My View: UC Davis Spikes the Ball on Student Housing

Photo op time – Vice Mayor Josh Chapman (far right) poses with Chancellor May (second from right) and others on Wednesday

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

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.

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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20 Comments

  1. Richard McCann

    Based on this article in Friday’s Davis Enterprise, I don’t see where UCD says its done at 40%. The article identifies two more projects that will add 1,000 beds apiece, and the Solano Park rebuild is predesign so we don’t know how many net beds will be added there.

    https://www.davisenterprise.com/news/uc_davis/ucd-shows-off-orchard-park-development/article_dba5b690-3d73-11ee-9833-b71dec6bb9be.html

    “Six new housing projects, including Orchard Park, would add nearly 2,800 beds to the university campus by 2030.”

    We also found out why Orchard Park is four stories rather than taller. As I noted, the construction costs per unit rise quickly:

    Asked why not make the buildings taller than four stories, Executive Director of Real Estate Services at Design and Construction Management Mark Rutheiser said taller buildings cost much more per square foot and would have resulted in higher rents. “The highest priority for students is to keep the rent as low as possible. The two main contributors to rental rates are financing and construction cost. The financial markets dictate the borrowing cost with little we can do about it, but we can control the construction cost by building efficient and economical structures.”

    Sheehan added: “Honestly, if you were to compare our rent points with across the street, the (seven-story) Identity project, which a lot of people like to do, that price point is way higher than our price point. It’s about 35% higher.”

     

     

  2. Eileen Samitz

    It is disappointing, but not surprising those the Vanguard running interference for UCD yet again.

    “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.”

    It is astonishing that the Vanguard continues to push for higher density housing in the City, yet it would not do the same for UCD on-campus. That’s a double-standard.
     Further, if the Vanguard’s double standard isn’t bad enough, then to distort the narrative of “others” is even worse. An entire Op-ed explained UCD’s long history of negligence to build enough housing on-campus for its accelerated growth, and that UCD needs to build at least 50% on-campus housing, and at higher densities like the other UCs.  
    https://www.davisvanguard.org/2023/08/guest-commentary-solano-park-ucds-opportunity-to-start-building-higher-density-student-housing/
    But instead of encouraging UCD to build more on-campus housing, which would free up housing for our workers and families, the Vanguard tries to excuse UCD out of doing responsible planning for providing more needed housing on-campus for their students? Unbelievable…
    If the Vanguard really cares about the need for student housing , you should be urging UCD to build at least 7-stories starting with Solano Park.
    It is inexcusable that Orchard Park was not built with at least 7-stories and UCD can and need to do better. UCD has been under-performing in the planning and production of on-campus student housing compared to the other UCs, particularly given the fact that UCD is the largest UC with over 5,300 acres and a 900-acre core campus.

    1. David Greenwald

      “It is astonishing that the Vanguard continues to push for higher density housing in the City, yet it would not do the same for UCD on-campus. That’s a double-standard.”

      I don’t think that’s a fair characterization of my position on density.

      In addition, I have stated that the university has to build more housing. So I’m not sure how you arrive at your conclusion ” instead of encouraging UCD to build more on-campus housing, which would free up housing for our workers and families, the Vanguard tries to excuse UCD out of doing responsible planning for providing more needed housing on-campus for their students” when I specially said that the university has to do more? I said it today and a few weeks ago.

      1. Eileen Samitz

        David,

        You are excusing UCD for building low-density student housing, rather than higher density student housing like the other UCs are doing. Meanwhile, you advocate for higher-density housing in the City. So, you are using a double standard that the City needs to build high densities, yet it is ok for UCD to continue under-performing compared to the other UCs (and the City), by continuing to build low-density student housing.

        “Here’s the thing, I’m not one of those who is likely going to lament that Orchard was not seven stories.”

        So, UCD is creating, and perpetuating the student housing shortage, and your solution is that the City needs to fix this? Astonishing…

        You can try to ignore it as much as you want, but the reality is that UCD is pushing more than 60% of its students off campus, which is creating a housing shortage for our workers and families.

