By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – This week, UC Davis had a formal ceremony to celebrate the opening of its new Orchard Park neighborhood with 1,500 beds in apartments.
UC Davis Chancellor Gary S. May said access to affordable student housing was a key concern he heard raised when he came to UC Davis in 2017. “We’ve worked diligently to address this issue,” he added, citing the university’s commitment to build even more housing for students as part of the memorandum of understanding signed five years ago.
“Today marks a milestone, not just for student housing at UC Davis, but another major step in the strong town-gown relationship,” May said at the ceremony on Wednesday.
“The City wants to congratulate UC Davis on the grand opening of Orchard Park,” said city of Davis Vice Mayor Josh Chapman. “This is a great example of our joint collaboration and commitment to meet the housing needs of our students, and exceeds the milestone set in the 2018 MOU to provide 15,000 student beds on campus.”
Here’s the thing, I’m not one of those who is likely going to lament that Orchard was not seven stories. I also disagree with those—strongly—who argue that new housing should be exclusively on the UC Davis campus and that the city of Davis has no obligation to student housing.
In fact, I would be concerned with any plan that called for a 30,000 person or so mini-city on the UC Davis campus that is separate and distinct from the city of Davis.
I also think we should applaud UC Davis for going from 28 percent of students housed on campus to 40 percent during the current LRDP.
But at the same time, I argued a few weeks ago —UC Davis can and should do more for student housing.
Said Chancellor May, “With the completion of Orchard Park, we’ve reached the milestone outlined in our agreement with the city of Davis and Yolo County to have 15,000 beds by fall of 2023.”
He added that “due to our focus on housing, nearly 40% of enrolled students based in Davis now have access to campus housing.”
But it feels like the goal posts have been moved a bit.
Back in 2017, many in the community were asking for 50 percent of all student housing on campus. The university was pushed and went beyond their original promise, but still ended up at what we calculated to be about 48 percent of students on campus.
But here we are spiking ball at 40 percent.
Does it matter?
On February 1 of this year, the Vanguard reported that students were camping outside of Almond Wood Apartments in 30-degree temperatures waiting for housing.
“Last Tuesday night at my apartment complex, I saw about 30 to 40 students, mostly first year students with blankets, sleeping bags and tents sitting in front of our complex office waiting for the office to open the next morning in order to secure a lease for the next academic year,” a fourth-year student told the council.
He continued, “They were sleeping there or some didn’t even sleep since about 6:00 PM the night before.”
He explained, “Some of them I recognized as friends and offered them food, a bathroom, as well as my apartment to sleep in the night, but they chose not to and decided to wait it out the entire night. And so when the office finally opened the next morning, many of them sadly could not sign a lease for the next year. Only about half, maybe even less are able to get a unit. So the fact that we have to turn to these sorts of measures and not even succeed in getting housing is appalling.”
Students have long had to find student housing in January for the next September. Which not only places a huge burden on returning students, but means that first-year students just three months into being on campus need to find housing almost immediately.
Councilmember Gloria Partida was surprised by the students’ accounts.
She told the Vanguard, “It’s disappointing to hear that students are still unable to readily find housing. It highlights the depth of the issue and how far behind we are. It also means that if students can’t find housing nether can young families with children.”
Clearly, even with additional on-campus housing options, there is simply an insufficient supply of student housing in the Davis area.
Moreover, as we reported earlier this summer, UC Davis is subcontracting the management of this on-campus housing to private companies who are not treating the students well.
In June, the Vanguard reported a warrant was issued for the West Village LLC Management Company for failing to show up at a small claims court hearing.
The Vanguard was first contacted in late January by Jacob Derin, a law student, and former writer with the Vanguard at UC Davis student publication.
“For some months now I’ve been involved in a legal dispute with Sol At West Village,” he explained. “West Village initially signed a lease with me for a private room, then told me that if I wanted that room I’d have to sign an amendment doubling my rent.”
Eventually, Derin continued, “I was forced to do this.”
He complained, “They also changed my move in date to two weeks later despite me informing them that this would leave me with nowhere to live.”
The Vanguard learned of numerous complaints about the management of West Village.
Andy Fell, from UC Davis News and Media Relations, told the Vanguard, “Landmark Properties is a private landlord with a ground lease on West Village. Under the terms of the ground lease, the landlord is required to lease housing to UC Davis students, and to maintain the property in first-class condition. “
He was unaware of the small claims judgment and associated bench warrant, and declined comment.
However, he said, “We are aware in general of complaints and issues raised by residents and we are considering our options on addressing these under the terms of the ground lease with Landmark.”
But has anything changed?
So yes, we applaud the university for improving on the abysmal 28 percent on-campus housing, but the mission is not accomplished here. Too many students are struggling to find housing and, when they do find housing, many are grappling with problems that you would not expect in on-campus housing.
The university needs to do more and the council needs to continue to use their leverage to push the university further.