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Davis, California

Friday, July 12, 2024

Slow population growth in Davis is symptomatic of low development rates, rising cost of housing

The state-wide housing crisis is heavily impacting Davis

By LEVI GOLDSTEIN city@theaggie.org

Davis is traditionally a slow population growth city, according to Barbara Archer, the communications & customer service manager of the City of Davis. In June 1986, an advisory measure was approved, calling for Davis to grow as slowly as legally possible, according to Section IV Chapter 1 page 45 of the city’s General Plan. 

This measure influences city council decisions still today. According to an article published in The Sacramento Bee, the 2020 Census revealed that population growth in Davis was only 2% in the last decade. However, council members and Davis citizens are concerned that the slow growth rate may be under less city control today than in the 20th century. 

Housing development is a major factor in population growth rates, which is not the city’s responsibility, according to Sherri Metzker, the principal planner of the City of Davis.

“We are not in the business to build housing,” Metzker said. “That’s what developers do. […] We are charged by the state of California with providing enough available land that is zoned for housing. […] It doesn’t necessarily guarantee the construction of housing. […] The rest is left up to the market.”

Rising building costs mean that developers are finding it increasingly difficult to make housing development projects economically viable, according to Metzker, meaning fewer projects are being brought to city council for approval. 

“The cost of land has gone up a lot,” Metzker said. “The cost of building materials has gone up considerably, and we don’t have the labor pool we used to have either. All those things in combination have driven the price of housing up. […] If the price gets too exorbitant where people just can’t afford to buy it, [the developer] won’t build it. In the end, it is an economic transaction.”

Bill Pride, the executive director of Davis Community Meals and Housing, has also observed a decrease in development due to economic difficulty. 

“I think the cost of housing is extremely high, unfortunately, to actually build housing in most every place,” Pride said. “Finding that money to actually build the housing to house folks is really difficult.” 

The state of the housing market has a large impact on low-income and homeless people. Pride is concerned particularly with the lack of housing in general. 

“There’s just not enough housing that’s kept up with the demand,” Pride said. “That’s not just for affordable housing, that’s for housing everywhere.” 

Davis Community Meals and Housing was founded in 1991 as a soup kitchen. Today, it has expanded to include programs such as a drop-in resource center, part-time employment assistance, transitional housing and street outreach. The organization is focused on reducing homelessness and helping people support themselves financially long-term. 

Davis Community Meals and Housing regularly conducts a homeless count in Yolo County, and data shows that there has been a major increase in the homeless population in the last 4 years, according to Pride. This may be the result of increasing buying and renting prices. 

“The developer is just going to pass [the building] cost on in the sales price,” Metzker said. “The number one reason developers build housing is because they can make money. They’re not very altruistic in the sense that they do it for the benefit of the public good.”

Having resided in Davis for a long time, Pride has seen the effects of rising prices first-hand. 

 “It’s a very difficult housing market for anybody to get into,” Pride said. “One of the more common complaints I’ve heard from folks in town in the last few years is that a lot of the folks who’ve been here for many years, who raised their families here and their kids went to school here, they suddenly find that their own kids can’t afford to move back in.” 

The existence of affordable price-controlled housing is also highly important for low-income and homeless people. 

“The vast majority of folks who are homeless can’t afford market rate housing unless a miracle happened, frankly,” Pride said. 

Changes in state policy have greatly affected the extent to which the city can interfere in the market to ensure affordable housing exists, according to Metzker.

“Before 2012, there was a program where we got an extra portion of sales tax revenues, and that money went towards a pot that was used for the construction of affordable housing,” Metzker said. “When we were right in the middle of the recession, the state of California decided that they didn’t have enough money to balance their budget, and so they took redevelopment away. They have not replaced that money. And so now the city does not have the ability to contribute financially in the manner that it used to have.”

The City of Davis is continuously working to cultivate a more secure housing market. On Tuesday, Jan. 11, the council approved a development of 30 attached single-family homes on East Pole Line Road. The compact design saves a lot of acre space, a revolutionary arrangement that may prove to be an effective solution to the lack of vacant residences in Davis. The project also includes 3 affordable units, in compliance with the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance (Municipal Code 18.05). 

According to Metzker, however, the only reason the developer was able to afford including low-income housing is because the plot already has infrastructure installed from the previous building that existed there.

“The inclusionary housing ordinance does say that you have to have a certain amount of affordable housing in any residential project,” Metzker said. “The problem is that most developers, once they factor all that in, the project doesn’t pencil anymore. And then they don’t build it.”

The rising building costs and buying prices, the lack of development and the political tension surrounding the crisis are not just issues in Davis. The state of the housing market reflects a larger pattern that both Metzker and Pride have recognized throughout the state. 

“Davis is unfortunately probably [among] the worst,” Pride said. “And that’s odd, considering that Davis probably has been one of the more proactive jurisdictions building affordable housing.”

Thus, Pride believes that while efforts from the city may mitigate the problem, permanent change needs to come from state policy.

“I think one of the real impediments has to do with very political reasons,” Pride said. “Somehow affordable housing has to be taken out of the things that the government obligates public dollars being spent on.” 

The solution may even have to be at a global economic level. 

“If anything, we need to make the housing much cheaper, a way to build it so it’s not so expensive,” Pride said. “With the homeless population rising as fast as it is, we need to be building thousands of homes every year, if not more. And that’s just not happening because the cost is just too high.” 

The slow population growth in Davis is a symptom of a larger housing crisis. Outside of the city, the population size is growing rapidly, and housing development cannot keep up with the demand. Moreover, rising prices are causing the state’s houselessness problem to increase in severity. Davis is just one example of how cities across California may be impacted by a state-wide problem. 

Written by: Levi Goldstein — city@theaggie.org


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