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Davis

Davis, California

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Guest opinion: Sue Greenwald

This upcoming Tuesday, the Davis City Council will be deciding the fate of the Pacifico student housing project on Drew Circle. The project is currently part of the City of Davis affordable housing program, and is the city’s only affordable housing project that was built with the intention of serving low-income students. Out of 1,550 units in our affordable housing program, only 450 of them allow all-student households. That includes Pacifico, whose future is being decided next week.

The future of Pacifico is in the air because Pacifico is in foreclosure and the city is looking for an entity to purchase the project and to operate it under our affordable housing program. We are considering two proposals: One from EAH and one from Yolo Housing. EAH has committed to maintaining all four buildings in the project as affordable student housing (along with an ancillary program for transitioning foster youths, which both applicants support). Yolo Housing is, in their words, planning the “rehabilitation of the property to include different tenant types.”

What is special about EAH is that they would create a dedicated non-profit organization with a mission of serving students, allowing them to focus the housing on students, unlike typical housing options in Davis that are unable to limit housing to students due to fair housing laws. While Yolo Housing could market the housing under its proposal towards students, they are legally unable to restrict it to students.

So, while EAH proposes to maintain all four buildings for low-income students permanently and to guarantee this with a student-housing covenant, Yolo Housing has said that, while they intend to use two of the buildings for affordable student housing, the tenant selection of the other two buildings will depend on the funding source. They expressed a desire for “flexibility,” and cannot provide a student-housing covenant for the project.

At our Sept. 21 council meeting, we heard both proposals and discussed them. Both of the applicants would put the housing to good use, and I have confidence that both would operate the project effectively. But while there are many aspects of the applications to consider, I expressed support for the EAH proposal based on the fact that Pacifico is one of a minority of City of Davis affordable housing developments that even allow low-income student households, and that EAH is able to guarantee that the project remains dedicated to housing low-income students.

This month the university announced that the number of low-income undergraduates systemwide who receive Pell grants rose from 31 to 38 percent. According to the UC Office of the President, Pell Grants (are) typically awarded to those with family incomes under $50,000. The Office of the President explained that “39 percent of admitted freshmen represent the first generation of their families to attend college.” The need for low-income student housing is large, and it is increasing.

Yet, again, federal and state funding sources within the City of Davis affordable housing program only allow all-student households to reside in 450 of our 1,550 units, and Pacifico is among our few projects focused on serving low-income students.

Both proposals are coming back to the City Council this Tuesday. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers. The proposals by the applicants for the Pacifico project could change, and I am obligated to keep an open mind until I hear the final proposals from the applicants and until I hear testimony from the public. But as I said at the Sept. 21 meeting, I will weigh heavily the willingness and ability to place a student covenant on the project. This is very important to me because most low-income students are excluded from so many of our affordable housing units.

SUE GREENWALD is a Davis City Councilmember and former Mayor.

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