Affordable Housing Week Santa Cruz High School teacher Stacey Falls
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Affordable Housing Week: Report Details Crisis for Renters

A forthcoming report out of UCSC shows distress in county’s low-income communities

Santa Cruz High School teacher Stacey Falls, seen here on her daily commute to work up Bay Street, says it’s only getting harder to find good teachers who can afford rents. PHOTO: KEANA PARKER

Stacey Falls, a science teacher at Santa Cruz High School, has been keeping a nervous eye on rents in recent years, as she’s watched friends and colleagues move away.

Falls, who sat on the high school’s hiring panel, says Santa Cruz High won’t even consider candidates who would have to relocate to Santa Cruz “because it would be too challenging.”

It’s hard for people to relocate here, and we don’t even want to go there,” says Falls. “I’ve heard stories about teachers accepting jobs, and then they can’t find housing, and they have to apologize and say, ‘I can’t accept the job because of housing.’ This is happening in Santa Cruz.”

If Falls ever became forced to move in the middle of the school year, she has no idea how she would make it work. It can take months, after all, to track down a new place—a concern her fellow teachers share. “People are freaking out a little bit,” she says.

Seventy percent of renters surveyed for a forthcoming UCSC affordable housing report are “rent burdened,” meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their gross income on rent and utilities. Surveyors for the study “No Place Like Home: The Santa Cruz County Affordable Housing Crisis Report,” spoke with 1,700 residents, who were given gift cards and renter’s rights handouts, as part of the investigation into the housing market’s impact on renters, especially those who are low-income.

“We haven’t seen another issue where people across Santa Cruz, and across income levels, come together, because we’re all experiencing the housing crisis,” says Steve McKay, associate professor of sociology at UCSC, who co-led the study with sociology professor Miriam Greenberg. The report will be out in the spring, and McKay will present the preliminary results at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 19, at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, for the first of many Affordable Housing Week events.

A majority of the survey’s respondents live in the city of Santa Cruz, with others living in Watsonville and Live Oak. McKay admits that his research group intentionally “over-surveyed low-income areas,” choosing to focus only on renters because his previous research with Greenberg showed that those are the people most impacted by housing costs.

According to McKay, 57 percent of respondents said they had experienced at least one major problem with their rental, like maintenance or the overall condition of the unit. And one in four renters, the report found, devotes 70 percent of their income to rent and utilities.

Additionally, 50 percent of renters who moved in the last five years said that move was “forced or involuntary”—most often due to eviction or a rent increase.

Tice Vierling, a massage therapist, briefly faced homelessness last month, after being forced to move out due to a 25 percent rent increase. When he couldn’t find a new place, he asked co-workers to cover all of his shifts at work for the whole month. He began couchsurfing at various friends’ houses, while looking full-time for his next home.

“I almost had to quit my job and move out of Santa Cruz,” says Vierling, who has since found housing, something he credits to knowing people in town. “If you don’t know anyone in Santa Cruz, it’s almost impossible to find affordable rent.”

Vierling, who’s lived in Santa Cruz for nearly seven years, adds that he knows a handful of people who are splitting rent with people who are not signed onto leases, just so they can afford it.

Thursday’s event, kicking off 10 days of housing-related events, will feature a full roster of housing advocacy groups, who will be tabling and passing out information. A visual and literary art exhibit on the meanings of “home” will be on display.

On the housing front, Mayor Cynthia Chase and Planning Director Lee Butler have been on a “listening tour” in recent months, to take suggestions from residents on how to address the housing crisis. Councilmember Chris Krohn says he hopes the council starts voting on possible solutions by the end of the year.

Santa Cruz routinely gets listed as one of the most expensive markets in the country, and the current housing predicament is hurting businesses and affecting local government’s ability to attract prospective employees.

Deputy City Manager Scott Collins says he’s seen that high housing costs are “definitely a factor in potential employee decisions about taking jobs.”

“This is true not only with the city of Santa Cruz, but all major employers in the region, such as the university, school districts, health care providers, etc.,” Collins says. “We are working with a group of representatives from these large employers to come up with potential solutions.”

 

The forum for ‘No Place Like Home: Housing Crisis Report’ will be at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 19 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. For more information about the survey or the event, visit noplacelikehomeucsc.org.

Contributor at Good Times |

Ardy is a part-time freelance journalist who has written for a variety of publications, including Cnet and Tahoe Daily Tribune. He graduated from UCSC in 2015, where he was the city news editor for City on a Hill Press and a radio journalist for an environmental news show on KZSC. Ardy works full-time with the Lakota People's Law Project, where he is a paralegal, press director and organizer. 

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Pamela

    November 5, 2017 at 8:31 pm

    Two years ago, Despite a county job for over 11 years and having lived in Santa Cruz 22 years, I lost my housing and went homeless for a few weeks due to greedy landlords who were literally in bidding wars with renters. I went to Cynthia Mathews at the time and interrupted her personal home time to tell her I was so alarmed to see what I was seeing. I met many people who had lost their housing and were taking all of their belongings to storage units. The storage companies were also upping the rental fees too. I ended up in a $1500 a month studio in Ben Lomond that was impossible to make work, to even have room for my clothing. I joined some groups like Affordable Housing now and networked with people in the community who are working on renter’s issues. I had to leave due to the high housing costs. I feel an obvious solution for the community is that UC Santa Cruz should do now what they never were willing to do before. House your students!!!! The student population has impacted the town negatively from day one. Landlords will rent to a group of students and get enormous rents for run down, poorly maintained property. They have a huge chunk of land up there but instead they have crated a crisis for years. I heard a story about a landlord that had rented to bunch of students and there were a bunch of them in tents out in the backyard. The City of Santa Cruz has to make a commitment to create more affordable housing. you have all of these fat cat developers who should be helping out with by requiring via housing policy, to help to develop the affordable housing. We all saw this coming, no place for teachers, service people, firemen, police officers and so on. The landlords in Santa Cruz have a horrendous reputation. I have been ripped off over and over with my total deposit being withheld out of spite when I left the place immaculate and hired people to clean everything. I had to threaten one landlord who was a notorius landlord, and a former judge in Santa Cruz county. The place was literally falling apart and unsafe, uninhabitable. They kept all my deposit despite the last year of the drought and I paid for the water which was restricted. they charged me for the condition of the yard which was absurd. Totally unethical and immoral. Bailey Properties btw. Really bad news.

  2. SC RES

    October 22, 2017 at 11:13 pm

    When three bedroom homes get rented (even by UCSC employed professor landlords) for over $5,000 a month and the City and University thinks it’s ok, it’s not hard to see what contributes to the housing problem in Santa Cruz. UCSC aces a HUGE burden on the local housing market.

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