Chip, executive director of the Downtown Association of Santa Cruz, does not argue when he hears people talk about the “housing crisis.” He knows all about rising rents and people getting squeezed out of town. Still, he wonders what impact the word “crisis” has on the decisions people make.
“When you’re in crisis mode, priorities change,” says Chip, as he sips on a Kona Longboard Lager at NextSpace, while the coworking space’s weekly Friday happy hour dies down. “So how do we maintain priorities and say, ‘Yes, let’s build housing that’s gonna be sustainable, neighborhoods that are sustainable—economically, socially, culturally—that are integrated, that are safe and that are practical?’”
To get the discussion moving, Chip has organized a movie screening and discussion at the Santa Cruz Food Lounge about sociologist Jane Jacobs, who authored one of his favorite books, The Life and Death of Great American Cities. Jacobs famously—and successfully—fought with New York City urban planner Robert Moses on his plans to overhaul her Greenwich Village neighborhood with sterile housing projects in the 1960s before becoming an inspiration to future generations of urban planning.
Chip knows the Aug. 16 showing of Citizen Jane could be interpreted as a message to planners and developers to slow any efforts to bring in more housing. Indeed, at planning commission meetings, some neighborhood activists have invoked the film in that way. But that’s not how he sees it. Not unlike religious texts, he says people can interpret Jacobs’ teachings in a number of ways.
He realizes the details of rezoning for higher density—either along the corridors or certain downtown blocks—is a controversial notion to some locals, but he doesn’t think Santa Cruz can fix its issues without building something somewhere.
“I believe we need to accept that we need to build more housing. If you’re not on board with that, you’re either being selfish or you’re naïve,” he says. “And then the question is what and where and what kind of housing.”
Advocates of building more housing say there is a common theme of construction shortages plaguing cities around the nation.
In many cities, population, rents, and employment are all going up, while construction projects have stagnated. A recent report by Apartment List found that only 40 of the 50 biggest metropolitan regions aren’t creating enough housing to keep up with job growth. And Andrew Woo, data scientist for the site, says Santa Cruz isn’t doing that either.
There is a local effort to change that. The Santa Cruz Area Chamber of Commerce has made it a priority, having brought State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) to talk about this issue. Former Mayor Don Lane and former County Treasurer Fred Keeley are exploring a possible ballot measure to fund and build more affordable housing.
Chip says he wants to have a discussion about how certain housing projects can support vibrant neighborhoods, as well as how neighborhoods can support housing. He wants to make sure there’s a variety of incomes, uses and even types of buildings.
“There’s something really important about a mix of new and old buildings, for the character of a place, but also for the economic viability of a place,” he says. “Paying rent in a new building is going to be higher than in an older building. So you need an economic mix.”
He believes strongly in a diversity of uses, because that provides more customers for local restaurants and shops, with people around both day and night. It also keeps neighborhoods safer, he says, for the same reason.
Diversity also means a mix of affordable, market and luxury housing units.
“If you have all your affordable housing in one place, it’s just not going to work,” he says. “If you have only luxury, you have challenges. Anywhere we have economic growth, you have more economic disparity. So we as a community need to figure out how to address the economic growth and address the social equity because if we don’t, that’s not sustainable. Not to mention, there’s the lives you’re affecting. As the rents go up, we need to figure out how to keep housing for everybody, not just the people who are benefitting from an economic boom.”
Drinks with Jane, a showing of ‘Citizen Jane’ will be at the Santa Cruz Food Lounge on Wednesday, Aug. 16 at the Santa Cruz Food Lounge. Admission is $5.
Update 2:54PM 8/4/17: In the original version of this story, we gave twseparatete dates for the event. It has been updated with the correct day.