Guest Commentary: Comments on Davis’ Obligation to Zone for Housing

Ryder Apartments

By David Taormino

Based on various reader comments there is a serious misunderstanding about Davis’ Regional Housing Needs Analysis (RHNA) obligations. Davis’ obligation is to zone/build housing for non-students. Student apartments/housing whether on campus or within the City limits does not apply to the City’s RHNA requirements. Student housing needs are not considered by SACOG when it determines Davis or any other City’s housing obligations. If SACOG were to consider students the amount of RHNA obligated Davis housing would be two or three times what is now required. In other words, Davis or UCD can build all the student apartments they want and none of those apartments/units apply to meeting Davis RHNA obligation. Zero!

While Davis has for decades claimed credit for student apartment complexes, until recently HCD “looked the other way”: no longer will HCD do so. However, Davis continues to mislabel and mischaracterize student apartments as non-students. Old habits die hard.

All of the proposed downtown, multi-story apartments are for students, no matter what the City may try to claim. There is literally no demand in Davis for market rate, larger non-student apartment complexes. The City “claims” that non students will occupy these units. Really! Try and restrict the number of student renters allowed to rent in these complexes and see what happens to those proposals. According to our research, the most recent example of the absurdity of the City’s claim is the new Celeste apartment complex in South Davis, which is nearly fully leased with 82% of the tenants being UCD students. That is just the opposite of what the City claimed in its approval process. My prediction is that in the 2024 leasing cycle those apartments will be nearly 100% students, which is consistent with historical Davis trends. Once student occupants dominate a complex, any non-students eventually move out and these units are then leased to students. Notwithstanding reality, the City is telling HCD it wants 100% credit for all the Celeste units towards RHNA even though only 18% of the units are currently leased to non-students. Does that seem logical to you and your readers?

One of the unanswered questions likely being considered by HCD and Legal Services of Northern California is what % of student-dominated apartments, if any, should Davis receive towards RHNA? I believe the realistic answer is zero percent based on the history of apartment complexes in Davis that essentially serve students and their college lifestyle. That lifestyle is generally no longer attractive to working adults and families.

The three proposed downtown multi-story projects are perfectly located and designed for students. As a result these units will undoubtedly be occupied by students, especially the Hibberts complex which offers no parking spaces. Having more students living downtown is good for businesses and the City, but it does not meet Davis’ RHNA obligations. So where then will Davis in reality meet its housing mandate for 2021-2029? My conclusion: The simple fact is it cannot meet its RHNA obligation. I predict at best it can only achieve 1/3. So then what should HCD and Legal Services do?

Frankly, the City’s position is “smoke and mirrors” to give an illusion that it will meet its RHNA obligation, but in reality only a mirage. It is a virtual impossibility for Davis to either zone or build 2,085 RHNA creditable units in the period of 2021-2029. The sooner the City accepts that reality, the sooner it can act responsibly to abide by the State law. The real answer may be as simple as a formal statement to HCD that the City cannot voluntarily meet its RHNA obligation and ask HCD for help.

According to HCD in its recent correspondence to the City, any rezoning by Davis must meet the following to receive credit towards RHNA: (The City to provide)

An inventory of land suitable and available for residential development, including vacant sites and sites having realistic and demonstrated potential for redevelopment during the planning period to meet the locality’s housing need for a designated income level.” (emphasis mine)

HCD does not define what “available for residential development” actually means. For example, available reasonably implies willingness to proceed forward which is different than simply there or existing. Available to me means interested in proceeding forward or taking action towards doing or pursuing something. Not many of the sites the City intends to rezone meet that criteria.

The 3 downtown projects are “available,” but do not have a “realistic and demonstrated potential” to be non-student housing; just the opposite. The biggest losers in Davis’ housing charade are those individuals who need affordable units. The City’s obligation amounts to roughly 50% of its overall RHNA number of 2,085 units. There are only a handful of potential sites that meet HCD’s criteria; nowhere near enough to meet the 2021-2029 requirement of 2,085 units, and almost none for affordable units. In reality, Davis will likely provide less than 1/3 of its entire RHNA obligations in the period 2021-2029, and part of that will be by counting units already approved, even some 13 years ago that haven’t been built. While Davis has been creative in housing avoidance, its approach is morally wrong and legally suspect. It reflects poorly on every Davis resident that we are so selfish as a community that we will not obey laws that apply uniformly to other cities. And as a result, the Davis community unfairly burdens nearby cities to provide Davis’ fair share of housing in general and affordable housing in particular.

