A Guided Tour of Affordable Housing

CDBG. ADU. LIHTC. HUD. AMBAG. AHTF. HOME. HCD. AHSC. VHHP.* The acronyms have it. Housing is complex and complicated, and in a town that ranks as the 5th least affordable place to buy a home according to the National Association of Home Builders and has the 5th most expensive rental housing market according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the housing situation can seem overwhelming, frustrating, and insurmountable. The availability of affordable housing for those who work and/or live here is one of the greatest challenges the City is facing and will continue to face. AMBAG estimates that our workforce will increase 18% by 2035 and that we will need at least 25% more housing by then (that is 6,039 additional units). And these projections don’t even take into account those who already work in the City, but live further away because of adverse housing costs.

Housing is a deeply personal topic for our community, because what could be more personal than being able to find and afford a place to live? This is why the city has an all-star team working to secure funding, sites, and partners for future affordable housing projects. Collectively we are talking over 60 years of housing experience "housed" in the City of Santa Cruz Economic Development Office alone. You might also be surprised to learn, that since 2000, the City of Santa Cruz has helped to create about 480 new affordable income-restricted units and helped extend the life and affordability of another 380 income restricted units, even as the city’s primary source of affordable housing, Redevelopment, has been cut and a secondary source of housing, the federal Home Investment Partnership Program (HOME), was reduced by almost 60% since 2010.

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Neary Lagoon Apartments

For the City’s most recent housing project, the Riverwalk Apartments, a number of funding sources made the project possible. The largest piece of the funding pie came from Low Income Housing Tax Credits; however, Redevelopment funds were crucial to securing the property and leveraging those tax credits. Without both of these sources, that project would not have happened.

Without funding or City-owned land in lieu of funding, it will be difficult to produce significant amounts of Affordable housing in the future, especially housing that is affordable to extremely low income households — Carol Berg, City of Santa Cruz Housing Manager

So where is the silver lining? Certainly there is a “win” in the amount of housing we have been able to create so far, especially for a city of our size—about 11% of our housing stock is Affordable. That is Affordable with a big "A", referring to housing that is formally affordable and includes restrictions on income and rental/sale prices. On Tuesday, a group of City Council and City staff took a tour specifically to see the City’s major affordable housing projects, which, unbeknownst to many, are scattered all over the city.

The tour covered 21 housing projects totaling 1501 units, 1193 of which are considered Affordable (with a big "A"). Aboard the Santa Cruz Trolley, the tour started on the west side and continued through the beach area and downtown to the Tannery Arts Center and wrapped up on the east side of the city. After seeing all of the housing projects one after another, it was very clear that the City's housing team has taken a very thoughtful approach to what projects look like and where in the City projects are placed.

Seeing these projects in person really made them come alive for me. They are so much more for our community than a mere list of affordable units on paper. — Tina Shull, Assistant City Manager

In addition to learning about the types of housing, number of units, and percent affordability, participants were able to learn more about the very intricate process of securing funding. Building affordable housing is no easy feat; it is a multi-stage process that can take years to get from the planning stages to tenants finally moving in. Especially in light of our current housing situation, having an understanding of this process is important when looking to the future and proactively planning ahead.

With that in mind, the city is currently in the process of developing its Housing Element, which will help develop a strategy moving forward and will include an evaluation of needs, an inventory of vacant land, and assessment of our existing housing policies and programs.

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Bonnie Lipscomb, Economic Development Director explains the processes involved with developing Affordable Housing to city staff and members of the City Council on the tour.

Additionally, there are projects already in the pipe line, like the Metro Pacific Station redesign, which will include a mix of housing and retail. The City is in the early stages of working with developers and stakeholders to determine what this project will look like.

*Those acronyms we listed at the beginning are actually important names for agencies and funding sources that make Affordable Housing possible: CDBG (Community Development Block Grant), ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit), LIHTC (Low Income Housing Tax Credits), HUD (Housing and Urban Development), AMBAG (Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments, AHTF (Affordable Housing Trust Fund), HOME (Home Investment Partnership), HCD (Housing and Community Development), AHSC (Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities), VHHP (Veteran Housing and Homeless Prevention Program)


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