Why Do Democratic City Councils Plan Housing That Republicans Will Live In?

As I confess, the title of this post is not mine. It was in fact donated to me, the name has been erased to protect the guilty. Many would be in fact, surprised to hear the source of this title, particularly people on the city council itself.

The title comes from a debate that stems from the county general plan update proposals and well beyond that. The notion has come down from the county that the city of Davis opposes such growth proposals because this is a rich, white, elitist town. While in a number of ways, that is arguably true, I have argued against this point repeatedly because I think the center of the motivation against growth has been not only about protecting agricultural land and open space, but also procedural points that the city of Davis and not the county use have land use authority on the city edge.

Where this issue begins to gain resonance in terms of housing developments, is that as we look at proposed housing we see designs that are increasingly for less dense, large homes, on large lots. Even affordable housing requirements have a number of problems. The number of set-asides is fairly small. Those that are set aside end up being limited equity homes, which make it easy for an individual to buy a home but difficult for an individual to improve their lot in life and buy another home down the line. The alternative to the limited equity model has been basically the policy whereby a person would purchase a house for a given price and sell it two years later at a market level for a huge expenditure. Needless to say, that is not a sustainable policy and it results in a loss of affordable homes.

However, in between the true affordable limited equity home and the market price home is basically no man’s land. If Davis wishes to produce more affordable housing to the average middle income person, this is the bridge they need to gulf. How do you produce the $300,000 to $400,000 home rather than the $150,000 or the $600,000 plus home?

One suggestion has been to build enough homes to increase the supply enough that the housing prices will come down. That is a tricky strategy however because you have no a closed market for homes but rather an open, regional market for homes. That regional demand keeps the prices fairly high across the board. In short, I do not believe you can build your way out of this problem without producing enough problems that reduce the quality of life in Davis.

I do not have great answers on this question, but I do think that large amounts of growth will not solve the problem unless it makes Davis a less desirable destination, which I think is not anyone’s goal when they advocate for growth. On the other hand, current housing policies are going to end up creating an elite Davis filled with Republicans.

So I have two suggestions, one of my own and one from another individual. My own suggestions is that we start by building smaller, denser homes on small lots, possibly duplexes in an effort to produce a market of $300,000 to $400,000 homes. As I went around town, there are actually such homes on the market for that value. These would be small homes, two to a lot, that would sell for a lower price than the average home which is far larger.

A second suggestion comes from my source and it is an intriguing idea on how to open up the housing market without large amounts of new growth. It has to do with owner occupancy. The idea is that we require owner occupancy of single-family homes. There are a large amount of homes in town that are not on the market for single-family residences because they are not owner occupied and instead rented out. The effect of that is to take a large number of would-be residences off the housing market. The city would change zoning laws to require owner occupancy. That would mean a large number of property owning companies would need to sell their homes and place them on the market, producing a good amount of homes for a decent price.

There still would be the need for new development, to serve the needs of those who are currently renting in town. There the city would designed new rental units and cooperative living arrangements to enable a place for the current renters of single-family homes to reside. This transition would take some time, but ultimately help free up a large number of homes for home ownership while still providing the current residents of those homes a good and affordable place to live. If done correctly, this could be achieved with a minimal amount of upheaval and controversy.

I think we all agree that current policies are not sustainable. Those of us who have concerns about protection of agricultural land and open space, would still like to be able to provide more affordable housing to residents and potential residents in Davis. However, that housing should not come at some of the huge costs of current policies. Moreover, current growth proposals largely do not address these issues.

One final point, new housing should not look like the cookie-cutter tract homes of many of the new subdivisions and neighborhoods. We need to strongly encourage housing construction that produces good and unique character of neighborhoods, so that they do not look like the mere extension of suburbia that you see in some of Davis’ newer neighborhoods and many of Natomas’.

—Doug Paul Davis reporting

Author

  • David Greenwald

    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.

