Living in Santa Cruz is a nightmare. Whether you are a student studying at the University of California, Santa Cruz or you are just someone looking to live in this beautiful place we call home, it is no exaggeration that high prices and massive demand have made the search for housing more difficult than ever.
I’m the First: A sophomore at UCLA, suddenly thrust into the adult world thanks to the failure of school officials. 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 undergraduate housing. Once a student reaches their third year, the school no longer takes responsibility for their housing and they are removed from the priority list, leaving them to fight amongst themselves in the major housing market in Santa Cruz. 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 that finding a place to live next fall was difficult is an understatement.
I can’t count the number of hours I’ve spent looking for accommodation in the past weeks, and in addition to committing a long time, it has taken a toll on my mental, physical and emotional in-laws. I shouldn’t spend the limited time some think of the “best years of my life” in relation to myself, wondering whether or not my basic needs will be met.
Santa Cruz has failed me, and many others.
A study conducted by sociologist Stephen MacKay at the University of California, San Francisco, found that nearly 70% of all citizens surveyed in Santa Cruz County face a “rent burden,” meaning that they have paid more than three-quarters of their monthly income on rent. Simply put, this is a consequence of basic economics: the supply of housing is not close to meeting the massive demand, which leads to a rise in cost.
So, how can such a complex and delicate issue be resolved? Like the typical college student I am now, I propose a two-pronged, group-oriented, progressive approach: Santa Cruz needs rent control and the abolition of exclusionary zoning laws.
Rent control is the concept that the government must step in and set a maximum price that a landlord can charge his tenants, under certain conditions of course. Various studies have shown that rent control can reduce rent burden and increase tenant stability, preventing tenants from “actual eviction” due to high rental prices. While studies provide mixed results on the impact of rent control on the broader housing market, I would argue that trying to implement this change is worth it; It is better to do something than nothing.
Santa Cruz has always been a victim of NIMBY politics (not in my backyard). The idea behind NIMBYism is that while residents believe in equity and social equality for low-income residents and families, policies to implement this should be implemented elsewhere (hence the phrase “not in my back hump”). A good example is exclusionary zoning (ie the removal of zoning laws mandating multifamily dwellings). By electing officials who enforce and legislate these types of zoning laws, Santa Cruz has shown that while they may think they are progressive voters, legislating elected officials hurts people who claim to care. If single-family zoning is eliminated, more housing will be made available thus increasing supply and relieving massive demand, which in turn lowers prices.
Owners have controlled this community long enough and made millions of dollars simply from needing shelter. We have long suffered under the control of those who have the most. It is time we no longer allow them to take advantage of our basic needs and advocate for truly just living conditions for all.
Daniel Forth is a student at the University of California, Santa Cruz. This article was written as an assignment.