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How much housing is being built in Davis?

The answers might surprise you.

Sterling project, 2100 5th St, under construction (611 beds)

 By Roberta Millstein

Recently on NextDoor and elsewhere, Davisites have been disagreeing about whether Davis is building enough housing or whether it needs more.  The discussions have become particularly relevant in light of two potentially large projects: the University Commons project (264 residential units / 894 beds) and the so-called Aggie Research Campus (ARC), which proposes 850 units as part of the larger proposal for a massive 200 acre business park outside of Mace Curve.

But to answer the question of whether we have enough housing or not, Davisites need to know how much is in the pipeline.  I suspect that most Davisites don’t know the answer to that question, even if they’ve been paying attention.  This article is the result of my attempt to figure out the answer. 

If you just want the answers I calculated, here they are: the housing that is now in the pipeline will accommodate more than 10,000 additional people in the City and more than 20,000 additional people in the City and UC Davis combined.  The details of those answers are below.

The following table from the City of Davis (see webpage here) shows the number of units and bedrooms that have completed planning review and are pending construction (3,928 beds/ bedrooms, 1,376 units) and the number of units and bedrooms that are under construction or have completed construction (4,567 Beds/ Bedrooms, 2,358 Units), for a total of 8,495 beds/bedrooms and 3,734 units in the pipeline. [1] The table was presented by Mayor Brett Lee at the October 17, 2019 public meeting between UCD, Yolo County Supervisors and the City of Davis. When presenting the table, Mayor Lee proclaimed that the Davis housing crisis was over (see coverage of the meeting here).
(Click to enlarge)

But that’s not the full story.  Those numbers don’t include the West Davis Active Adult Community (WDAAC, now dubbed Bretton Woods) that was recently approved by the voters with a Measure R vote.  According to the EIR, the project would result in the addition of up to 560 residential units in total, allowing for a maximum population of approximately 1,467 residents. To add that to our previous numbers, that’s 9,962 beds/bedrooms and 4,294 units in the pipeline.

But that’s still not the full story.  There are at least eight major projects that are in process and under City review (see webpage here):


Given that at least some of these projects are sure to be approved, it is no exaggeration to say that there are more than 10,000 beds/bedrooms in the pipeline within the Davis City Limits. 

There may in fact be considerably more than 10,000 beds/bedrooms coming soon, depending on which projects get approved, and some of these projects are quite large, such as University Commons and ARC as noted above.  Furthermore, since bedrooms can and do hold more than one person, that could also increase the number of additional people who could be accommodated by the housing in the pipeline.  But I will use 10,000 new people added to the City as a low estimate.

The most recent information estimates Davis’s current population to be 69,289.  Thus, the new housing currently planned – the low-ball estimate of additional 10,000 people within the Davis City Limits – would increase the population of Davis by approximate 14.4%.  Again, though, it’s likely to be considerably more than that.

But even that’s still not the full story.  All the numbers above are just for people within the City limits; they do not include people living on UC Davis’s campus, who are not legally considered to be living in the City of Davis proper.

UCD is planning on building housing faster than the campus population will grow.  It plans 3,400 beds for its “Green in the West Village” student housing neighborhood, projecting 1,000 of those by Fall 2020 (see this page for details).  UCD’s Long-Range Development Plan (LRDP) projects an overall increase of housing for about 10,550 people (students, staff, and faculty). The LRDP projects an increase of only “about 5,000” students and “approximately 2,000 Employees” in the same time frame (LRDP p. 6). That mean’s UCD is building housing for 3,000 more people on campus than will be added to the campus in the same time frame.

UC Davis is adding housing for 10,550 people. To add to our previous numbers, that’s housing for more than, 20,550 people more people at UC Davis and in the City of Davis combined.

It is also important to note that this increase in Davis housing is coming at a time when California and Yolo County are experiencing low population growth. According to a press release from the California State Department of Finance, Yolo County’s population is projected to grow at 0.37% in 2020, down from 0.56% in 2019. This is on-trend with the rest of the state; the press release projects growth in  California at a “rate of 0.35 percent, down from 0.57 percent for the prior 12 months -- the two lowest recorded growth rates in state population since 1900.”

