‘It’s a catastrophe’: low-income workers get priced out of California beach city

Rapidly rising rents, exacerbated by the tech boom and short-term rentals, have induced it impossible for many working-class Americans to remain in Santa Cruz

At first, Jamie Kahn tried dismissing the repeated knocks on her front door. It was September 2015, and the 52 -year-old Santa Cruz woman had recently faced an unexpected 40% rent increase that she could not afford.

After missing a rent payment, her new landlords in the northern California beach city quickly moved to evict the single mother and her two children. Kahn thought that if she refused to open the door and accept a summons, she could bide some time to fight the increase from $1,400 to $2,000 a month. She was wrong.

Court records show that a process server repeatedly proved up, and the Kahns ultimately had no choice but to vacate their home of six years. Her 22 -year-old daughter subsequently moved into a small back porch room in a neighboring city. Her 19 -year-old son crashed on couches. Kahn, meanwhile, moved into her black 1995 Camry station wagon where she has been sleeping ever since, often stationed in Walmart parking lots.

California is a monster. If you dont keep up, you end up on the streets, and nobody cares, said Kahn, a college alumnu who previously worked two jobs in Santa Cruz. This is a public health issue. Its a catastrophe.

While housing dearths and homeless epidemics have afflicted communities up and down the west coast, a major crisis has emerged in Santa Cruz, the liberal seaside city 80 miles south of San Francisco, known internationally for its surfing and laid-back boardwalk attractions.

With a swelling presence of Airbnb short-term rentals and university students, Santa Cruz has increasingly become unaffordable and inhospitable to many longtime low-income workers and middle-class families, and experts say the tech boom and housing crunch in nearby Silicon Valley is worsening the displacement.

For newly evicted families such as the Kahns, theres often nowhere to turn except the streets.

Least affordable housing in the US

Santa Cruz, which was originally controlled by Mexico, was incorporated as a California town in 1866. The city is constrained by mountains and the ocean but has steadily grown since the gold rush, attracting agriculture and commercial fishing along with a vibrant resort community and tourism industry.

Housing development has not kept pace with the growth of the population, which is now 62,000 in the city and 270,000 total in Santa Cruz County. The district has added roughly one housing division for every 10 new residents in recent years, according to district housing director Julie Conway.

At the same time, the five largest occupations in the area are low-wage employment opportunities in retail, food service and cleaning, paying between $9.06 and $11.30 an hour, according to 2015 research. As a outcome, 63% of renters live in unaffordable housing, entailing their rent is more than 30% of their income.

By some measures, Santa Cruz is considered the least affordable small metroes area in the US. Santa Cruz which is about 58% white and 33% Latino also recently counted nearly 2,000 homeless people, which translates to one of the highest concentrations in the country, in agreement with the federal government.

After Jamie Kahn was evicted she moved into her black 1995 Camry station wagon where she has been sleeping ever since, often stationed in Walmart parking lots. Photograph: Courtesy of Jamie Kahn

Such a broad spectrum of the community is being priced out, said Sibley Verbeck Simon, chairperson of New Way Homes, an affordable housing not-for-profit group in Santa Cruz. He said approximately 70% of the homeless were previously housed in the area, meaning the housing crunch is displacing many locals.

The lack of housing has furthermore led to severe overcrowding, said Steve McKay, associate professor of sociology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, who has studied regional poverty and lately found that the median hourly wage for low-income workers is $10.

No one can live on $10 an hour, he said.

Santa Cruz also lacks rent control statutes to preserve affordable housing rates, which entails the increasingly intense rivalry for a limited furnish of divisions has enabled landlords to dramatically jack up rates.

McKay said its not uncommon to see two renters pay $1,000 each to share a single bedroom. He said he recently learned of a landowner who put up dividers in a four-bedroom home, illegally converting it to an eight-room property and charging $8,000 a month.

In another case, four senior citizens were sharing one studio apartment.

People are living in all kinds of alternative housing converted garages, automobiles, chicken coops, you name it, said Gretchen Regenhardt, regional director of California Rural Legal Assistance, which aids low-income renters.

Most of the time when desperate tenants show up at the doors of Regenhardts office theres little she can do. So many evictions and rent hikes are legal, she said, which means her organization cant assist 90% of the people who attempt their help.

