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Officials Share Affordable Housing Plans for Santa Cruz County

Panel explores county, city pipelines for affordable housing

New townhomes are being constructed at The Terrace in the heart of Scotts Valley. PHOTO: TONY NUÑEZ

A new report from the California Housing Partnership showed that a lack of affordable housing continues to trouble communities in Santa Cruz County. Among other findings, the data suggests that renters in the county need to earn more than two-and-a-half times the state minimum wage in order to afford the average monthly rent of $1,909.

Housing Santa Cruz County—a coalition of individuals, businesses and organizations across the county—recently hosted a virtual discussion about how local governments plan to address the issue. The Zoom panel included Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors Chair Bruce McPherson, Watsonville Mayor Jimmy Dutra, Santa Cruz Mayor Donna Meyers, Scotts Valley Mayor Derek Timm, and Capitola Vice Mayor Sam Storey.

All of the panelists listed Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) as a major component of their affordable housing strategies. ADUs are secondary housing units on single or multifamily dwellings. Another common goal was expanding mixed-use, commercial and residential development, with a portion of the units designated as affordable.

Santa Cruz

The city of Santa Cruz expects a remodel of Pacific Station to help address affordable housing needs. The remodel includes around 165 very low- to low-income units and will connect to River Parkway. 

“We’re looking at providing approximately 170 units, part of which will be replacing some units and adding additional housing through a project at Jessie Street with our partner MidPen, and then providing 120 units of permanent supportive housing as part of the Housing Matters campus,” said Mayor Donna Meyers. 

She discussed plans to create housing at the current library site and the potential creation of a senior housing complex downtown. 

“We are literally creating a new neighborhood in downtown Santa Cruz, and we’re very excited about that,” she said. 

The city also recently worked with Santa Cruz City Schools to pass a workforce housing ordinance in May. “I believe we’re the first jurisdiction in the county to do that,” said Meyers.

Watsonville

In Watsonville, development in some new areas must include 20% affordable housing.  Currently, three projects focus on farmworker housing: Miles Lane, Eden Housing and Pippin Orchards Apartments. 

“We are trying to cover all aspects of our community,” said Watsonville Mayor Jimmy Dutra.

The city also plans to streamline the process for obtaining ADU permits.

“We have made that permitting process very simple and inexpensive. And, because the minimum lot size requirement was removed, it has been easier to get these permits,” he said. 

But for new developments, Dutra says the days of single-family housing are in the past. “A lot of our projects are going to be going upward,” he said.

One example of this—the Residence on Main Street—will be a four-story mixed-use commercial and residential building, with 20% of the units allocated to affordable housing.

The city also offers first-time buyers assistance, rentals assistance and a landlord incentive program. They’re working on an ADU loan program, which would help homeowners build units to rent to low income families.

Capitola

The city of Capitola doesn’t have much room for expansion, so affordable housing strategies revolve around remodeling existing developments and encouraging ADUs. 

“We have not seen as many ADUs being built in Capitola as we had hoped,” said Capitola Vice Mayor Sam Storey. To encourage additional developments, the city staff is creating four prototype ADU designs that will be available for free public use. 

Another goal is to protect mobile home parks. 

“One of my personal goals is to see that our last privately owned mobile home park … that we have the opportunity to assist those residents in being able to buy out the owner and be equity-share owners in their homes,” said Story.

There were also plans to develop 637 new apartment units on the mall property. Of those apartments, 95 units would have to be affordable, with the city able to negotiate a higher percentage. 

“We do not yet know, though, how this pandemic may have changed [the developer’s] designs,” Storey said.

Scotts Valley

In Scotts Valley, updating the inclusionary housing ordinance and ADU ordinances take priority. “We’re going to make it easier for homeowners to add those ADUs,” said Scotts Valley Mayor Derek Timm. “We’re streamlining that process, and that’s already underway.”

The city recently put out a request for an affordable housing administrator and plans to work on the existing mixed-use guidelines. 

“We also have a few large housing projects that are in planning right now,” said Timm, adding that “those are down the road a ways.”


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