So, do Davis and UC Davis have a housing shortage?  If there is a housing shortage, is it going to be addressed by the projects that have already been approved and are likely to be approved?  This article has not attempted to answer these questions, but only to supply the numbers that should be used if we are to answer them in an informed way.

Lincoln40, East Olive Dr, under construction (708 beds)


[1] Two of these projects are currently under litigation, but even if the plaintiffs win, it is likely that the projects would just be modified.


Colin Walsh

This article definitely underestimates how much new housing is coming to Davis. It leaves 2 important items out of the article.

1) The new Downtown plan that is in the works would change zoning to allow for a lots more housing downtown if approved.

2) The state approved new ADU rules that could allow for a lot more granny flat type units that can be rented out in R1 residential neighborhoods.

Roberta L. Millstein

Good points, Colin. Given my low ball in the article and what you say here, the numbers really may be quite a bit larger.

John Troidl

Excellent post, Roberta! This is very helpful for informing discussions about housing adequacy in Davis. Although.... I am still interested in seeing how much UC Davis can do to provide 9 month housing for the vast majority of the students who attend the university and NEVER attend Summer School...... these students/families are required to sign evil 12 month leases because the university fails to provide adequate housing to house the undergraduates.

Roberta L. Millstein

Thanks, John, and agreed! My post should absolutely not be read as an argument against the University building more housing than it plans to build. I would like to see them house more students, more affordably. This is just meant to show the numbers so that we can all come to informed decisions.

Robert Canning

Given the projects in the pipeline, how many years do you estimate before these projects are filled? Ten years, 15, twenty?

Re. the Downtown plan, I heard a comment at one of the community meetings last year about possibly 5,000 living downtown (core area). Given the nature of the whole project and the economics of downtown land acquisition/consolidation, I'm pessimistic that the plan will bear much fruit. Even in 20 years which is the planning horizon for it. And who even knows how much of it will be incorporated in the General Plan update.

Dylan Ryall

What is missing from this article is any indication of when these 10,000 new residents are expected. "In the pipeline" is a very vague statement. If we are talking in the next year that is outrageous. If we are talking in the next 10 or 20 years, it’s much more reasonable.

Roberta L. Millstein

The projects that are in blue in the table above are either recently completed or under construction. So I think the answer for those is "very soon." I think some of the others are also expected very soon, e.g., Cannery Marketplace, Lincoln 40.

Others have more unpredictable timelines. For example, I understand that Nishi still does not have permission to build a tunnel under the railroad to UCD's campus. I don't think they are supposed to start building until that is in place.

But I don't know all the details of all the projects. This would be a good question to ask City staff, or maybe someone else can chime in.

Colin Walsh

Dylan, That is a good question.
I know from looking at much of the underlying material that the answer is "it's complicated."
The UCD LRD has a 10 year time frame.
The individual private companies building housing have not necessarily even announced when the projects will be completed. Some of it will be ready within the year. Some of it will take longer.
If there is demand for housing, then there is an economic incentive for the developers to complete the projects and get them occupied sooner.
Also, there is the high likelihood that more projects will be proposed in the near future.

Colin Walsh

It is a good question how long it will take to build out the already approved projects. If there is high demand for housing they will likely be built quicker. If there is low demand for new housing like there was during the recession, then some developers may wait to build.
As to the downtown plan, I think it is pretty tough to predict what will happen with it at this point, but it does seem clear that it will include some amount of increased density and housing.

Dan Cornford

Great work Roberta. Few people in Davis have any idea of these numbers. I would argue that, as I have, in past campaigns, that Davis has already reached its maximum capacity. Like it or not we are not a Vacaville or Fairfield with large arterial streets to accommodate the huge increase in traffic that this growth will bring. Davis has a core city from which semi-arterial streets radiate and these converge on both the city center and the university.

It will be a traffic and parking nightmare that, even if the city had the money, can in no significant way be mitigated. There will also be other numerous infrastructural costs for a city that already has a built in structural budget deficit, and no these new developments will not come close to fill the gap or pay for themselves. They will make the city’s fiscal situation even more dire. The City Council, to a person, and its commissions, and the EIR firms it hires, such as Fehr and Peers, have both ignored and wantonly underestimated all of the above cumulative impacts, though these are supposed to be taken into account by EIR and the California Environmental Protection Act.