What then is the solution? HCD, the State’s watch dog agency, needs to step in and take over the housing review process until Davis demonstrates a realistic and demonstrated potential for properly meeting its legal RHNA obligations.

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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19 Comments

  1. Walter Shwe

    What really needs to happen in California is for 1 or 2 slow/zero growth city ordinances to be declared in direct violation of state law and immediately eliminated. Once 1 or 2 fall, the rest can be taken out through easily winnable lawsuits by developers and YIMBY groups. NIMBYs will have to fight it out with the State Legislature and Governor. Good luck with that.

    Here is yet another article that correctly diagnoses and offers practical solutions to the very pressing issue of American housing unaffordability.

    America, take note: New Zealand has figured out a simple way to bring down home prices

    https://www.businessinsider.com/america-lower-rents-home-prices-build-more-houses-new-zealand-2023-8

     

    “There’s an enormous amount of economics literature going back decades that shows us that places that have restrictive zoning build less housing over time, and that making zoning more restrictive reduces supply and increases prices,” Jenny Schuetz, an expert on urban economics and housing policy at the Brookings Institute, told me. “There’s essentially a unanimous consensus among economists and policy analysts that this is the direction we have to go.”

    1. Walter Shwe

      It’s my belief that NIMBY opposition to all new development is one of the leading causes of inflation. NIMBYs drive up the costs of housing, goods and services in this country. California’s own Katie Porter has demonstrated in Congressional hearings that the leading cause of inflation in recent years has been corporate greed. I believe that NIMBYs aren’t far behind corporate greed with regards to inflation.

  2. Ron Oertel

    All of the proposed downtown, multi-story apartments are for students, no matter what the City may try to claim. There is literally no demand in Davis for market rate, larger non-student apartment complexes. The City “claims” that non students will occupy these units. Really! Try and restrict the number of student renters allowed to rent in these complexes and see what happens to those proposals.

    Interesting, in that the logical “solution” here is to never again approve another apartment building in the city, and perhaps rezone the sites of existing apartment complexes to accommodate RHNA targets.  (With an ultimate “goal” of having those existing apartments torn down.)

    Of course, one of the downtown proposals which consists of a “builder’s remedy” – which itself would need to include an Affordable component.  The author is apparently suggesting that this proposed builder’s remedy doesn’t address RHNA targets.

    I don’t recall the city making any claims regarding “who” would live in any of these apartment buildings, but it seems unlikely that anyone would deny that it would primarily be students.

    Then again, I don’t recall any HCD direction which states that a proposal which is primarily occupied by students does not address RHNA targets.

    1. David Greenwald

      “Interesting, in that the logical “solution” here is to never again approve another apartment building in the city, and perhaps rezone the sites of existing apartment complexes to accommodate RHNA targets. ”

      You call that logical?

      1. Ron Oertel

        That is the logical conclusion of the author.

        He’s stating that no apartment complex in the city (pre-existing, or proposed) can address RHNA targets.

        1. Ron Oertel

          The author is only addressing RHNA targets.

          But yeah, that’s what he’s stating – no apartment complex in the city can address RHNA targets.

          It is true that any approved proposal which does not address RHNA targets means that the parcel is sacrificed for a non-compliant proposal.

          The city was warned about that regarding the megadorm proposals.  They approved them anyway.

           

           

          1. David Greenwald

            My understanding is that apartments in the city count for RHNA UNLESS possibly if they were restricted only to students.

            But I was pushing back on you on this notion that RHNA is the only reason to consider housing which I vehemently disagree with.

        2. Ron Oertel

          My belief is that the city should prioritize its legal responsibilities, and to cease taking actions which compromise the ability to address those responsibilities.
           