We didnt know where to go

On a recent summertime afternoon in downtown Santa Cruz, a mile away from the citys main beach and waterfront amusement park, homeless residents filed into the public library, carrying heaps of personal documents and half-completed housing applications.

Such a wide spectrum of the community is being priced out, said Sibley Verbeck Simon, chairman of New Way Homes, an affordable housing not-for-profit group in Santa Cruz. Photo: Sam Levin for the Guardian

John Dietz, a housing specialist with the 180/ 2020 program, which aims to eliminate chronic homelessness by 2020, sat with clients at a small roundtable, prepping them for high-stakes meetings with prospective landlords.

Its gonna be a tough interview, he told William Henry Brown Jr, a 65 -year-old man who lost his Santa Cruz home last year when an owner redeveloped his building.

Im very patient, said Brown, who has been sleeping on the living room floor in his father-in-laws division. But I wont give up.

Dietz and Brown discussed how he would explain to a potential landlord why he doesnt have credit.

Dietz and his colleagues have developed relationships with specific landowners to try to encourage them to accept homeless tenants who have vouchers for housing but cant find anyone to take them.

The hardest component is knowing that there is available housing, but not being accepted, said Joshua Waltrip, 27.

When we go to interviews, I get so nervous, said Rita Chavez, Waltrips mother.

Statistics suggest her fears are merited. A recent 88 -unit affordable rental project, for example, received 1,371 applications, according to Conway.

Joshua Waltrip, homeless in Santa Cruz with his mother: The hardest proportion is knowing that there is available housing, but not being accepted. Photo: Sam Levin for the Guardian

Chavez noted that she has watched the dynamics of Santa Cruz change over the years. It used to be a lot of local people. There used to be more hippies.

Some fret the expanding presence of short-term rentals is worsening the housing emergency in Santa Cruz county, which is home to Airbnbs most popular rental. Even a local councilman was reprimanded for illegally renting out a secondary residency to attain extra cash.

In addition to tourists and an increasing number of UC Santa Cruz students straining the already tight housing market, company relocations of wealthy Silicon Valley tech employees to Santa Cruz has also accelerated nervousness and dreads of rising income inequality and a changing population.

Earlier this month, Kate Downing, a planning commissioner in Palo Alto a city by the headquarters of Apple, Google and Facebook penned a viral resignation letter outlining why she, a lawyer, and her husband, a software engineer, could no longer afford Silicon Valley.

The lack of housing in the region has built it impossible for the couple to comfortably create a family and stay in Palo Alto, she said. Instead, Downing wrote, the couple has decided to migrate south and settle in Santa Cruz.

Because of Silicon Valley

Commuting from Santa Cruz to Silicon Valley across the windy, two-lane Highway 17 can be a nightmare during rush hour, but more tech employees may induce the move as housing costs continue to climb.

Unless you work over the hill at Google or Apple and are making a ton of fund, youre basically not will now be able afford anything here, said Dale Davis, 65, who was recently priced out of Santa Cruz with her husband. This is because of Silicon Valley.

William Henry Brown Jr, left, is a 65 -year-old man who lost his Santa Cruz home last year when an owner redeveloped his building. Photograph: Sam Levin for the Guardian

Santa Cruz is feeling that pressure, added Downing, who argued in her letter that Palo Alto has fundamentally failed to fix its housing crisis by blocking new developments. Santa Cruz is at least trying.

Government officials and housing proponents say they are focused on increasing the pace of growth and reforming local laws so that developers are incentivized to construct denser projects.

Simon, the nonprofit director, argued that if the area had 2,500 new divisions, median rent would drop 20% across the board. We could utterly significantly alter the dynamics by building supply.

The county, however, has a target of producing approximately 1,400 new housing units by 2023, and some fret its not enough.

Conway, the district housing officer , noted that the crisis has been building for decades and wont be quickly solved. Were losing our middle class, and were losing our young households Does that mean the fundamental character of our community is changing? Of course.

For Kahn, who is still living out of her vehicle and relocating to New Mexico this month, it seems clear Santa Cruz wont ever be an option for her again.

She said she feelings grateful that she and her children help find ways to get by. Many people arent so lucky In Santa Cruz, people end up on the street for the rest of their lives.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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