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A Look At the City Survey - Part One, Housing

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

"We focus on the 31 percent who self-report to an open-ended question that the lack of affordable housing is a problem, but in a way this is so much more telling because it is not just that 79 percent are dissatisfied with the affordability of housing – they aren’t just mildly dissatisfied, they are in the more extreme category."

Affordable Housing - Yes on Measure B Davis

By: David Greenwald | July 11, 2019 | The Davis Vanguard

The city conducted a survey recently through EMC Research with the broader subject being satisfaction.  For the most part, the city council should be pleased with the survey results – especially looking more narrowly at support for the sales tax renewal.

A key finding according to the consultants, “Voters are overwhelmingly satisfied with the local quality of life in Davis, as well as safety, the City’s image and reputation and many services provided by the City.” Moreover, “Most voters trust the City’s leaders to solve difficult problems and have confidence.”

As I will argue tomorrow, however, while the city and council should be pleased with the survey results, there is a giant red flag in the disconnect between voter perception of the fiscal issues and reality. That becomes a problem at some point in time – even if it makes it easier somewhat to pass a sales tax.

But that is part two of my analysis.  Part one focuses on the sea change that is the voter/resident perception of the housing issue. Now I think the wording on the charts distorts the meaning of the polling somewhat.  The issue is not a lack “affordable housing” in the sense of designated, subsidized, big “A” affordable housing.

Rather the concern as the consultants put it is with “housing affordability.”  As they write, “There is significant concern about housing affordability.”

You can see this in the city satisfaction rating, where on the issue of “the affordability of housing” just 3 percent are very satisfied and only 15 percent are even somewhat satisfied, but 29 percent are “somewhat dissatisfied” and half the respondents, 50 percent, are “very dissatisfied.”

We focus on the 31 percent who self-report to an open-ended question that the lack of affordable housing is a problem, but in a way, this is so much more telling because it is not just that 79 percent are dissatisfied with the affordability of housing – they aren’t just mildly dissatisfied, they are in the more extreme category.

In a city and in a poll that is overwhelmingly positive for the city, this one stands out.  A net rating of negative 61.  To put this into perspective, the only other net negative is downtown parking and that is a mere net negative of 13.  Moreover, of the 55 percent that are dissatisfied on parking, 30 percent of them are only somewhat dissatisfied.

We can question the knowledge on issues like maintenance of streets which is somewhat surprisingly at a 58-42, a plus 16 split.  But this one is unequivocal and not at all ambiguous.

The consultants break it out a little more.  Housing affordability was by far the top choice in the open-ended, “What do you think is the most important issue facing the City of Davis today?”  It wasn’t even close.  Thirty-one percent picked that – again consistent with the steep negative in the dissatisfaction ratings – the next highest was land use at 10 percent and homelessness at 7 percent.

This is also not an artifact of over-representation of one age group that might be more predisposed to have housing concerns.

The breakdown by age shows even the older populations 50-64 and 65 and above are still selecting this issue voluntarily 20 and 23 percent of the time.  While that is far less than the younger populations, it is still twice as much as the next highest populations.

In the poll, 48 percent of those responding are over 50 years of age.

The biggest groups expressing concern are those 18 to 29 and 30 to 39.  As the consultants mention, “Half of the voters in their 30s mention housing affordability as the City’s most important issue.”

Bottom line: yes, there is an age factor, but even at the top end of the age spectrum it is 20 to 25 percent of the voters selecting affordability.

The top three issues all relate somewhat to housing and development – lack of affordable housing was cited in an open-ended question by 31 percent. To underscore this, they volunteered the answer from an open-ended question.

Second at 10 percent was growth and development, and 7 percent homeless.

While some questioned the meaning of the first category, I think it becomes clear from other answers that it is not “affordable housing” per se, but rather the affordability of housing that is driving voter concerns.

On the one hand, the second category is probably capturing more of the slow growth population. The third category is a mix for those concerned about helping the homeless and those who frankly want to see them shipped out of town.

Looking at the response over time is somewhat telling. Lack of affordable housing was listed by just 9 percent in 2014. This gives you a clear indication as to why two Measure R projects passed in 2018.

On the other hand, growth and development, if it is indeed a slow growth tendency, fell from the high point of 34 percent in 2007 down to 5 percent by 2014 but up to 10 percent by 2019. Homelessness wasn’t even on the radar until 2019. One question that they did not ask was about Measure R.  In some ways, that makes sense, this was a voter satisfaction poll and really aimed at the sales tax.

Still, while we have a loose idea of voters concerns for housing, we don’t know much about policy preferences. A few points in closing here. First, in 2018 the voters for the first time passed two housing projects via Measure R.  We see in the data a good reason for that.

Second, the city council has passed a lot of student housing measures – and for good reason, given that shortfall.  They also addressed the need for senior housing (if you believe there was a need – the voters seemed to support it).

A big next step would be perhaps to address family housing – 52 percent of those 30 to 39 expressed concern about housing affordability.  That is prime age for families with young children. In terms of market rate versus Affordable Housing, we just don’t know from this poll.

What the voters see as the solution, we also don’t know. How this plays out for Measure R is another interesting question.  On the one hand, the voters see a problem with housing affordability.  On the other hand, two Measure R votes passed. And finally, there is ARC (Aggie Research Campus) with a workforce housing component – does this result bolster that measure’s chances?

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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