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Insufficient affordable housing at University Commons

Faith leaders speak out

19universitycommonsAt the Davis City Council Meeting on Tuesday, August 18, a 3-2 vote approved the University Commons Proposal. We, the undersigned faith leaders, express our disappointment at this decision. While we are encouraged by Brixmor's increase from 0% to 5% affordable housing at the 80% median income for Yolo County, we also contend that this is not enough.

While the specific decision regarding the University Commons is the spark to this conversation, the housing crisis in Davis and across our state does not begin and end with this decision.

As faith leaders in the Davis community, we have the opportunity to engage with individuals from many walks of life, ministering with people of diverse economic, racial, generational, and educational backgrounds.

The ongoing problem of housing insecurity affects many Davis residents—students and families alike—from accessibility to affordability. This lack of affordable housing is not an isolated issue but has cascading consequences, leading to greater food insecurity, negative physical and mental health outcomes, decreased academic performance, and increased risk of other harms. The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic recession have done nothing but further exacerbate these realities for many low-income students and families.

In the August 20 Davis Vanguard Morning News, David Greenwald published his commentary on our letter to the Davis City Council in preparation for Tuesday's meeting. He offered his critique that demanding more from our city leaders with regard to affordable housing is equivalent to "squeezing blood out of a turnip" - after all, 5% has already been committed. However, we offer an alternative narrative. Can we imagine a city guided by moral imagination, where we privilege the voices and experience of all Davis residents over the profit margins of developers and corporations? Let us live into the hope of a future where affordable housing is more than a compromise, but a testament to a city committed to inclusivity and equality.

Here's what we're asking: that the City Council pause and allow time to reconsider their vote before moving any further with this project due to the unaffordability of the rental of beds or units, including the "affordable units." Moving forward, we affirm our previous commitment: to continue as partners in shaping a model city that overcomes the racial and economic injustices that plague our land, and creates opportunities for all people to thrive.

The Rev. Dr. Brandon Austin, Pastor, Davis United Methodist Church

The Rev. Beth Banks, Senior Minister UU Church of Davis

Rabbi Seth Castleman, Davis

The Dr. Pamela Dolan, Rector of the Episcopal Church of St. Martin

The Rev. Casey Kloehn Dunsworth, The Belfry Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry

Hamza El-Nakhal, Muslim Davis Engagement and Interfaith Network (DEIN)

The Rev. Dr. Eunbee Ham, Pastor, Davis Community Church

Anne Kjemtrup, Muslim Davis Engagement and Interfaith Network (DEIN)

The Rev. Dr. Chris Neufeld-Erdman, Pastor, Davis Community Church

Sara Tillema, Director and Campus Minister of Cal Aggie Christian Association (CA House)

Rabbi Greg Wolfe, Congregation Bet Haverim, Davis



This is very welcome, of course.

There's probably some useful religious lesson that involves surface parking lots and a lack of housing, but though certainly of deep faith I am way too secular to know anything in detail in this area.

What's interesting - but not surprising, however - is that nearly all of these congregations have facilities with relatively-modest parking lots. I am not clear how much undeveloped land they own, but I know that DCC is already supporting 4-story housing bordering 5th and C. UUC and UMC are at the bottom, but their vehicle storage or empty land is nothing compared to Pole Line Road Baptist Church or the immodesty champion of them all, St James (at least they have solar panels..?). These two have not signed the letter. Coincidence?

Services to homeless individuals are essential, but I am curious what's being down to build housing on any of these lots. A robust study would be welcome!

Now clearly, the other houses of worship in Davis: Target, both Nuggets, Safeway, Food Mart, Grocery Outlet are adjacent to much, much bigger lots.

Which Council members and Council candidates will push both shopping center owners and congregations to build housing on their sometimes obscenely-sized parking lots?

Larry Guenther

Full disclosure. I am a candidate for City Council in District 3.

Calling the units in this project 'Affordable' is disingenuous at best. "Affordable Units" that are more expensive than market rate units on Campus is absurd. I am somewhat baffled at the support from students demanding units with reasonable rents, because this project is not it.

This proposal is a good idea with terrible execution. High density housing near campus on existing transit lines is laudable. That this project would not pave farm land or open space is great. As it was approved, however, this project is not a benefit to the City, the students, University Staff, or Faculty.

The problems with this project could all be dealt with through design. This project could have been designed so that it served the needs of the City and did not overwhelm the adjacent neighborhoods. But - once again - "it doesn't pencil out." The argument (that is never proven) is held as extortion, if not explicitly, then implicitly.

A bad process begets a bad project.

Eileen Samitz

This is thoughtful and well written article that I so appreciate. The religious leaders of Davis completely understand the problem with this University Commons project, much like the other mega-dorms but this is the worse yet due to the impacts as well. Their outreach to the Council for a reconsideration by the Council majority is the action which we so need these Council members to take.

These mega-dorms are exclusionary by design and unaffordable group housing which provide no practical housing for our workers and families who also needing housing . Davis has already approved 3,888 of these mega-dorm beds specifically designed just for students, so they are not usable by the rest of the community members.

There is no excuse for this project to be rushed though now.
I hope that the Council majority responds to this and reconsiders this project which is so detrimental in so many ways to the entire community including UCD students, as well as our workers and families.

I urge readers to please send an email to the City Council now at since this is very time sensitive. The Council is scheduled to finalize the vote on this project this Tuesday August 25th at the Council meeting. Please urge the Council majority (Partida, Lee and Carson) to reconsider their approval votes, and to reject this project.

We need a re-design of University Commons that works for the community as a whole for affordable housing for workers, families and UCD students.

Cathy E

What kind of City Council do we in Davis have? Is it one that fails to listen to their own Planning Committee? To the social conscience/faith leaders of the community and to those residents wanting a safe and accessible mixed retail/residential mall? Surely, maximum profit cannot be the only goal of our city. I hope a step back can be taken to reevaluate who we are as the City of Davis and the values we will demonstrate to cities around us. Including true affordable housing in all projects should be non negotiable.

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