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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Guest Opinion: The View from Orchard Park: On the Coming Demolition

Before they announced that our homes would be demolished, before they started posting increasingly frequent notices on my door reminding me to leave, before my neighbors emptied out their apartments one by one, the University was already attacking Orchard Park. Over the last few years, the UC has raised the rent year after year after year. Housing needs to cost no more than 25 percent of residents’ monthly income in order to be considered “affordable,” and today, an Orchard Park apartment costs around 60 percent of a TA’s monthly income. A community is considered to have an affordable housing crisis when rent consumes more than 30 percent of a resident’s income. But rather than solving the crisis, the UC plans to worsen it by evicting residents from Orchard and Solano Parks.

When the UC first officially announced that Orchard and Solano would be demolished, their announcement hinted at the nature of the proposed changes to graduate student housing when they recommended that Parks residents should “take out loans” to pay for their future housing. We discovered that at a City Council meeting, the University had shown plans for “high-density housing, shopping, and entertainment.” The plans for this development (a P3, or Public Private Partnership) on the site of Solano Park had been presented to the City of Davis before the UC thought to tell current residents the plan.

The University has now shown a series of plans for their “replacements” for Orchard Park. They held two town halls with the residents this past Winter Quarter. Those of us there found the town halls were designed more like a one-way communication than a dialogue with the community. In fact, the University planners and Graduate Dean Gibeling seemed surprised that any residents had strong opinions about the demolition of our homes or the need for affordable housing for graduate students — a need which the Chancellor’s Graduate and Professional Advisory Committee has presented to the Chancellor’s office based on their surveys of student housing needs.

The proposed replacements were clearly luxury apartments, including tanning salons and shopping amenities — quite unlike the sturdy, comfortable apartments we have now, surrounded by grass, trees and community areas. Most worryingly, the projected rents were far above what any grad student could possibly pay. Initially, the UC pitched rents of $1,400 for a two-bedroom — a $500 rent hike over my current rent, and almost my entire monthly income. After the town hall meeting, they “brought down” the rent for a small fraction of the units, but at a rate that is still a significant rent hike for residents paying $906 for a two-bedroom.

The UC administration recently quietly announced a “pause on planning” of Orchard Park in the face of organizing by the residents against this redevelopment. This pause was long overdue, after years of residents, GSA reps and Chancellor’s advisory committee members telling UC every step of the way that their unaffordable and inaccessible development plan was not suitable for graduate student or student family housing and would contribute to the serious affordable housing crisis in Davis.

The UC has so far not guaranteed any affordable housing to replace the Parks. The planning pause makes things even less clear, and we now have very little idea what the University has in mind for the place where we now live. However, my fellow residents and I are still being asked to submit notices to vacate as soon as possible.

These communities enable us to live in Davis on TA salaries; provide a place for low-income students; enable parents on campus to stay in school and teach sections even when they have young kids at home; and more. All these benefits should recommend them to the University — even from an administrator’s perspective. These are all things that attract students to Davis and let them successfully complete their degrees.

Yet it has become unpleasantly clear that from the administration’s perspective, our tree-shaded homes are an eyesore at their beloved “gates to campus.” Our housing, because it long ago “paid” for its own construction, is not moving around enough investment capital. Our ability to live on our meager paychecks is blocking our capacity to take out more student loans.

We are among the last affordable, community-oriented housing left on campus. We live in a place that should be the future of this University, but the University treats us like we’re already gone. That’s why we’re gathering for a Party for the Parks from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on May 22, including community dialogues and speak-outs on affordable housing, activities for kids, a barbecue, potluck lunch and games. We’ll meet at the MU flagpole at 12 p.m. See you there.

Caroline McKusick
Ph.D. Student, Anthropology, UC Davis
Orchard Park resident

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