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Davis, California

Monday, December 5, 2022

Postdoctorates, student employees need rent relief

Renting in Davis is a burden on employees and students, but increased collaboration between the university and city could lead to improvements

Members of the three unions representing postdoctoral students, academic researchers, teaching assistants, graduate student instructors, tutors and readers recently held a rally to raise awareness about how high rent prices impact UC academic employees. It is unacceptable that 70% of postdoctorates and 90% of academic student employees are rent burdened, meaning they spend 30% or more of their income on rent. 

These employees help to make UC Davis the amazing university it is by taking part in its groundbreaking research and by performing essential student services. In return, UC Davis has a responsibility to ensure they can afford to pay rent and buy other necessities with their wages. 

People who are Black, Latinx, immigrants, undocumented or have a disability experience high rates of being rent burdened. There don’t appear to be any federal studies that track what percentage of their income LGBTQ+ people spend on housing, but they are more vulnerable to homelessness, housing insecurity and housing discrimination than people who are straight and cisgender. It’s especially important that UC Davis offers rent relief services to those most at risk of being burdened by high rent prices.

The city of Davis has a very low vacancy rate of 1.4%, which drives up rent prices because it means there is high demand for units. It also limits renters’ ability to be choosy about quality and price since nearly all units are taken by a certain point in time. Although building additional market-rate housing on campus and in the city of Davis would decrease rent prices, there are other short term actions the city and university can take to improve quality of life for renters. 

Many Davis renters feel pressured to sign leases seven to nine months in advance in order to nab the best and most affordable housing options for leases starting in the fall. And with Davis’ low vacancy rate, this pressure isn’t unfounded since nearly all units eventually become occupied. Based on the experiences of the Editorial Board, apartment complexes and landlords require current tenants to resign their leases for the next year or give up their spot by a certain date, often in the first few months of the year.

The need to predict what the world will look like over half a year in advance was an obvious problem for the many students who signed leases in January and February of 2020 and were stuck paying rent for the entirely-virtual 2020-21 school year. It also negatively impacts potential employees, students considering transferring out of UC Davis and prospective transfer and graduate students who may not receive admissions decisions until May but need to start looking for housing earlier. 

This may not be such an issue if there were more flexible leasing options in Davis, but members of the Editorial Board have seen very few landlords offer short-term leases. Most of the leases we have seen or signed have been nine to 12-month contracts. This poses a problem for temporary employees, students taking a quarter abroad or deferring a quarter and students graduating in fall or winter quarter. Subleasing isn’t always allowed, either forcing tenants to covertly sublease or pay rent for housing they’re not using.

The Aggie Compass Basic Needs Center does offer emergency housing services, basic needs grants and rent reduction for students living at the Green at West Village, which are admirable programs that reduce the strain that rent puts on students. Given the high percentage of postdoctorates and student employees who are rent burdened, however, it’s clear that additional programs for these groups are necessary — especially for those disproportionately impacted by rent burden and housing instability. 

It will take years for new construction to bring down rent prices, but the city of Davis and UC Davis can work together to help renters. UC Davis should lead by example and give all of its tenants until late spring to decide whether or not to re-sign their leases and offer more short-term leasing options. The housing rally made clear that renting in Davis is far too much of a burden on employees and students, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Written by: The Editorial Board