UC Davis continues its war against affordable housing

Future of affordable housing for students with families uncertain

UC Davis graduate students say they wouldn’t have selected the university for studies if they’d known it would eliminate some of its affordable-housing offerings.

UC Davis graduate students say they wouldn’t have selected the university for studies if they’d known it would eliminate some of its affordable-housing offerings.


It’s quiet at Orchard Park. Which is strange, because the graduate-student housing community at UC Davis usually is full of strollers, hot-pink bicycles and soccer balls. But the university stopped offering new leases this year, and only 63 of 200 apartments are occupied.

Five years ago, UCD announced plans to close the family-friendly complex this summer, and residents were told they had to move out this July. Students say they assumed Orchard Park would simply be renovated, but officials, after conducting a market study, want to redevelop it with high-end amenities, like a tanning salon.

Rent would also go up. A two-bedroom apartment would start at $1,026. The most expensive three-bedroom apartment would go for $2,165. Currently, Orchard Park residents pay $906 for a two-bedroom.

“They’re calling it affordable, but it’s not,” says Chantelise Pells, a Ph.D. student and resident of nearby affordable housing community Solano Park. “They want to outsource. They want to privatize. There’s more financial incentive.”

UC Davis has a track record of attempting to eliminate affordable housing. In just the past five years, the Davis Student Cooperative and “the Domes” came under fire. Both were ultimately spared.

The legal definition of affordable housing slates rent at less than 30 percent of salary. Graduate students earn less than $1,500 per month as teaching assistants, and single parents would spend 70 percent of their salaries toward rent for the smallest two-bedroom apartment at the new Orchard Park. Currently, residents put 60 percent toward rent.

Students call this a crisis. Their concerns have led the university to “pause,” says Emily Galindo, UC Davis associate vice chancellor of Student Affairs.

“They raised questions in such a way that we felt we should take a step back and revisit and re-evaluate our initial plans,” she says.

That means Orchard Park might not actually be demolished this summer. Or it will, but perhaps the new apartment complex won’t be managed by a private, third-party developer. Or maybe the exact same plans will move forward. It’s all fluid.

Residents of Orchard Park and sister housing community Solano Park, slated for demolition in 2016, remain skeptical. They want to ensure there’s enough affordable, family-friendly graduate-student housing to go around. Currently, there are no plans to replace Solano Park with apartments at all. Students started a Facebook page, Save the Parks Now, and a petition on Change.org with more than 500 signatures.

The university says the buildings have plumbing, electrical and roofing issues, plus appliances in need of replacing, dry rot and other problems. According to Galindo, the expense is so high that they’re not worth renovating.

Pells and Ph.D. student Sara Petrosillo are both mothers of two children, and they’ve lived at Solano Park for four years. They said they love its diversity—with a large international student population, their kids have already befriended children from Turkey, Chile and China.

“My daughter is growing up differently,” Petrosillo says. “She doesn’t know what it’d be like to have a fenced-in yard without tons of kids around to play with.”

The international students, meanwhile, appreciate fellow students around to help them acclimate. Affordability is also key when international student visas don’t allow them to apply for jobs.

“We wouldn’t choose Davis without this,” says Liz Campuzano, who lives with her graduate-student husband and two children in Solano Park.

If demolition plans continue, Pells predicts the university will lose out on female graduate students who need to balance their domestic and academic lives.

“It’s really inconsistent,” she says. “The university always says they want to support women scholars, yet they’re getting rid of this support system.”