The Student Union Assembly (SUA) at UC Santa Cruz voted nearly unanimously on a rent control resolution proposal on April 24. Student representatives are squarely behind the movement for affordable housing in Santa Cruz, with 23 out of 26 voting for the proposal. SUA members hope this endorsement will help put local legislation for tenants’ rights on the ballot this coming November.
“It means a lot, not just to current students, but also students in the future,” said SUA President Max Jimenez, who voted in favor of the proposal. “It shows that the SUA, which is a representative body of the whole UCSC student body, [is] in solidarity with the housing crisis that’s going on off campus.”
The proposal, officially titled “Resolution Supporting the Santa Cruz Rent Control and Tenant Protection Act and the California Affordable Housing Act,” is an official action by the SUA endorsing the Renter Protection Ballot Initiative, a citywide proposal.
Under the initiative, yearly rent increases would be limited, there would be a policy implemented for “just cause for evictions” and tenant’s rights would be mediated by a rent board comprised of members initially appointed by City Council and later elected during general municipal elections.
The initiative is being pitched by renters’ rights organization Movement for Housing Justice for the November 2018 ballot, but the campaign needs to collect 8,000 signatures to be ratified for the ticket. Students make up about 26 percent of the Santa Cruz population, so student support could tip the scale.
Because Santa Cruz is experiencing one of the worst housing crises in the United States according to Demographia, the city enacted an emergency temporary rent freeze in March until the vote in November, halting rent price inflation beyond 2 percent, and limiting circumstances in which landlords may evict tenants.
Jessica Chuidian-Ingersoll, fourth-year UCSC student and organizer for local housing rights group Tenants Together, said although on-campus housing is not included in the emergency ordinance, all students have a stake in this issue.
“It’s hard to acknowledge the fact that we are tenants,” Chuidian-Ingersoll said. “If you’re on campus, it’s hard to see the university as a landlord. If the Student Union actively acknowledges that this crisis is affecting students, and that students should take a stance on rent control, it will have a very important impact on the campaign and whether the law gets passed or not.”
Several student groups coalesced around the housing insecurity students face on and off campus. The SUA-affiliated Students Union Housing Working Group (SUHWG) represents students who live on ecampus, and Students United with Renters is a tenant advocacy group that focuses on UC students off campus.
Thảảo Lê, coordinator of SUHWG and fourth-year UCSC transfer student, explained the ripple effect the resolution may have on the town.
“It would be huge,” Lê said. “Rent control was pushed for three times in the late ’70s and early ’80s in Santa Cruz and it failed every time. Historically, students have been known to radicalize not just the campus but the city, and I feel like we’re at a boiling point right now, but only if we recognize that and take a stance.”
Mobilizing students behind the initiative could close the signature gap needed to put the measure on the ballot. According to SUA President Max Jimenez, the legislation would not affect on-campus rental rates, but solidarity with off-campus students and the rental community in Santa Cruz is key to maintaining a healthy relationship between the university and the city.
“We’re going to need [the administration] to take a stance and support this effort. This affects students, their staff, their faculty, some of them even live in this area or nearby,” Jimenez said. “Right now, the community really wants to limit campus expansion, and that just shows that our relationship is not good with the city. This is a way that the university can fix its image.”