Santa Cruz Good Times

Monday
Nov 24th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Out of Reach

news_tanneryWorkshop series targets the need for more affordable housing in Santa Cruz
I used to dream of winning the lottery so that I could one day buy a house in Santa Cruz—one of the nation’s most desirable and expensive coastal markets. But my last search for a local rental was a wake-up call.

First, my prospective roommate called about the marijuana operation he wanted to start in the back shed. Yes, the landlord was cool with it, and permits would be obtained. No, I wasn’t interested, but I appreciated the info—it would have been a sad discovery to make after moving in. Better to stay away and save my $1,600 deposit and $850 in rent—an amount that would make a monthly house payment on a decent property in my hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah. 

In Santa Cruz, you are lucky to get a studio for this much, according to the 2009 County Assessment Project (CAP) report. The mean rent for a one-room apartment with a kitchenette rose from $873 in 2003 to $1,034 in 2009. Average rental prices for a four-bedroom house rose from $1,998 in 2005 to a staggering $2,358.

This market reality is the force behind “Housing Within Reach,” a workshop series organized by the United Methodist Church and Transition Santa Cruz, a local nonprofit on a mission to “relocalize” Santa Cruz as it transitions into a future with limited resources. Economic sustainability, such as affordable housing, is part of their vision.

The next workshop is scheduled for Feb. 11, and will focus on private development and zoning laws. Among the presenters is John Swift, the land use consultant behind the mixed business and residency complex that houses Borders on Pacific Avenue. Swift is also moving a high-density project forward at Cayuga and Mission streets, where he plans to convert a weedy lot to an eight-unit condominium complex, complete with office and retail space.

“By my count there have been 20 residential units built in Santa Cruz County in the last 25 years,” says Swift. While the City of Santa Cruz has zoning laws that facilitate rental developments, the county is stricter. This figure does not account for granny units like converted carriage houses and garages, but it addresses formal rental complexes.

“We have to address affordability and increase supply, otherwise our kids won’t be able to buy and settle down in Santa Cruz,” says Rick Longinotti, co-founder of Transition Santa Cruz and the workshop series organizer. Thirty percent of Santa Cruz residents spend half of their income on rent, according to the CAP report.

Yet, the cost of renting is just the tip of the iceberg. The quality and cleanliness of local rentals is also a topic of concern that will be addressed in the workshop series—and an issue I came face-to-face with during my last move, when I looked at places with vomit-stained carpets, low attic ceilings, and filthy paint jobs.

It’s not that I couldn’t find a place to rent, or that I couldn’t cough up the $1,500 a month needed for a standard one-bedroom. I just couldn’t find anything that was worth it. One apartment that was deceptively advertised as a “two bedroom” turned out to be an attic with a hole cut in the wall. On the other side of the hole was bedroom number one—a plank built in the rafters (room enough for a futon mattress, said the landlady). The second bedroom was a screened balcony. When I squinted, I could see through the floorboards to the grass below. The place was rented out from under me while I was driving to deliver my deposit.

The first housing workshop held on Jan. 14 addressed rent control and the accessibility of livable spaces. The battle for affordable rents was lost during the ’70s when rent control measures failed at the ballot box by approximately 20 votes. No similar measures have come close to passing since. “Rent control isn’t politically possible in Santa Cruz,” says Longinotti. “There is a base of small-scale landlords that make this unlikely.”

Activists have instead begun to focus on high-density developments built with green materials. “Efficient use of the land is also important,” says Swift. “Putting people close to where they work and shop is the best thing you can do for the environment.”

Swift plans to discuss the importance of density development during the upcoming Feb. 11 workshop. Building a variety of unit sizes, and streamlining the permit process will also be topics. Most importantly, the burden of providing affordable housing must be spread more equally among the population of the community, says Swift. Models like the Tannery Arts Center live/work lofts are key. “They are completely filled up,” says Swift of the 100 units of low-income artist housing, marking the project’s success.

The workshop series will continue on Feb. 25 with a conversation about housing, transportation and greenhouse gases. Celia Scott, former Santa Cruz mayor and current environmental attorney, will discuss the proposed widening of Highway 1. On March 11 the series will conclude with a discussion of community strategies for preserving affordability.

