A Call for Affordable Housing

City Council passes three initiatives to alleviate local housing crisis

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photo by Alonso Hernndez

Santa Cruz City Council proposed potential solutions to the housing crisis to an overflow crowd of about 100 residents at its Dec. 5 meeting, responding to months of community outreach.

The city’s Santa Cruz Voices on Housing: 2017 Community Engagement report is the culmination of a yearlong investigation of the city’s housing crisis.

The investigation was initiated by Mayor Cynthia Chase, council members and city staff, who then gathered information for the report. This information came from the mayor’s listening tour and City Council housing study sessions, in which community members discussed their concerns about housing issues.

Council members voted to immediately implement three recommendations to address housing issues. The council will form a subcommittee to review the report and options for action. The group will have until March 27 to review the report’s findings and develop a strategy to implement those options, including delegating city staff to take action.

The first recommendation calls for a report on city-owned land, such as parking lots, which could be used for housing development.

The second is an initiative to have ongoing community participation and neighborhood representation in conversations about development.

The final action recommends the city allot up to $15,000 to the 2018 fiscal year budget for tenant legal support, such as access to an attorney in an eviction proceeding.

Bruce Van Allen, former mayor of Santa Cruz and founder of Affordable Housing Now, was one of four representatives of Santa Cruz Tenants’ Organizing Committee who spoke during public comments at the council meeting on Tuesday.

“Overall, the Santa Cruz Tenants’ Organizing Committee remains concerned about rising rents and evictions,” Van Allen said, “especially in such a tight rental housing market. Legal advice and attorney representation can help tenants. […]

We were pleased that the City Council acted immediately on our request that the city help fund tenant legal services.”

Despite input from the community and months of work, the city’s report still raised concern for some about whether the proposed plan does enough to address the housing crisis. While the report brings community concerns to light, many feel the issue of a rent freeze continues to go unaddressed.

At City Council’s Oct. 24 meeting, council member Chris Krohn proposed an emergency vote on rent freeze after protesters brought dozens of community members and activists to speak in favor of freezing rents and required just cause for eviction.

When a majority voted that proposal down, City Council agreed to vote on the rent freeze moratorium at the Dec. 5 council meeting. That vote was postponed due to a potential conflict of interest, and it has not been rescheduled.

“The city encountered some significant conflict of interest issues and jeopardized the ability to move forward [with the vote] at this time,” said Tina Shull, assistant city manager, in an email about Tuesday’s meeting.

Specific reasons for the vote’s postponement remain unclear, but according to City Council rules, members typically face a conflict of interest if the vote would affect a council member’s financial interests or assets.

Though the delay to a vote on rent freeze allows rent to continue increasing, Bruce Van Allen acknowledges the city’s attention to the housing crisis.

“While we are not endorsing every part of the Voices on Housing report,” Van Allen said, “we appreciated Mayor Chase’s efforts to bring the housing crisis to the center of city government’s attention.”

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