Santa Cruz faces an affordable housing crisis: it is one of the top-five least affordable cities for renters in the entire country, and is in the least affordable county for renters in the state of California. This unaffordability is due to the disparity between average income and housing costs. According to the Out of Reach Report 2016, with a current median wage of $13.03, Santa Cruz renters would need to work 2.4 full-time jobs to afford the fair market rent of over $1600 for a two bedroom apartment. It is not uncommon to see our overburdened renters go without food, medical care and other necessities; move an hour’s commute from jobs in town; double or triple up with friends and family; or become homeless. Indeed Santa Cruz has the highest rate of homelessness of any city its size in the country, while 84% of the homeless were residents of Santa Cruz County when they became homeless. The housing crisis has major impacts on Santa Cruz—for our economy, our diversity, our children and elderly, our sustainability, and our community well-being, all of which will be explored in this project.
Our findings are based on 435 valid renter surveys collected between April and June, 2016 in the Beach Flats neighborhood, Lower Ocean Aveune, and portions of Lower Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz. We also collected 29 in-depth interviews.We chose to focus on renters as 57% of Santa Cruz residents are renters and among the hardest hit by the affordable housing crisis. In the first phase of our survey, we chose to focus on Beach Flats, Lower Ocean, and Lower Pacific since these are neighborhoods with high renter populations, are primarily low-income neighborhoods, and also areas with a high percentage of Latino residents. We chose the neighborhood and this population because Spanish-speaking and low-income renters are often under-counted as they are "difficult-to-reach" populations that may not respond to census or telephone surveys.
We highlight 4 key issues: rent burden, over-crowding, forced moves/evictions, and experiences with major problems, because all four have significant impact on renters and there were significant findings on these issues. The definitions we use for each of these issues is in the sections below. The definitions are based on those used by the US Census (for rent burden and over-crowding), recent scholarship on evictions (see Matthew Desmond's book Evicted ) and previous housing surveys and focus groups (for asking about experiencing "major problems"). To show the patterns and unevenness of how different renters experience these issues, we have also broken out our finding in each of these four issues along three key demographic variables: by Socio-economic Status or SES (those with annual household earnings below the Calif. Poverty Measure or under $30,000, those earning more than $30,000 but below the median household income or $64,000, and those earning above the median HH income or above $64,000) ; by race/ethnicity (White, non-Latino vs Latino, non-White); and by family type (households with children vs. households without children).