormino donated land for 150 VLI and LI apartments instead of the required 68. I and Delta Senior Housing Communities (DSHC) are no longer doing the affordable housing at Bretton Woods but that one act had great impact on gaining voter support and approval. 150 VLI and LI units are being built there.
  • In the proposed Village Farms development of 378 acres about 2% of the land is reserved for affordable housing.
  • However, also in the Village Farms proposal there are 149 acres set aside for parks.

 

  • So 39% of the land for parks and 2% of the land for poor people. Given the differences in the percentages of land use you’d think we had a park crisis rather than an affordable housing crisis.

 

  • Another few acres of park transferred to affordable housing would substantially address the affordable housing crisis in Davis.
  • There is an even greater problem in terms of the VLI, LI and Moderate (MOD) income people in Davis who are already rent impacted. For over 30 years Davis has had a very low vacancy rate which means that most renters in Davis overpay the HUD 30% guidelines. The small number of market rate rental units in either of the two proposals ensures that for another ten years the 35,000+ renters in Davis will continue to have no savings by living here while over-paying on the rent.  That’s a whopping hit on the monthly budget of the working families and students living in rental housing.
  • If these two proposals are approved by the city then overpayment is guaranteed and enshrined by the action of the City of Davis.

However, Davis is in the same boat as most cities in California. We are not generally to blame for this situation which is statewide and somewhat nationwide. There are many reasons why housing costs and affordability are out of control. And most of those are caused by economic actors not under our control.

Yet a few actions are under the city’s control and that is where we can make a difference.

The City of Davis is pressured to meet the RHNA goals on paper but the reality is that while we may be able to meet the task of identifying land to meet those numbers, in reality we are not going to build that number of units.

The two proposed projects by their content continue the old forms of development of car-centric single family homes with less land set aside for affordable housing than any proposal ever brought forward for a city vote.

There is a Climate Crisis and an Affordable Housing Crisis that are hastened by and completely ignored by the two proposals. Without substantial changes in these two proposals they should not be put forward by the City of Davis for a citizen vote.

David J. Thompson- These are my own individual thoughts and not representative of the Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation or Neighborhood Partners, LLC.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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11 Comments

  1. Tim Keller

    I echo David’s sentiment that these two proposals largely ignore our climate crisis AND our housing affordability crisis.

    Without substantial changes in these two proposals they should not be put forward by the City of Davis for a citizen vote.

    Perhaps a step between acceptance and a no-vote at the council level, could be making sure that alternatives are included at the EIR process.

    if this proceeds as the norm, we are going to get EIR’s that just show impacts of the project, but not the impacts of the alternatives.   In this case, not building anything DOES have a real world impact in terms of more ppl coming down pole-line from spring lake, which is arguably worse.

    but there is also the important consideration of what these projects would like like if developed in a way more in-line with modern sustainable city design, including higher density and integrated transit planning.

    I think the city needs to formally take a look at the alternatives, because we already know that car-served suburbia is a “failed” experiment.   Continuing to build that way without even considering alternatives would be foolish.

  2. David Thompson

    Tim raises a valuable point.

    Adding an alternative model for the EIR would allow for approval of one or the other options so we still get housing rather than none at all.

    But then of course we still have to decide who gets to determine what goes in to Model B.

    I think the City Council could play that role by setting some basic goals it wants from parcels put forward for annexation.

    Or there could be a Citizens Commission which draws up what citizens want from annexations.

    WE definitely need other planning options than the norm.

     

     

     

    1. Tim Keller

      I suspect that the EIR process is fairly formulaic… its something done in spreadsheets based on a variety of variables that you put into an excel model.  Right?   (If someone more knowledgable about these things can confirm or correct me, please do)

      Assuming that is the case, then we really don’t need a detailed general plan update in order to create a scenario that can be used for comparison, we really only need a “pretty good” set of alternative assumptions to feed into that model.

      If we can come up with just one scenario with enough detail to feed into that model, it would be quite useful for understanding our options.

  3. Ron Oertel

     

    To get those 930 VLI and LI affordable units (@ 15% of market rate units requires building 6.200 new market rate apartments within the City of Davis. Can anyone see 6,200 market rate apartment units being built in Davis over this RHNA cycle? I do not.

    I do not, and what’s more – I hope not.  (But does HCD differentiate between “rental” vs. “ownership” housing?)