I know it sounds melodramatic but I think they will in a few years live in infamy in the eyes of many Davis residents. The YIMBYs, the developers, and their allies I am afraid have won taunting the few that offered any opposition as old NIMBY’s bent on preserving their privilege and home values; a charge which does to apply to any of the core of people I know that have actively been concerned about Davis’s pell mell growth for many years. They should throw a party for Scott Wiener and his developer and YIMBY allies and pass on a few tips.

Greg Rowe

Another aspect that Roberta's excellent article did not mention is the State requirement for the housing elements of city general plans to accommodate a "fair share" of expected regional population growth. It is known as the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA). In the Sacramento area, the RHNA is calculated by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG). The allocation is revised for 8-year periods.

SACOG has determined the number of housing units and affordable units that the City of Davis must accommodate through its General Plan and Zoning for the next 8-year RHNA cycle that begins October 2021. The RHNA for Davis will be 2,075 units with 930 units to be in the lower-income category. This is much greater than the current 1,066 units for the January 2013 – October 2021 cycle.

Meanwhile, in response to questions posed by the City of Davis, the State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) has determined that 4 and 5-bedroom multifamily units fall into the category of “Group Accommodations,” meaning that Davis receives no additional “RHNA credit” when it authorizes construction of units with a greater than typical number of bedrooms. In other words, in the view of HCD, “a unit is a unit” regardless of the number of bedrooms, beds, and occupants. That means that a 4 bedroom apartment that has 2 occupants per bedroom (total of 8 occupants) still just qualifies as just one unit for RHNA purposes. That's one of the downsides of large, student-oriented apartment complexes that have many 4 and 5 bedroom units. They add lots of occupants to the City's population but don't help with meeting RHNA requirements.

Greg Rowe

While some comments have pointed out that UCD is striving to build enough new on-campus beds to accommodate projected growth through the 2030-31 academic year covered by the current Long Range Development Plan, the fact remains that even if those efforts are successful 52% of the anticipated enrollment of 39,000 students by then will live off campus in Davis and other cities.

Many people are also unaware of how miserably UCD missed its past housing targets. If the university had a better job building housing instead of projects like an art museum and concert hall, there would be more students living on campus today and less pressure on the local housing stock. See details below.

o See "UC Housing for the 21st Century," Board of Regents Report, November 2002. It set goals for 2011-12 academic year. UCD fell short of the report’s housing construction goal by 1,825 beds, through a combination of over-enrollment and under-production of housing.
o The UCD 2003 LRDP set student housing goals for the 2015-16 academic year. UCD fell short of the LRDP’s on-campus housing construction goal by 1,400 beds, again through a combination of over-enrolling and under building.
o UCD exacerbated the rental housing shortage situation in Davis by executing “master leases” on a number of apartment complexes, effectively precluding rental by non-UCD students and depriving the City and Yolo County of property tax revenue.

Toni Terhaar

Great article, Roberta. The City is deferring the true costs of these development projects by not requiring the developers to contribute to the cost of new roads and other infrastructure. For example, the EIR for the WDAAC identified traffic impacts at the Highway 113/ Covell Blvd. highway interchange. The City Council showed little interest in contributing to improvements to mitigate those impacts. CalTrans requested the City of Davis to contribute, but I believe the City refused.

Bob Schneider

Five places in the world constitute the very best farm lands with deep soils, good irrigation and mediterranean climate. The Central Valley and particularly Yolo County is one of those rare places. Protection of these places becomes an even bigger issues with climate change. It is why we have and should continue to protect these critical important places.

Nancy Price

Excellent information, Roberta, thanks, and good discussion.
Let's remind ourselves, though, that as noted, most of the projects coming on-line in the city and more or less near UCD are for students, and not satisfying diverse housing needs. If The Cannery is an example, many buying there appear,from anecdotal evidence, to be from out-of-town and/or investors. And, note the houses in and around the core area of the city being bought and demolished to make way for a larger, new family home, not in a development and near schools. There is still a great need for affordable and starter family homes/condos/coops.

Todd Edelman

The cumulative transport impacts of this construction of all of this housing will be significant.

