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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Models Conflict on Whether Davis Needs Senior Housing

Elaine Roberts Musser had an excellent column this week in the Vanguard. If you did not read it, you should. I am following up on it but I will not do it justice.

I start at a midpoint in her article which I think is actually the starting point for any discussion not just on senior housing but on development overall. I think it too often gets over-shadowed in the whole housing debate. The question is one of internal need.

Elaine Roberts Musser writes:
"Necessary to the process will be for developers to consider “internal” community needs rather than “external” needs of those who live outside Davis. (This is not an elitist attitude, by the way, but a recognition that the efforts of the City Council need to be directed toward addressing community problems first and foremost, if at all possible. This is the charge of the City Council.)"
What is interesting about internal need is that regional housing boards like SACOG do not use internal housing need, instead they use what is called a Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) in order to figure out what the "fair share" of growth for a community is. Of course the problem is that at least in part those numbers are externally driven. SACOG like other "Councils of Goverments" is a pseudo-elected body made up of representatives from various governmental bodies. The very idea of a RHNA mandate for growth is a strict limit on local autonomy.

We started this week with a discussion on the reduction of sprawl at a state level. However, communities within that framework ought to have a good deal of say as to how, when, and how much they should grow. Some communities would like to grow quicker than others. I certainly believe that is something within their rights.

A true internal needs assessment for Davis is not surprisingly a matter of controversy. But there is quite a bit of locally driven demand from the university in the form of both faculty and staff as well as students. As I have mentioned at other points in time, the university could go a long way toward helping to alleviate the student housing crunch if they were willing to take up their own fair-share of proposed growths. According to statistics, UC Davis has among the lowest, if not the lowest, on-campus housing in the UC system.

Like any model, internal housing needs depends on the assumptions of the model. And here is where the article by Elaine Roberts Musser to me is so important.

The Housing Element Steering Committee (HESC) determined that there would be "an “internal need” for somewhere between 200 to 400 units of senior housing between now and the year 2013."

Ms. Roberts Musser goes on to argue:
"The members I talked with and a person on city staff are indicating there is very little justification for the numbers arrived at, ostensibly because it is a difficult figure to quantify."
But here is the key point that I think underscores the problematic nature of such projections.
"The notion that all seniors want to downsize is fallacious. An AARP survey indicates otherwise. Actually 83% of those 45 and older would prefer to stay in their existing home, and not downsize."
This is consistent with a number of seniors or soon-to-be seniors I have spoken with. The other key point that many miss, is that a lot of seniors also do not want to live in what they think of as segregated communities or "Senior Ghettos" to use a more pejorative term (remember the original meaning of ghetto was simply a segregated community rather than a dilapidated one. Here is one definition: "a ghetto is an area, usually within a city, in which members of a particular cultural, ethnic, religious or national group live in high concentration, whether by choice or by force.")

Ms. Roberts Musser then raises the key point: if we re-orient the model to use the 83% figure, we come up with strikingly different results.
"If that statistic is applied to:

Tandem Properties’ alleged “internal need” of 800 units by year 2013, the “internal need” shrinks to 136 units;

HESC’s estimated “internal need” of 200-400 units by year 2013, the “internal need shrivels to between 34-68 units.

In fact, the current wait list for Shasta Point and Eleanor Roosevelt, both essentially low-income senior facilities, is virtually zero. As is the wait-list at Atria Covell Gardens, an assisted living facility for the elderly."
These assumptions are instructive however because they allow us to understand in concrete mathematical terms the nature of the debate and why I consistently hear from different individuals very different figures on the need for senior housing.

I want to bring up a second key point, one that was not raised in the Tuesday column, and that is about the nature of the Covell proposal.

Everyone knows the history of the original Covell Village proposal and the ensuing debate and campaign battle for Measure X. The Covell Partners, who I shall continue to reference as such, recognized some of the errors of their campaign and decided to scale-down their proposal.

Except that they really have not. What they have done is broken down the proposals by stages. The senior housing facility will only occupy the lower third of the property. Stages 2 and 3 would follow after successful approval of stage 1. They do not like to publicize this fact, but they have admitted it to various people that they have met with during the course of their outreach or focus group efforts.

In other words, if you were concerned about the Covell Village site because of the size and traffic impacts, then be mindful about how the big picture looks here.

From my perspective, it is going to take a long time to convince me that a senior facility at Covell Village really serves internal housing needs. In as much as I would be willing to support development, modest as that support would be, I would start with meeting internal needs for students and faculty through infill development. And I mean really infill development in properties that are already located within current city boundaries and that are already zoned residential. I do not see a need to develop Covell Village in the next general plan period. As the HESC showed us, we can meet our RHNA mandated growth by relying strictly on infill. I would suggest we bracket this discussion until after we have exhausted those possibilities.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting