Rent Control Epitaph or Beginning of a Movement?

Measure M: Our ‘Network’ Moment?

The 2018 election is now over. The counting continues. How much were voters paying attention? Was this one of those once every 20-year major community skirmishes? Nineteen eighty-one was one, and 1998 was another. These were perhaps two other historical election-year markers in which the electorate sought out real change. You know it’s happening when local politics begins to leak into casual fall conversations about the World Series, or how the beginning of the UCSC school year brings smiling students and mega traffic back to the Westside. People found themselves this fall asking casual strangers, ‘So, what do you think about this rent control thing?’ Could this year’s election be a voter ‘aha’ moment? Many are on edge about the cost of housing and the inability to find solutions to homelessness as well. Could this be a Peter Finch moment we are living in?

Network

Remember, that old, and a bit odd, 1976 drama, Network, where Finch played a Walter Cronkite-type news anchor who at a certain moment instructs his audience to open their windows and shout, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any longer.” Well, I hear what’s coming out of Santa Cruz windows and it’s something like, ‘I’m mad as hell and I just can’t pay this kind of rent any longer.’ Unlike what ensued in the fictional movie Network, real people in Santa Cruz came together this past winter and wore out their flip-flops and running shoes pounding the pavement to gather signatures, over 10,000 in only 87 days! Measure M is the result. Hundreds entered the political fray, some for the first time, to qualify this initiative. Never before had so many signatures been gathered so quickly in the city of Santa Cruz. But are these activists ready for the mad dash towards the November 6th finish line? Measure M got some major pushback from landlords, real estate developers, and outside corporate interests to the tune of $1 million. A local group, Santa Cruz Together opposed M, and combined with this outsider money they had a corporate war chest. It was an epic local battle. Tons of outsider Goliath money far exceeding the Movement for Housing Justice’s meager $50,000 effort. Who will prevail? Big money or big heart? There are still thousands of votes to count from the city of Santa Cruz, but we should know something this week. Stay tuned because this revolution will likely also not be televised.

An Every 20-year Revolution?

Could this all be a local form of Thomas Jefferson’s revolutions cycle? “God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion…” This Santa Cruz “rebellion” was sparked by a whirlwind of national and international events, but a simpler truth is that rent is too damn high. We may live in a Santa Cruz bubble, but it is a bubble of our own making. History tells us that when hundreds participate in a local movement and gather over 10,000 signatures in the process, something in our community is awry and change is likely close at hand.

A Movement?

Many UCSC grads and undergrads were accepted to go here, but were never told much about the depth of this community’s housing crisis. Immigrants living and laboring in Santa Cruz for the past two decades, making what many of us would consider middle-class incomes, have suddenly seen their rents rise 30-50%, while their wages remain stagnant. Locals who grew up here surfing, hiking, and loving the hell out of this place have found themselves all at once displaced as their parents sold during “a hot market,” while other parents were renters and wanted to retire, but can’t because if they keep working they can stay near their children. Santa Cruzans are “mad as hell” and Measure M is but one way of saying, ‘We not going to take it any longer.’ A whole new generation is becoming politically active. A movement? Maybe, but Measure M will be but one political and social barometer if any movement is to take off here in Surf City.

Pieces of the Housing Puzzle

What is the Housing Puzzle?

Everybody who is living in Santa Cruz deserves a place to live. The federal government’s guidelines say no one should be paying more than 30% of their salary into rent. We know that many, according to Steve McKay and Miriam Greenberg’s research (http://noplacelikehomeucsc.org/en/about/) that many are in fact “rent-burdened,” and paying upwards to 70% of their income towards rent. So, what can be done?

First, we can make developers produce 25% of their rental units affordable, according to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines. Secondly, the city council can pass a rent freeze and just cause eviction leading up to a communitywide rent control signature gathering effort, which is set to begin in January. Third, the city council can fully fund a 24/7 emergency shelter with “wrap-around” services. We can also urge the city council to ONLY work with non-profit housing providers, open a tenant’s rights office at city hall, demand the university house its students on campus, pass a speculation tax on home-flipping, and put a 3% hotel tax increase in order to raise around $3 million a year for an affordable housing fund.

 

Yes, there is a housing crisis in Santa Cruz

So, what do we do?

I very much want to see a housing bond put forward to purchase, fix up, and maintain houses and apartments as affordable units, in perpetuity. $250 million to $300 million countywide bond would likely add less than $20 to everybody’s property bill. It should be on the November 2018 ballot.

I have fears that working with for-profit developers will yield few units of affordable housing, and not very much is collected in in-lieu fees either, given the enormous need we have. As a community, we’ve got to demand more affordable units from for-profit developers than previous councils have in the name of the community.

I would like to work with council colleagues and the community to address our Santa Cruz housing crisis…My interests include:

  1. limiting the number of short-term rentals (right now we passed an ordinance that limits it to 550 permits. I voted no because I thought around 300 permits seemed right.)
  2. incentivizing the building of ADUs (accessory dwelling units in back of main house)
  3. passing a just-cause eviction ordinance to protect tenants
  4. confronting the university on its growing student body and non-growing bed space problem and limit them to housing all of their students over 19,500;
  5. seriously begin tackling the rising and pervasive community challenge of homelessness and houselessness. We need a 24/7 emergency shelter, some of the bond money should be included for a shelter.

Let’s keep each other apprised on these issues and make sure we show up at meetings, discussions and forums to make our case that, a) this is what a housing crisis looks like and b) we are not mourning, we are organizing renters, homeowners, students and the homeless alike.

You are not alone in your concerns, and we must be ready to show up when it counts most (like the next three city council meetings), advocate for affordability, vote, and keep talking to our neighbors as we search for solutions together.