     

    VLI units can only reach affordability with the deep subsidy projects get from competing in the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee (TCAC).

    The fact that they’re “competing” means that if the subsidy is not pursued for Davis, it would be pursued somewhere else in California.  Possibly in a city that has a greater “need”.

    By pursuing a subsidy for Davis, you and others are “taking it away” from another community.  This isn’t even an “opinion” – it’s a simple fact.

     

    So 39% of the land for parks and 2% of the land for poor people. Given the differences in the percentages of land use you’d think we had a park crisis rather than an affordable housing crisis.

    “Great” idea (says I, sarcastically).  Make it dense and ALSO lacking in sufficient park space.  The latter of which I believe is dictated by law.

    For over 30 years Davis has had a very low vacancy rate which means that most renters in Davis overpay the HUD 30% guidelines.

    It does NOT mean that.  However, with the large number of students, it’s probably true regardless.

    The small number of market rate rental units in either of the two proposals ensures that for another ten years the 35,000+ renters in Davis will continue to have no savings by living here while over-paying on the rent.

    Again, it does not mean that.  But again, rent control, baby.

    That’s a whopping hit on the monthly budget of the working families and students living in rental housing.

    There are no “working families” in Davis – there aren’t even jobs (says I, with slight exaggeration).  But again, rent control, baby.

    And from what I understand, students generally don’t qualify for Affordable (government-subsidized) housing.

    Sprawl is sprawl, whether it’s for “rich” people or “poor” people.  And it all contributes to climate change.

    The absolute worst outcome is when an Affordable housing developer “teams up” with a market-rate developer to pursue sprawl.

     

    1. Ron Oertel

      Note:  I did not correct/differentiate the quotations from the article, vs. my response.  I did not see this error until it was submitted, and there is no longer an editing period to make corrections.

        1. Walter Shwe

          You haven’t addressed the ability of landlords removing existing units from the market for as long as they desire. That’s what is occurring in New York City. This ends up punishing renters searching for available units. Rent control is no panacea in the long run as this article points out. It’s basically only a short term bandaid. According to elementary economics, supply must be increased to satisfy demand. Economists from across the political spectrum will tell you this. Once supply catches up to demand, the cycle will begin anew.

        2. Ron Oertel

          You haven’t addressed the ability of landlords removing existing units from the market for as long as they desire. That’s what is occurring in New York City.

          You’re just now bringing this up, so why would I have “addressed it” – assuming that it’s occurring?

          In San Francisco, I recall that owners can move into a unit themselves (e.g., if they’re not a corporation), if they stay there for a period of time.

          I recall other situations where owners “buy out” tenants, to get them to leave.  A “win-win”, I guess.

          But overall, this is one of the benefits of ownership – rent control or not.

          I do know someone who has benefited from rent control for decades.  Since you’re interested in this topic, how about if you research how many tenants have been able to take advantage of this, long term?  You’ve got several cities that you can choose from.

          This ends up punishing renters searching for available units.

          Coming full circle, those are usually referred to as “non-residents”.

          Rent control is no panacea in the long run as this article points out. It’s basically only a short term bandaid.

          I never said it was a “panacea”, and I’m not necessarily an advocate for tenants remaining in a city that’s become too expensive for them (which is almost always due to the pursuit of “economic development”).  But it is absolutely NOT a short-term bandaid.  Again, there’s plenty of tenants who have benefited from this for years/decades.

          If this was actually just a short-term “bandaid” as you put it, all rental units to which it applies would “disappear” within a period of time.  And clearly, that hasn’t happened.

          According to elementary economics, supply must be increased to satisfy demand. Economists from across the political spectrum will tell you this.

          The article I posted (backed-up by a USC study) states otherwise.

  4. Ron Oertel

    And if one is going to tie-together housing (Affordable, or otherwise) with climate change, one might want to encourage folks who live in cooler, coastal climates to stay where they are, rather than purposefully encouraging them to relocate to the valley:

    Californians are moving inland for cheaper housing, and finding extreme heat that’s getting worse

    https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/realestate/californians-are-moving-inland-for-cheaper-housing-and-finding-extreme-heat-that-s-getting-worse/ar-AA1fMpLE?ocid=hpmsn&cvid=3f7854d2bb4d4a5b8d12311669cfd7ef&ei=9

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