Categories:

Land Use/Open Space

128 comments

  1. “My own suggestions is that we start by building smaller, denser homes on small lots, possibly duplexes in an effort to produce a market of $300,000 to $400,000 homes.”

    I completely agree. One type of home that the market has missed is what I will call the PK home – Post Kids. The PK home would have a large master bedroom, a large living room, a nice kitchen and a 3-4 car garage. Everything else would be small, including the yard. The reason for the big garage is because PK people have lots of stuff and there has to be plenty of storage. Once you get the PK people to move, that frees up the bigger houses for families. Ideally, the PK homes would be situated within walking distance of downtown.

    An incentive to encourage people to move might be allowing them to carry some or all prop 13 tax savings to the new house. SAH

  2. “My own suggestions is that we start by building smaller, denser homes on small lots, possibly duplexes in an effort to produce a market of $300,000 to $400,000 homes.”

    I completely agree. One type of home that the market has missed is what I will call the PK home – Post Kids. The PK home would have a large master bedroom, a large living room, a nice kitchen and a 3-4 car garage. Everything else would be small, including the yard. The reason for the big garage is because PK people have lots of stuff and there has to be plenty of storage. Once you get the PK people to move, that frees up the bigger houses for families. Ideally, the PK homes would be situated within walking distance of downtown.

    An incentive to encourage people to move might be allowing them to carry some or all prop 13 tax savings to the new house. SAH

  3. “My own suggestions is that we start by building smaller, denser homes on small lots, possibly duplexes in an effort to produce a market of $300,000 to $400,000 homes.”

    I completely agree. One type of home that the market has missed is what I will call the PK home – Post Kids. The PK home would have a large master bedroom, a large living room, a nice kitchen and a 3-4 car garage. Everything else would be small, including the yard. The reason for the big garage is because PK people have lots of stuff and there has to be plenty of storage. Once you get the PK people to move, that frees up the bigger houses for families. Ideally, the PK homes would be situated within walking distance of downtown.

    An incentive to encourage people to move might be allowing them to carry some or all prop 13 tax savings to the new house. SAH

  4. “My own suggestions is that we start by building smaller, denser homes on small lots, possibly duplexes in an effort to produce a market of $300,000 to $400,000 homes.”

    I completely agree. One type of home that the market has missed is what I will call the PK home – Post Kids. The PK home would have a large master bedroom, a large living room, a nice kitchen and a 3-4 car garage. Everything else would be small, including the yard. The reason for the big garage is because PK people have lots of stuff and there has to be plenty of storage. Once you get the PK people to move, that frees up the bigger houses for families. Ideally, the PK homes would be situated within walking distance of downtown.

    An incentive to encourage people to move might be allowing them to carry some or all prop 13 tax savings to the new house. SAH

  5. Interesting comments but you loose me with the dig at Republicans… they pay taxes too, need places to leave, and shock beyond all shocks… not all Republicans are rich. How do you think that you can reach a consensus within our community on housing issues when you start off the conversation by pissing off at least a third of the population?

    Anyways, some of the specific ideas you raised in this entry are interesting but are off the mark in my mind. First, anything that would reduce a landowner’s rights over their property will engender significant opposition. Not all landlords in Davis are large, nameless corporate entities. Many are families that for what ever reason, decide to rent instead of sell thier homes. The recent housing market turned everything upside down, but with the current changes occuring within the market, it appears that the market is begining to self-correct. Second, the premise that a County shouldn’t be building housing around the edge of a city and that should be the sole discreation of the city is also flawed. Existing law requires Counties to have to build their “fair share” of housing within the region. If you don’t place housing close to existing urban centers, then you will have to build entirely new infrastructure for that housing – that in itself would be growth inducing because infrastructure, such as water, sewer, etc… are the limiting factors traditionally with growth. This leds to the larger discussion about how does a region, such as a city and the county, work cooperatively on housing issues? If one part of that equation refuses to even talk about building new housing, how can there be a cohesive strategy? This also gets to the point you made about design and density – if there is not coordination between the governmental entities on a growth strategy and the landuse restrictions associated with that strategy, then how do you prevent developers from gaming one entity against the other?

