City Holds Interactive Forum on Housing Development

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About 90 community members walked the halls of the Louden Nelson Community Center on May 15 as they went freely from room to room during a forum on planned developments in Santa Cruz’s downtown area.

City Council structured the forum to facilitate feedback from community members on affordable housing, downtown development plans and parking. City officials presented on each of the three subtopics multiple times throughout the evening, allowing attendees to move between them at will.

“It exceeded my expectations, which were fairly low,” said Santa Cruz resident Pete Shanks. “I was expecting less room for feedback. […] I felt that on areas that I particularly wanted to talk about, to ask about, I was able to do it.”

Each presentation had a board listing possible solutions to each individual topic, including developer incentives for affordable housing construction and assessing potential locations for new development. Participants were able to cast “yes” or “no” votes for their preferred options  with stickers.

Of note were plans by the city to overhaul the downtown Metro Center. This project would renovate the 34-year-old building and add 60-100 affordable housing units, 10,000 square feet of commercial space and 20,000 square feet of office space. These plans, however, have not yet been formally submitted to City Council for approval.

The presentation on inclusive housing asked attendees how to best incorporate affordable units into the developments. Aside from the Metro Center renovation, which is a city project, all other proposed projects are or would be developed privately. These projects need to meet affordable housing standards while still being profitable. If the project isn’t profitable, the developer has no reason to build it.

Financial analysis by the city indicated that the current requirement under Measure O to designate 15 percent of all developed residential units as affordable housing is not feasible without providing additional incentives to developers, said Santa Cruz housing and community development manager Carol Berg. The alternative is reducing the percentage of units dedicated to affordable housing to 9-10 percent from the current 15.

The feedback from the community was collected for review by the City Council’s Housing Blueprint Committee.