Santa Cruz County is a tough place to buy a home or rent a place to live. Due to a variety of factors such as very high land prices, slow growth policies, density restrictions, an ever growing UCSC and the proximity to Silicon Valley, “housing stock” has not kept up with demand.
For people of fixed or low income, new affordable housing isn’t being built fast enough. Because of the economics involved, there is very little incentive for housing developers to participate. Due to the closing of local Redevelopment Agencies by Governor Brown, there is now a shortfall of municipal funding which can subsidize new affordable developments.
A recent set of articles in the Santa Cruz County Sentinel describe a shift in population from the mountains to the coast, and a recent effort by the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors to address the loss of Redevelopment money. Unfortunately, it appears that there is more pressure on the coastal city housing markets and that the County has not found a way to come up with a way to generate new Redevelopment funds.
Housing has always been an issue in Santa Cruz County, and it is steadily becoming worse. As the tech boom moves from Silicon Valley and San Francisco, the high end of the local housing market is already feeling the effect. Local employers and employees are already impacted as blue collar wage earners are forced to live further and further from their jobs. Neighborhoods are impacted when family homes are turned into rentals and stuffed with 5 or 6 individuals, each with their own vehicle.
Something clearly needs to be done to address the lack of housing, especially affordable housing. Absent municipal funds to subsidize low cost housing, other factors in the economic calculus will have to change. Efforts already undertaken include permitted use of “granny units” in the City of Santa Cruz in 2002 and earlier, in other parts of the County. There is also discussion about higher density housing through a combination of taller buildings and micro housing.
Santa Cruz County, too, has a population of about 3500 homeless and not enough housing for them. A “sanctuary camp” proposal, modeled after similar successful projects in Oregon and elsewhere, offers an alternative to expensive fixed housing but is still encumbered by the economics of land prices in Santa Cruz County.
The hard truth is that Santa Cruz County is short several thousand units of housing, right now, especially affordable housing.
In the end, what is slowing down the response to this is the struggle in the Santa Cruz County political culture in evolving a new vision of itself. There is major, almost reflexive, resistance to growth and development, resistance anchored by environmental and sustainability principles and memories of fights against rapacious development in the past.
The question going forward is how to grow and develop the community, our home, in environmentally sound and sustainable ways? Anything is possible if we can get away from the “no” and work together on the “yes”.