“We want to get the community more involved in the planning process,” says David Stearns, who helped organize the workshop series. No plans for direct action have been proposed, and the workshop series has no policy impact. Yet the event serves as a much-needed conversation starter, says Stearns.

The market demand created by UC Santa Cruz students raised controversy during the first workshop. According to Eric Grodberg, a landlord who attended, university expansion will likely continue to inflate rents as long as enrollment increases. “The university is the market maker, and their housing policies determine rent prices in town,” he says, “and no amount of new development will solve that problem.” Currently students pay about $1,000 per month per person to share a double dorm room on campus, leading many to seek rooms in houses near town. Student enrollment is expected to increase by 4,500 by 2020.

Swift agrees that the housing problem is bigger than any one development, yet he says new projects will still help. “I agree we probably can’t solve the problem in its entirety, but it’s important to make marginal improvements and implement the solutions we can,” he says. “This workshop series brings diverse community members together to attempt to find common ground.”

In the meantime, local young professionals and families will have to take what they can get. My last landlord “forgot” to finish my place before I moved in. I slept on his couch for five weeks while construction crawled along, all the while paying full rent. Depressing? Indeed. But no worse than the seasonal pond that formed under my first house off West Cliff Drive. I paid $1,600 in 2004, and rent is now up to $2,200, according to my former neighbors—and yes, the pond is reportedly still there.


The “Housing Within Reach” events will be held at the United Methodist Church, 250 California St., Santa Cruz, from 7 to 9 p.m. on the following dates: Feb. 11: A Developer Perspective on Affordability with John Swift, developer and land use consultant and Jeff Oberdorfer, FAIA, ED, First Community Housing. Car-free & car-lite development for Santa Cruz, With Rick Longinotti, Transition Santa Cruz. Feb. 25: Housing, Transportation & Greenhouse Gases with John Doughty, executive director, AMBAG and Celia Scott, former mayor & environmental attorney/planner. Mar. 11: Next Steps: A community meeting to unite on strategies that will increase and preserve housing affordability, led by David Foster, Capitola Housing & Redevelopment Project Manager; Santa Cruz Planning Commission.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Pop Life

The pop-up dining trend is freeing culinary imaginations and creating a guerilla version of event dining around Santa Cruz

 

Over Hills and Plains, Riding a White Horse, Bow and Arrows in Hand

Saturday, early morning, the sun enters and radiates the light of Sagittarius. Three hours later, the Sagittarius new moon (0.07 degrees) occurs. “Let food be sought,” is the personality-building keynote. “Food” means experiences; all kinds, levels and types. It also means real food. Sag’s secret is their love of food. Many, if not musicians, are chefs. Some are both. The energies shift from Scorpio’s deep and transformative waters to the “hills and plains of Sagittarius.” Sag is the rider on a white horse, eyes focused on the mountain peaks of Capricorn (Initiation) ahead. Like Scorpio, Sagittarius is also the “disciple.” Adventure, luck, optimism, joy and the beginnings of gratitude are the hallmarks of Sagittarius. Sag is also one of the signs of silence. The battle lines were drawn in Libra and we were asked to choose where we stood. The Nine Tests were given in Scorpio and we emerged “warriors triumphant.” Now in Sag, we are to be the One-Pointed Disciple, riding over the plains on a white horse, bow and arrows in hand, eyes focused on the Path of Return ahead. Sagittarians are one-pointed (symbol of the arrow). Sag asks, “What is my life’s purpose?” This is their quest, from valleys, plains, meadows and hills, eyes aimed always at the mountaintop. Sag emerges from Scorpio’s deep waters, conflict and tests into the open air. Sag’s quest is humanity’s quest. Sag’s quest, however, is always accompanied by music and good food.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of November 21

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Pie Fidelity

A little Thanksgiving help, plus sip and shop locally at the Art, Wine and Gift Bazaar

 

What should be on everyone’s bucket list?

Hang gliding, because you're free as a bird. Jenni, Santa Cruz, Student/Administrative Assistant

 

Soquel Vineyards

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, so it’s time to be thinking about the wine you’re going to serve with that special dinner, be it turkey, ham, a roast, or something vegetarian or vegan.

 

The Kitchen

Chef Santos Majano talks beer-friendly food at Discretion Brewery