        1. David Greenwald

          They can build the housing as they like so long as they build a sufficient amount of it.

          I’ve not argued for higher density housing in the city – I’ve argued for more housing in the city.

  3. Ron Oertel

    So if the claim is that adding stories increases the cost of housing, it sounds like the city should start reducing the number of stories it allows in places like downtown.

    1. Ron Oertel

      And in fact, Scott Wiener’s entire premise is way off-base, as well.

      He (and the rest of the corporate YIMBYs) should be preserving housing that’s only 1 or 2 stories tall, to keep it “affordable”.

      The most “affordable” housing of all is probably that which isn’t torn down.

      1. David Greenwald

        You’re taking a statement, considering it unidimensionally, and then extrapolating it everywhere.

        I also think your comment is not accurate – my understand is that from a construction basis, four stories (not one or two) is cheapest because of materials and elevator requirements, but that’s of course not the only factor in housing costs.

        I also believe that once they get above eight stories, the cost of each additional story, starts to decline again. I’ll have to look it up later.

        1. Ron Oertel

          four stories (not one or two) is cheapest because of materials and elevator requirements, but that’s of course not the only factor in housing costs.

          Four-story buildings don’t have elevator requirements?

          In any case, it sounds like they need to lop-off 3 stories from Davis Live (“Identity”) and drop them off on campus.  That way, it will leave a 4-story building in place, while providing a 3-story building for the campus.  A “win-win”, if you will.  🙂

          Oh, and definitely lop-off entire floors from the massive apartment buildings planned for downtown.

          Are there any calculations which show how much “cheaper” (per unit) it would be if the planned downtown apartments lopped-off a couple of floors?

          But as you noted the other day, the state is providing some money for housing that’s on-campus, so that (along with their refusal to count megadorms in the city toward RHNA targets) tells you all you need to know about where the state thinks student housing belongs.

          In Berkeley, some are attempting to prevent the university from building student housing on their OWN LAND (in the form of “People’s Park”).

          While in Davis, the growth activists are attempting to discourage on-campus housing.

          1. David Greenwald

            Given that you are not likely to do sufficient research and attempt to distort anything I say, there’s no upside to me continuing this discussion with you.

        2. Ron Oertel

          I have yet to see you do any “research” regarding anything you claim.

          But in this case, Todd (below) has the right idea regarding the implied claim:

          The comparison to Identity Davis is disengenuous; it should be to a twice-as-high version of itself… with analysis by a third party. So I am really curious about the real, objective math.

          As the owner of this blog, when can we expect you to look into this?

          And again, if the claim is that taller buildings are more-expensive per square foot, why are there incentives such as “density incentives” offered within cities as a “reward” to developers – provided that it includes Affordable housing?

          In other words, why is the “density” the “reward” for developers, if it supposedly costs them more?  (Without even considering the cost of the Affordable housing component?)

          That sounds like a “double-whammy” (in cost) for developers, according to the argument that you’ve latched onto (without doing any research whatsoever).

          Based upon the arguments presented on here, one would expect a “builder’s remedy” to never exceed 4 floors.

           

  4. Eileen Samitz

    Richard,

    UCD’s response is nonsense.

    First of all, UCD made a point of mentioning the great financing they got to build Orchard Park. Well then, they need to repeat that and they should be build to build higher densities than a mere 4-stories.

    Second, developers are building high density housing because of economies of scale. That is common knowledge. Why do you think the high-density projects are being proposed in downtown Davis? Why do you think the other UCs are building these higher-density student housing projects like UC Irvine and UC San Diego? The financial return is multiplied but by the increased number of units.

    Third, I also explained in the Op-ed (which I posted the link for in my previous post) that while private developers building higher density projects like the 7-story “Identity” on Russell Blvd. (across from the paltry 4-story Orchard Park project on-campus) these private developers had to pay hefty city development fees, have to pay property taxes, and had to purchase the land in the city which as expensive.

    However, UCD has none of these expenses. And, while Gov. has allocated $1.4 billion for California university student housing, UCD has not applied for any of it so far.