If it results in a higher proportion of people with daily UC Davis and other destinations within easily cycling or bus distance, that still needs to be accommodated with more robust cycling infrastructure, more bike parking and improved bus services. Fortunately these are normal things in a mature, serious and sustainable city and can be dealt with using creativity and moderately-deep pockets.

Closer distances and higher pricing for parking will keep UC Davis a fortuitous destination model, but elsewhere the continued availability of under-priced temporary storage of private motor vehicles in the public right-of-way, known collectively - and quite stupidly - as "free parking", combined with the parking provision in all the existing and new homes will result in more immature, ridiculous and unsustainable garbage that no one wants to collect. Even some moderately fee'd parking in Downtown won't help too much, though it is absolutely necessary.

It didn't have to and it doesn't have to be this way: Sterling 5th could have had more housing in the space of all that parking, which is a win-win if you're mature, serious, etc. University Commons needs very, very little parking, and this includes the commercial part of it.

People require mobility. They need access, which is not necessarily parking.

"Davis Grows Up: Much more housing and much less transport impacts" will hopefully be the headline in the Davisite when we complete the new General Plan.

Ron O

Wow - I am so glad to see the interest in this article! And, I had no idea what the cumulative total actually is.

Greg's comments regarding RHNA requirements (and its unfortunate relationship with multi-bedroom student housing) should be noted, as well. I recall this issue being brought up at the time that some of these proposals were under consideration, but that it was largely ignored (along with the fiscal impacts).

Dan's comments regarding the cumulative impacts on streets, etc, are also worth noting. I agree with Dan in that there will likely be some upcoming regret regarding the recent influence of YIMBY/development interests. Unfortunately, it seems like many (whom might otherwise be concerned) were "asleep at the wheel", when it counted - and still are to this day. By the time that the impacts are fully realized, it will be far too late.

Bottom line (locally) is that it matters, regarding who is elected to the council.

Thor Thorson

What I never see spoken about is the housing that UCD eliminated-like the family housing between Orchard Park Drive and Hwy 113 that is supposed to be replaced by 2023. Also, note that most of the positive articles count bed increases, not increases in actual residences. Not exactly fact based as Would hope.

Colin Walsh

Hi Thor,
The project on Orchard Park Drive you mention was called Orchard Park. It had 200 two bedroom apartments and was Married student housing. Last I heard, which may be a little out of date now, the University did not have an active plan to replace it, and instead focused all of the near term new housing efforts on West Village and Quarto.

I think it would be great to see the University build a significant housing project at that location, but even it it's absence I am glad to see the University's LRDP, short term plans, and actual construction is doing more to provide housing.

As to your criticism that this article is not "fact based" you could not be further from the truth. This article is extremely well sourced.

Your criticism that it doesn't show "actual residences" is off the mark too. There is quite a bit of information about how many units are being built included in the article, and the detailed sourcing would allow you to find more. Because the units run a range from 1 bedroom to 5, and many of the 5 bedroom units are rent by the room (and some are broken down by the bed in the Mayor's chart) it makes a lot of sens to talk about beds/bedroom to better be able to see what the impact will be.

I do think that your criticism of a lack of details on number and type of units would be better leveled at UC Davis because that is not information UC Davis have made available.

As I see it, this article is not advocacy, its just putting together all of the data on how much new housing is in the pipeline in and around Davis in one place, and painstakingly sourcing it.

Roberta L. Millstein

Hi Thor,
Colin has already answered your post better than I can, but I'd just reiterate that I used what information was available to me. The City made the blue and green table public, which you might click on and take a look at, but it does talk about the different types of residences in different projects. Similarly, I linked to what information that UCD made available; just follow the links. If other people know about other publicly available information, please chime in! As for your seeming frustration over Orchard Park, I share it.

Dan Cornford

A number of crucially important point have not been made in this thread, even if they have been made many times by several people in past years, including myself, in posts and in DE Op-Eds.

Greg Rowe correctly criticizes UCD for its failure to build more on-campus housing and indeed it has the worst record of any UC campus in this respect. This was a point that Greg, Eileen Samitz and other made continuously during the Nishi 1.0 battle, in particular.