           

          1. David Greenwald

            And mine is irrespective of its legal responsibilities, we need to address housing needs.

        3. Walter Shwe

          The city was warned about that regarding the megadorm proposals.

          The new apartments are neither dorms nor mega housing units. If you want to witness actual mega housing developments, visit Los Angeles or New York City. This sentence is just more NIMBY gross exaggeration.

        4. Ron Oertel

          Walter, it’s not “just” megadorms that the author of this article claims don’t meet RHNA mandates.

          It’s ALL apartment buildings, though he primarily mentions the downtown proposals – which include a “builder’s remedy” proposal.

           

  3. Richard McCann

    Student housing needs are not considered by SACOG when it determines Davis or any other City’s housing obligations. 

    First, I can’t see how SACOG or HCD can identify “student housing” except in cases where UCD has a master lease. There is no feasible and legal way to distinguish the “student housing” market from the general housing market.

    Second, approximately half of the student rentals are of single family and duplex houses. Building apartments attracts students to move out of those houses, freeing them up for non student households. There is significant fungibility among housing market segments–The Cannery demonstrates this with its mix of household types.

  4. Richard McCann

    (Finishing my thought) This article is lacking cites to documentation that supports its assertions so that we examine them and determine if the conclusions being drawn are correct.

  5. Tim Keller

    There is literally no demand in Davis for market rate, larger non-student apartment complexes.

    While I understand the point you are trying to make Davis, this comment is a significant over-statement.

    There are LOTS of non-student renters in apartment complexes, even many with children.  Its just that they are a bad fit for that housing…

    I think it is fair to say this instead:

    1) So long as there is an under-supply of housing targeted to students, then students will dominate all apartment complexes, effectively making them “student housing”

    2) Many adult renters especially those with children do not want to be living in multip-family houisng next door to students who have a very different time schedules and “noise profiles”.

    I personally lived through this, and I know other parents who are currently experiencing this.   It wasn’t fun telling my downstairs neighbors to clear out their party at 1AM because they kept waking up my 6 month old child.

    The good news is that our lack of student housing isn’t an un-solvable problem.   There is a limit on the number of UCD students that exist in the world, and we CAN “build out” of the problem.

    But your point that we might get little credit for building everything short of that saturation point is a valid one.   To me it only strengthens the argument for producing not only more apartments to solve the student housing gap as well as more townhomes, condos and other more affordable forms of housing that are less likely to be dominated by students and more oriented towards mid-career adults with families.

    The paradigm we currently have, where everything is either single family housing or student housing needs to change.  There is not enough choice in size, form and pricepoint.

  6. Ron Oertel

    The good news is that our lack of student housing isn’t an un-solvable problem.   There is a limit on the number of UCD students that exist in the world, and we CAN “build out” of the problem.

    The state literally does not consider the city to be responsible to house UCD students.

    The funding provided by the state to UC campuses specifically for student housing indicates that they consider the UC system itself to be responsible to house its students.

  7. Ron Oertel

    One of the unanswered questions likely being considered by HCD and Legal Services of Northern California is what % of student-dominated apartments, if any, should Davis receive towards RHNA? 
    What then is the solution? HCD, the State’s watch dog agency, needs to step in and take over the housing review process until Davis demonstrates a realistic and demonstrated potential for properly meeting its legal RHNA obligations.

    So according to this author, Legal Services and/or HCD might view approval of the downtown apartments as a “constraint” in regard to the ability of the city to address its RHNA targets.

  8. David Thompson

    This piece points out that the City of Davis cannnot in good faith identify sites to accomodate the 930 units of Very Low Income and Low Income needed. I completely agree.

    Even if the City found a way to identify land to meet those goals we all should know that the stark reality is that for various reasons only a few of those sites will actually be developed. The end result will be that the City of Davis will not see those VLI and LI units built.

    It pains me to know that by in not meeting those goals and not building those units Davis will technically be compliant but morally deficient.

    The RHNA numbers for VLI and LI are done to ensure that the City of Davis produces housing in our city for the lowest incomes families who also generally are much more likely to be racial minorities.

    Should we not be having a discussion about the reality of not meeting those goals under any circumstance.

     

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