    Growth will occur. Even if we lock the borders of our state, even our county, there will still be growth – more births than deaths. As a community, we need to pull our heads out of the sand and start having meaningful dialogues about the future of our town. And from my prespective, just saying no isn’t a good option. Just my 2 cents on a Saturday morning.

  6. Interesting comments but you loose me with the dig at Republicans… they pay taxes too, need places to leave, and shock beyond all shocks… not all Republicans are rich. How do you think that you can reach a consensus within our community on housing issues when you start off the conversation by pissing off at least a third of the population?

    Anyways, some of the specific ideas you raised in this entry are interesting but are off the mark in my mind. First, anything that would reduce a landowner’s rights over their property will engender significant opposition. Not all landlords in Davis are large, nameless corporate entities. Many are families that for what ever reason, decide to rent instead of sell thier homes. The recent housing market turned everything upside down, but with the current changes occuring within the market, it appears that the market is begining to self-correct. Second, the premise that a County shouldn’t be building housing around the edge of a city and that should be the sole discreation of the city is also flawed. Existing law requires Counties to have to build their “fair share” of housing within the region. If you don’t place housing close to existing urban centers, then you will have to build entirely new infrastructure for that housing – that in itself would be growth inducing because infrastructure, such as water, sewer, etc… are the limiting factors traditionally with growth. This leds to the larger discussion about how does a region, such as a city and the county, work cooperatively on housing issues? If one part of that equation refuses to even talk about building new housing, how can there be a cohesive strategy? This also gets to the point you made about design and density – if there is not coordination between the governmental entities on a growth strategy and the landuse restrictions associated with that strategy, then how do you prevent developers from gaming one entity against the other?

    Growth will occur. Even if we lock the borders of our state, even our county, there will still be growth – more births than deaths. As a community, we need to pull our heads out of the sand and start having meaningful dialogues about the future of our town. And from my prespective, just saying no isn’t a good option. Just my 2 cents on a Saturday morning.

  7. Interesting comments but you loose me with the dig at Republicans… they pay taxes too, need places to leave, and shock beyond all shocks… not all Republicans are rich. How do you think that you can reach a consensus within our community on housing issues when you start off the conversation by pissing off at least a third of the population?

    Anyways, some of the specific ideas you raised in this entry are interesting but are off the mark in my mind. First, anything that would reduce a landowner’s rights over their property will engender significant opposition. Not all landlords in Davis are large, nameless corporate entities. Many are families that for what ever reason, decide to rent instead of sell thier homes. The recent housing market turned everything upside down, but with the current changes occuring within the market, it appears that the market is begining to self-correct. Second, the premise that a County shouldn’t be building housing around the edge of a city and that should be the sole discreation of the city is also flawed. Existing law requires Counties to have to build their “fair share” of housing within the region. If you don’t place housing close to existing urban centers, then you will have to build entirely new infrastructure for that housing – that in itself would be growth inducing because infrastructure, such as water, sewer, etc… are the limiting factors traditionally with growth. This leds to the larger discussion about how does a region, such as a city and the county, work cooperatively on housing issues? If one part of that equation refuses to even talk about building new housing, how can there be a cohesive strategy? This also gets to the point you made about design and density – if there is not coordination between the governmental entities on a growth strategy and the landuse restrictions associated with that strategy, then how do you prevent developers from gaming one entity against the other?

    Growth will occur. Even if we lock the borders of our state, even our county, there will still be growth – more births than deaths. As a community, we need to pull our heads out of the sand and start having meaningful dialogues about the future of our town. And from my prespective, just saying no isn’t a good option. Just my 2 cents on a Saturday morning.

  8. Interesting comments but you loose me with the dig at Republicans… they pay taxes too, need places to leave, and shock beyond all shocks… not all Republicans are rich. How do you think that you can reach a consensus within our community on housing issues when you start off the conversation by pissing off at least a third of the population?