However Greg neglects to mention a point that he made in his excellent white paper at the time and I quote from one of my posts back then in which I quoted him: “Neither the state, nor the Regents mandated the expansion of UCD’s enrollment. The ‘UCD 2020 Initiative’ was announced by Chancellor Katehi in March 2013. In the written words of Greg Rowe, a member of the Planning Commission, in his white paper. It is ‘not a state mandated plan, but is a self-imposed proposition created by UCD to add 5,000 more students by 2020, 4,500 of which would be non-residents.’”

Relatedly, as I pointed out at that time (having done a lot of research on the issue). “Other cities such as Santa Cruz and Berkeley have successful sued (in decisions upheld by the CA Supreme Court) their host universities to limit enrolment growth and traffic, and to provide mitigation expenses for infrastructure costs.”

The City Council, the planning commission, and the Davis public, despite rhetoric re UCD doing its fair share, have simply not, to date, taken the firm stance that Santa Cruz and Berkeley did.

Finally, to respond to Greg’s point about SACOG and Davis having to meet a new fair share allocation in the near future: Eileen Samitz, in particular, and others pointed out several years ago very forcefully and clearly that in approving so much housing in the city, they were making the task of Davis meeting its upcoming SACOG allocation even harder.

But neither the City Council nor the planning commission (of which Greg is and was a member) paid much notice to this very important point. If you are on record Greg as having stressed this point I absolve you, and stand to be corrected in your particular case.

Ron O

Dan: That's what I recall, as well. That is, all of your points.

Georgina Valencia

I would like to add a few thoughts to the discussion. While the hard numbers indicated in the tables showing Total Units of residential development is true, as with many things there is more to the story. For example, The Cannery started in 2012 (8 years ago) and much of the housing as been absorbed (sold, moved into) and built. There are currently approximately 70 condo's remaining at Gala (prices starting in the mid $500's) of the 633 units indicated in the table in this article.

Also, Grande subdivision has only 11 lots remaining to be built on. 14 of the lots sold as affordable homes and the balance were homes that sold in the $900's to over $1,000,000. And Cassell Lane has many $1,000,000 plus homes on the 23 lots.

Sterling Apartments is, I believe, has affordable and separate student units. And are indicated in both charts. And the units, approx 38, are being counted twice.

My comments are to highlight the following: while the total unit count indicated is 2,358 a large number of those units have already been absorbed (moved into) AND we still have a housing problem. ADU's are a nice idea but I don't believe you are going to see more than a handful of these properties built, check permits at this city.

Where in all of these numbers are you differentiating between Market Rate and Affordable Housing, I am not seeing it. Housing is a complex issue and while there is approved housing units who is being served. Prices are still high and accessibility for: young families, seniors, singles, disabled, teachers at DJUSD and UCD is still meager.

Colin Walsh

Thank you for your thoughtful analysis. I think it definitely adds to the conversation. Housing is indeed a complex issue.

I don't think Roberta tried to addresses the affordable housing components or affordability of the housing. That would definitely be an interesting follow up.

A couple of your criticisms seem to target the table the Mayor used at the 2x2x2. I agree that it is an imperfect table. I think you are right to point out the build out at the Cannery, and maybe the Mayor should not have included it. I think It is even more perplexing that he left out the WDAAC Brenton Woods project.

The article also made no attempt to add up the 8 proposals yet to be approved the City has posted on the website. Some number of those will be approved too.

In the end though, I think this article does show a very large amount of housing in the pipeline, and the built out parts is a fairly small portion of what is included in the article. Is it enough housing to meet local needs? I think maybe it is, after all housing for 20,000 people is about 30% of the current population of the City of Davis, though I am interested in hearing more information on this topic.

Ron O

I realize that the topic is "Davis" housing, but I found some parallels wtih this article I just came across regarding expensive New York city condos - which apparently have a high "vacancy rate".

To me, this points out an underlying problem with capitalism at large. And, is a reason that typical supply/demand arguments don't necessarily work.

Ron O

And in the case of Davis (and the Sacramento region at large), much of the "market demand" is driven by people moving out of the Bay Area.

Julia Kulmann

I am most concerned with the people that are served by the housing. We need more affordable housing, not just more housing.

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