What is a Housing Element and How Does it Affect the City of Santa Cruz?

July 10, 2023

Across the City of Santa Cruz, it’s hard not to notice the amount of housing that is being built. Whether you have been looking for housing or not lately, you likely understand it’s for good reason. And it’s not just in Santa Cruz, but across the state. Housing, more specifically affordable housing, has been an issue in California for a while now and as part of the State’s General Plan requirements, cities must develop a Housing Element that demonstrates how they will meet the mandated number and type of units that must be built in their community.

We’re currently in the 6th Cycle of the Housing Element and with that, the City of Santa Cruz is required to build 3,736 housing units per the State mandate. Of these units, 1,421, or about one third of the total must be low or very low-income units. These numbers are not arbitrarily chosen, rather as part of State Housing Law, a Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) is conducted to determine need and potential growth. Additionally, as part of the Housing Element, it must identify “adequate sites” for new housing to be built.

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very low-income units: households earning 60% or less of the Area Median Income
low-income units: households earning 80% or less of the Area Median Income

As you may notice from the chart, the increase in housing from the previous cycle (2015-2023) is significant. In the next six years, the City of Santa Cruz is required to build nearly 3,000 more units than in years prior. And something to consider is that there is a lot of planning that must go into building housing, specifically all the checks and balances that need to happen between City departments – even with projects on City-owned land. Nearly every department from Planning and Community Development, City Attorney, Fire, Water, Public Works, and Economic Development and Housing all must review new housing development projects to ensure that they meet the legal development requirements on every level. Not to mention, that the future projects will be a benefit to the community.

The one caveat is that because the Housing Element is required by State law, the City of Santa Cruz does not have the choice to not build housing based on City and community feedback. If the City does not meet its required housing production goals, there is State legislation that takes away the City’s ability to deny housing projects if they meet the baseline City zoning laws and the general plan.

To view all upcoming housing projects, check out this interactive map to see a breakdown of what is being built and the types of units that will becoming available.

To learn more about the upcoming 100% affordable housing projects, click here.

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