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February 7, 2023

Group floats affordable housing measure

SANTA CRUZ — A newly-formed group hopes to convince the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors to place a bond measure on the November 2018 ballot that would fund affordable housing projects.

The group — Affordable Housing Santa Cruz County — held a press conference Thursday morning to discuss the $250 million bond.

Group member Don Lane said the Housing Solutions Initiative was created as a way to help people being squeezed out of the county by skyrocketing housing costs.

“Literally thousands of local residents are struggling with a personal housing crisis right now,”  Lane said. “Additionally, most federal, state and local funding streams for affordable housing have gradually dried up over the last three decades. It’s time to address this funding drought. We aim to do that through this effort.”

The bond money would be split into four separate funds. 

The first would bolster the county’s rental housing market by funding land acquisition projects, while the second would help first-time homebuyers.

The fund would also support permanent supportive housing for homeless people.

In addition, an Innovation and Opportunity Fund would help acquire land for affordable housing, and preserve existing affordable housing programs that are set to expire.

All funds would be subject to regular financial audits and review by an independent community oversight committee.

It is not yet clear how the bond would affect homeowners, should the measure pass muster with voters.

Measure L, which voters within Pajaro Valley Unified School District passed in 2012 to fund school construction projects, was a $150 million bond which added about $38 per $100,000 of assessed value for homeowners in the district.

Watsonville City Councilwoman Rebecca Garcia said she has been working on affordable housing issues since the mid-1980s, when she was part of a group that sued the City of Watsonville. That changed the way the city elected its leaders.

A few years after that, the newly-elected city council adopted an inclusionary ordinance that required 25 percent of new housing projects are affordable housing.

That number has changed and now ranges from 15 to 20 percent, depending on the size of the project, Garcia said.

The inclusionary ordinance, however, does not provide financial help to those who don’t qualify for a loan, she said.

The city also offers a down payment assistance program.

But these programs are not enough to help many low-income residents, Garcia said.

“We want affordable housing for our residents,” she said.

Group member Fred Keeley, who served as county treasurer and a California Assemblyman, said the county has successfully tackled transportation and water issues, which he said are two of the three most important issues facing residents.

“Now we want to have a big impact on the issue of affordable housing,” he said. “The market is running away from renters and new homeowners.”

Keeley said that Santa Clara and Alameda counties have used bond measures to fund affordable housing projects.

Keeley acknowledged that passing a bond measure can be a tough sell for a public wary of new taxes, but predicted that most will realize its value.

“There are an awful lot of people who will look at this and see what they will get for it,” he said. “This will make us a better community.”

Community Bridges CEO Raymon Cancino said that failing to address the issue could drive lower wage earners out of the county, leading to a loss in tax revenue.

It would also force many people to commute into Santa Cruz County, increasing traffic in an already congested area, Cancino said.

“The housing crisis affects us all,” he said. “We can’t keep going down the same path we’ve been on.”

•••

For information, visit www.affordablehousingscc.org.

•••

Affordable Housing Santa Cruz County plans to hold five informational community forums as a way to garner support for the measure.

All meetings are 5:30-7 p.m., unless otherwise noted.
• April 17 (7-8:30 p.m.): Simpkins Family Swim Center, 979 17th Ave., Santa Cruz
• April 19: Watsonville Civic Plaza Community Room, 275 Main St., Fourth Floor, Watsonville
• April 26: Santa Cruz Police Community Room, 155 Center St., Santa Cruz
• May 2: Felton Community Hall, 6191 Highway 9, Felton

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