By Daniel Furth
Housing in Santa Cruz is a nightmare. Whether you’re a student studying at UC Santa Cruz or just someone looking to live in this beautiful place we call home, it’s no understatement that soaring prices and overwhelming demand have made the search for housing as difficult as ever.
I’m the former: a second-year undergraduate student at UCSC who’s suddenly been thrust into the adult world thanks to a failure on the part of school administrators. All first- and second-year students at UC Santa Cruz are given “priority” housing by the school, nearly guaranteeing a place in an apartment or dorm for these undergraduate students. Once a student hits their third year, the school no longer assumes responsibility for their housing and they are taken off the priority list, leaving them to fight amongst themselves in the greater Santa Cruz housing market. This year, for the first time in recent memory, the school was not even able to house all of its students on the priority list.
To say finding a place to live for next fall has been difficult is a massive understatement.
I cannot count the number of hours I have put into searching for housing in the past weeks and, in addition to a massive time commitment, it’s taken an immense toll on my mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing. I should not have to spend the limited time some consider “the best years of my life” concerning myself, wondering whether my basic needs will be met come Fall.
Santa Cruz has failed me, and many, many others.
A study by UCSC sociologist Steven McKay found that nearly 70% of all surveyed citizens in Santa Cruz County faced “rent burden,” meaning they paid over three-quarters of their monthly income on rent. Simply put, this is a result of basic economics: the supply of housing does not come close to meeting the overwhelming demand, driving up the cost.
So, how can such a complex, nuanced issue be solved? Like the stereotypical college student I am, I suggest a progressive, collective-action-oriented, two-pronged approach: Santa Cruz needs rent control and the elimination of exclusionary zoning laws.
Rent control is the concept that the government should intervene and set a maximum price a landlord can charge their tenants, under specific circumstances of course. Various studies have shown that rent control can reduce rent burden and increase tenant stability, preventing tenants from “de facto eviction” due to rising rent prices. While studies do provide mixed results on rent control’s effect on the wider housing market, I’d argue that attempting to implement this change is worth a shot; it’s better to do something than nothing.
Santa Cruz has also long been a victim to NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) politics. The idea behind NIMBYism is that while residents believe in equitability and social equality for lower-income residents and families, the policies to implement these should be done elsewhere (hence the phrase “not in my backyard”). A prime example of this is exclusionary zoning (ie the removal of zoning laws mandating the creation of multi-family housing). By electing officials who implement and legislate these kinds of zoning laws, Santa Cruz has shown that while they may believe they are progressive voters, their elected officials’ legislation hurts the people they pretend to care about. If single-family zoning is eliminated, more housing will become available therefore increasing supply and easing the overwhelming demand, which in turn reduces prices.
Landlords have controlled this community for long enough and have made millions of dollars simply off of the necessity of shelter. Long have we suffered under the control of those who have the most. It’s time we no longer let them profit off our basic needs and advocate for truly equitable living conditions for all.
Daniel Furth is a UC Santa Cruz student; This article was written as an assignment.