Vacancy rates fuels concerns

UC Davis students have more than the pressure of quarter final exams bearing down on them this month.

March is also the time when students begin scrambling to find housing for the next academic year.

With an apartment vacancy rate in Davis of 0.5 percent and rising rental costs, students must act quickly in the next few weeks to ensure they find a decent place to live, said Matt Huerta, president of the Associated Students of the University of California, Davis.

"It's pretty much the state of affairs throughout campus - you need to sign a lease by the end of March, or it's really difficult," he said. "It's the early bird that gets the worm."

The solution to the housing crunch requires backing from both campus and the city of Davis, Huerta said. He'd like both entities to explore expanding cooperative housing options and public transit lines in town.

Last week, members of the campus student government and the Davis city council held their second annual joint meeting to address housing and growth concerns. There, Davis senior planner Katherine Hess outlined the city's proposals for new apartment construction to ASUCD members.

Student input

On campus, student government recently created its first task force to study UC Davis' Long Range Development Plan, Huerta said. Earlier this week Campus Planner Bob Segar spoke to that group.

The committee plans to draft recommendations to the Resource Management and Planning department and the development plan's steering committee so that "they know exactly how students feel," Huerta said.

"We hope to continue building positive relationships with city officials and campus administration so that we can be a part of the process," Huerta said.

The fifth-year student, like many others, said that he's found the housing search more difficult each year he's been at Davis.

However, there are no quick and easy solutions to the housing shortage on campus, or in town, report university administrators.

Campus plans

By 2003, the university expects to complete a new residence hall housing 300 first-year and transfer students, said Pat Kearney, executive director of Student Housing. The campus development plan, scheduled for completion in spring 2002, may also recommend building a new, privately managed residential complex for upper class and graduate students.

If that project comes through, in-town and campus housing - the latter guaranteed only to first-year students - should be easier to find. The problem now is that the university is growing faster than buildings are able to go up, Kearney said.

"We find ourselves in a short-term crunch," Kearney said. There will be enough housing, but not always where people want to live … That's the unfortunate thing.

"I think (finding housing) is something that's going to be the most difficult over the next 24 months."

Although the university's long-range plan tackles development on campus, its recommendations also take into account the city of Davis' general plan, which is currently in the final stages of revision, said Marjorie Dickinson, assistant vice chancellor for government and community relations for UC Davis.

As part of the campus's plan, student housing options could remain "business as usual," or the campus may embark on a major endeavor to build housing for not only students, but faculty and staff members as well, she said.

City proposals

To help ease campus concerns, city staff has recommended that the general plan include a "strengthening of the discussion" of student housing, planner Hess told the audience at the joint meeting.

Additionally, the council has discussed creating its first affordable housing task force, with a specific focus on student needs, she said.

More immediately, about 205 apartment units will soon be constructed in Mace Ranch, Wildhorse and south Davis. Closer to campus, more than 150 proposed units on Olive Drive will be reviewed in an upcoming public hearing.

Dickinson said she will ask that the city consider student housing needs when setting the schedule for new projects to be approved.

"Timing is a really big issue," she said. "If apartment units come on line anytime other than fall quarter, they will generally be rented by non-students."

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