On Home


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”.





  1. Chris Nunez says:

    As I recall, the Sentinel published a front page story pointing out that high end housing was being snatched up by real estate agents… we’ve seen this before in Silicon Valley where ‘flipping property’ from one real estate agent to another artificially drove up the cost of housing. So here’s one area that might be researched and discussed.

    As for the Redevelopment Agency, it’s easy to blame Governor Brown and the demise of an ineffective body for the lack of housing. I’m not buying that.

    • cneklason says:

      I’m not asserting that the demise of local RDA is itself responsible for the lack of affordable housing.

      I am asserting that given the combination of very high local land prices, and limits on height and density, there is little or no incentive for private developers to build affordable housing. RDA funds, among other funding sources, helped alter that economic reality by subsidizing or outright financing the building of affordable housing, and now those funds are gone, and Santa Cruz County is still working on how to increase the amount of affordable housing or otherwise change the fundamental economic reality.

      For instance, it might be that 50 foot tall buildings with 500sq ft units are profitable for private developers alone, or some other combination of factors.

  2. The proposed homeless sanctuary camp, while just a drop in the bucket, could be an important first step in demonstrating at least one way,among many, to start addressing the need for affordable housing. Clearly, as you point out, it isn’t just the homeless who suffer from this housing shortage. The comprehensive discussion of this issue hasn’t happened yet, and I appreciate your raising it here.

  3. Mike C. says:

    I appreciate the article on Santa Cruz County Housing. The author made some good points. But, I feel there were also some erroneous points that I would like to address.
    1) The reference to an “ever growing UCSC.” The growth rate of UCSC has been a known factor for many decades. The growth rate is spelled out in Long Range Development plans that are periodically published. The current student increase is far, far below the original projections. The projections were in place long before the County had the huge growth spurts in the 70’s and 80’s. Therefore, any planning on the part of the City and County of Santa Cruz should have accommodated this growth and can’t be claimed to be unanticipated.
    2) The reference to the “lack of housing in Santa Cruz County.” There will ALWAYS be a greater demand for housing than actual housing available here. That happens in every desirable location on the planet. I guess this would qualify as a problem of ‘supply and demand.’ Adding housing, including ‘subsidized’ housing at the expense of the existing population, will not change the demand. If you increase the amount of high value housing you will increase the demand by high income people. If you increase the amount of low income housing, you will increase the demand by low income people. It’s a never ending merry-go-round.
    3) I mostly agree with the last two paragraphs, except for the part about growing the community. As a result of that ‘rapacious development’ in the past, the county growth rate has been reduced to approximately 1% per year for the past couple decades. Even at that rate, we still don’t have adequate resources to manage the growth. I agree that we need to improve infrastructure and create jobs to meet the needs of the existing population and a small, controlled amount of growth, but NOT for an increased growth rate.
    Invariably, higher growth rates ensure that a community will eventually out-strip the available resources. At least with a managed growth rate, the community has a chance to adapt to the dwindling resources, such as utilizing less water. Growing the community merely to meet the demands of all who would like to live here, is ultimately self-defeating.

    • cneklason says:

      Thanks for your comments, Mike.

      WRT your first point, I wasn’t asserting that the growth of UCSC was unanticipated.

      WRT to your second point, demand always outstripping supply, capitalism actually responds to increases and decreases in demand by increasing or lowering supply (or prices when supply is restricted or abundant). In the case of affordable housing in Santa Cruz County, there are some political constraints mixed with economic fundamentals which contribute to the current backlog in lower cost housing units.

      Very high land prices mixed with density and building height restrictions combine toward a disincentive for developers to build affordable housing. Supply will ramp up when something in that combination changes.

      WRT to your third point, growing the community, well, UCSC is growing in a predictable manner, and my wife and I moved here and then had 3 kids, and the new up and coming tech boom is bringing new immigrants, the community is already growing.

      The desire to avoid growth is moot. Growth is here. Yes, let’s work out how to manage growth (to the extent possible). As a point of clarity also, I’m not advocating the Manhattanization of the county, just that we accommodate the growth which is happening.

      Part of the political inertia in Santa Cruz County is about not wanting to promote growth, with the effect that attempts to address accumulated and already existing growth related deficits like housing stock, water and transportation, bog down because proposed solutions are thought to promote future growth.


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