    Anyways, some of the specific ideas you raised in this entry are interesting but are off the mark in my mind. First, anything that would reduce a landowner’s rights over their property will engender significant opposition. Not all landlords in Davis are large, nameless corporate entities. Many are families that for what ever reason, decide to rent instead of sell thier homes. The recent housing market turned everything upside down, but with the current changes occuring within the market, it appears that the market is begining to self-correct. Second, the premise that a County shouldn’t be building housing around the edge of a city and that should be the sole discreation of the city is also flawed. Existing law requires Counties to have to build their “fair share” of housing within the region. If you don’t place housing close to existing urban centers, then you will have to build entirely new infrastructure for that housing – that in itself would be growth inducing because infrastructure, such as water, sewer, etc… are the limiting factors traditionally with growth. This leds to the larger discussion about how does a region, such as a city and the county, work cooperatively on housing issues? If one part of that equation refuses to even talk about building new housing, how can there be a cohesive strategy? This also gets to the point you made about design and density – if there is not coordination between the governmental entities on a growth strategy and the landuse restrictions associated with that strategy, then how do you prevent developers from gaming one entity against the other?

    Growth will occur. Even if we lock the borders of our state, even our county, there will still be growth – more births than deaths. As a community, we need to pull our heads out of the sand and start having meaningful dialogues about the future of our town. And from my prespective, just saying no isn’t a good option. Just my 2 cents on a Saturday morning.

  9. The PK home would have a large master bedroom, a large living room,a nice kitchen and a 3-4 car garage.

    I challenge whether most PK households would prefer this configuration and its problematic from an urban design perspective. I imagine a PK household would want at least one second bedroom for an office or overnight guests. We’re taking up valuable real estate that can otherwise be developed for the inherently more affordable housing so PK folks can store their stuff. The design implications of this are severe and there are many creative design options around this. To put this into perspective, with this suggestion what you would be looking at is a front facade of at least 2/3 garage. Not a “neighborhood character enhancing” feature. There is no justifiable reason for a PK household to need more than a 2 car tandem garage if there is adequate storage space inside, including, perhaps as an option, a finished attic.

    Duplexes are not necessary either. A good urban designer can go up to 40 units/acre with single family townhomes that would be much more aesthetically pleasing. In surveys most people thought the density was closer to 10 units/acre. Metro Place in Sacramento is an example. More locally, Aggie Village is another.

    The configuration can be figured out by good urban designers and architechts. But there are a myriad of inherently more permanently affordable housing types that are underrepresented here.

  10. The PK home would have a large master bedroom, a large living room,a nice kitchen and a 3-4 car garage.

    I challenge whether most PK households would prefer this configuration and its problematic from an urban design perspective. I imagine a PK household would want at least one second bedroom for an office or overnight guests. We’re taking up valuable real estate that can otherwise be developed for the inherently more affordable housing so PK folks can store their stuff. The design implications of this are severe and there are many creative design options around this. To put this into perspective, with this suggestion what you would be looking at is a front facade of at least 2/3 garage. Not a “neighborhood character enhancing” feature. There is no justifiable reason for a PK household to need more than a 2 car tandem garage if there is adequate storage space inside, including, perhaps as an option, a finished attic.

    Duplexes are not necessary either. A good urban designer can go up to 40 units/acre with single family townhomes that would be much more aesthetically pleasing. In surveys most people thought the density was closer to 10 units/acre. Metro Place in Sacramento is an example. More locally, Aggie Village is another.

    The configuration can be figured out by good urban designers and architechts. But there are a myriad of inherently more permanently affordable housing types that are underrepresented here.