    1. David Greenwald

      Eileen – as an aside you should copy and paste your comments into notepad before posting them, it will eliminate the coding that gets posted along with them.

  5. Todd Edelman

    Regarding the four stories thing, the Enterprise should have investigated an external source for analysis. All things being equal, twice as high would bring in twice as much rent, right? The comparison to Identity Davis is ingenuous; it should be to a twice-as-high version of itself… with analysis by a third party. So I am really curious about the real, objective math.

    I am familiar with basics of the construction complication and cost issue when going high, BUT I know that it’s partly about the opportunity to leave expensive, space-sucking elevators out of the mix, and keep things ADA-compliant with accessible housing on the ground floor. (Does this leave out people with mobility issues would want to visit people on higher floors? There are walking stair climber things, but I am not engaged with any discussions on this for new builds.) It sucks for delivery and moving large objects in and out, but there is tech to solve that, from hoists to dumbwaiter-like things and even to large temporary external lift crane things I’ve seen used in Berlin. Nearly everyone can use stairs; perhaps alternatives to elevators for others can comply with the basic reasonable-accommodation foundation of ADA.

    Certainly Orchard Park is not wasting space with parking as is West Village, spreading out to the horizon, doubling walking distance and more, and facilitating use of motor vehicles.

    1. Mark West

      “opportunity to leave expensive, space-sucking elevators out of the mix”

      It is not just the elevator. There is also the required 8′ wide hallway running the length of the building on every floor to allow access from the elevator to the individual apartments. That is space that could have been rentable living space without the elevator and is now, non-rentable access space. That means greater costs of construction and less revenue per floor, which leads to higher rents to make up the difference.

    2. Eileen Samitz

      Todd,

      Sorry to disappoint you but Orchard Park has not just one, but two parking lots. UCD used some of the land reserved for faculty and staff housing in West Village for additional parking for Orchard Park.

      “Parking will be offered in two surface parking lots — one lot adjacent to the residential buildings and one lot over a bike/ped bridge immediately to the west — as well as on-street parking.”

      So, between Orchard Park using 19 acres with eleven buildings, only 4-stories high, to produce only 1,500 beds is a good example of on-campus sprawl. UCD needs to build higher density student housing rather than continue to squander the land they have to produce more on-campus housing. Solano Park is UCD’s opportunity to get it right this time. Apparently, there is still a shortage of student housing so UCD can, and needs to build a minimum of 7-story student housing on Solano Park.

  6. Eileen Samitz

    Regarding elevators, just check Google on this:

    How many floors require an elevator in California?

    Generally, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) law calls for an elevator to be installed if your building has three or more stories, or if the building exceeds 3,000 sq. ft/ (April 21, 2023)

    So, buildings which are only 4-stories are actually more expensive to build relative to building higher density buildings per floor. To begin with, you have to put in an elevator anyway, and using “podium” design construction like the “Identity” project used is far less expensive than steel or concrete construction. Economies of scale also help to reduce the cost of additional floors to subsidize the cost of the lower floors which are more expensive to build. Then, the additional housing units bring in much more revenue for the higher-density residential as well.

     

    1. Tim Keller

      I think the answer is right there in that word Eileen used:  “Podium”.    I don’t think its the elevators as others have opined.

      You can only build a wooden structure so high.    Building with 2×4’s is cheaper than building with concrete or steel…. so if you want to hit 7 stories, you need a concrete podium on the ground floors and then can build the rest of the way up with wood.   I have seen pictures of residential high-rises being built with many stories below in concrete and the top 4 stories being timberframe…

      My guess is that these buildings were built as high as they could be WITHOUT having to incur the additional expense of a concrete podium, which would indeed have driven costs up on a dollars per square foot basis.

      Ironically, it is likely the LACK of a high land cost for the university that led them to make that decision…   it is cheaper to build less expensive per square foot structures on more land… IF you have the land.    When the land costs are higher ( AND when you can charge more). then it makes sense to invest in that concrete podium structure and add on the extra stories.

      For us, how well the UC manages its land use (and how tall they build) matters less than whether or not they hit their agreed targets.

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