  11. The PK home would have a large master bedroom, a large living room,a nice kitchen and a 3-4 car garage.

    I challenge whether most PK households would prefer this configuration and its problematic from an urban design perspective. I imagine a PK household would want at least one second bedroom for an office or overnight guests. We’re taking up valuable real estate that can otherwise be developed for the inherently more affordable housing so PK folks can store their stuff. The design implications of this are severe and there are many creative design options around this. To put this into perspective, with this suggestion what you would be looking at is a front facade of at least 2/3 garage. Not a “neighborhood character enhancing” feature. There is no justifiable reason for a PK household to need more than a 2 car tandem garage if there is adequate storage space inside, including, perhaps as an option, a finished attic.

    Duplexes are not necessary either. A good urban designer can go up to 40 units/acre with single family townhomes that would be much more aesthetically pleasing. In surveys most people thought the density was closer to 10 units/acre. Metro Place in Sacramento is an example. More locally, Aggie Village is another.

    The configuration can be figured out by good urban designers and architechts. But there are a myriad of inherently more permanently affordable housing types that are underrepresented here.

  12. The PK home would have a large master bedroom, a large living room,a nice kitchen and a 3-4 car garage.

    I challenge whether most PK households would prefer this configuration and its problematic from an urban design perspective. I imagine a PK household would want at least one second bedroom for an office or overnight guests. We’re taking up valuable real estate that can otherwise be developed for the inherently more affordable housing so PK folks can store their stuff. The design implications of this are severe and there are many creative design options around this. To put this into perspective, with this suggestion what you would be looking at is a front facade of at least 2/3 garage. Not a “neighborhood character enhancing” feature. There is no justifiable reason for a PK household to need more than a 2 car tandem garage if there is adequate storage space inside, including, perhaps as an option, a finished attic.

    Duplexes are not necessary either. A good urban designer can go up to 40 units/acre with single family townhomes that would be much more aesthetically pleasing. In surveys most people thought the density was closer to 10 units/acre. Metro Place in Sacramento is an example. More locally, Aggie Village is another.

    The configuration can be figured out by good urban designers and architechts. But there are a myriad of inherently more permanently affordable housing types that are underrepresented here.

  13. . . .new housing should not look like the cookie-cutter tract homes of many of the new subdivisions and neighborhoods.

    Offering smaller homes on smaller lots, with a narrow range of optional amenities and floor plans is precisely how builders/developers get costs down. The Stanley-Davis houses built in East Davis in the 50’s are a good example – above or below E. 8th.

    Average size: 960 – 1400 sq. ft. Still buildable for a reasonable price, once you get past the exhorbitant costs for land, development, and permits. Much more feasible in lesser-developed areas of the County than the “major” cities.

  14. . . .new housing should not look like the cookie-cutter tract homes of many of the new subdivisions and neighborhoods.

    Offering smaller homes on smaller lots, with a narrow range of optional amenities and floor plans is precisely how builders/developers get costs down. The Stanley-Davis houses built in East Davis in the 50’s are a good example – above or below E. 8th.

    Average size: 960 – 1400 sq. ft. Still buildable for a reasonable price, once you get past the exhorbitant costs for land, development, and permits. Much more feasible in lesser-developed areas of the County than the “major” cities.

  15. . . .new housing should not look like the cookie-cutter tract homes of many of the new subdivisions and neighborhoods.

    Offering smaller homes on smaller lots, with a narrow range of optional amenities and floor plans is precisely how builders/developers get costs down. The Stanley-Davis houses built in East Davis in the 50’s are a good example – above or below E. 8th.

    Average size: 960 – 1400 sq. ft. Still buildable for a reasonable price, once you get past the exhorbitant costs for land, development, and permits. Much more feasible in lesser-developed areas of the County than the “major” cities.

  16. . . .new housing should not look like the cookie-cutter tract homes of many of the new subdivisions and neighborhoods.

    Offering smaller homes on smaller lots, with a narrow range of optional amenities and floor plans is precisely how builders/developers get costs down. The Stanley-Davis houses built in East Davis in the 50’s are a good example – above or below E. 8th.

    Average size: 960 – 1400 sq. ft. Still buildable for a reasonable price, once you get past the exhorbitant costs for land, development, and permits. Much more feasible in lesser-developed areas of the County than the “major” cities.