In 1978, voters passed Measure J, an initiative requiring the Board of Supervisors to adopt a Growth Management System for the County of Santa Cruz. In 1979, County staff reported the initiative may, “accelerate the increase in housing costs,“ and proposed aggressive programs to provide low- and moderate-income housing. However, the aggresive programs did not occur. Most of the County’s income-restricted affordable housing was built with support from redevelopment funding, which the State ended in 2011. New projects are mostly built with one-time State and Federal grants. The County is currently focused on creating a mix of environmentally responsible market rate and affordable rental housing to serve teachers, nurses, service industry workers and others who help make Santa Cruz County a great place to live.
Chart 1: Since 1980, Santa Cruz County added 80,000 people and only 26,000 housing units
Homelessness is the most visible result of the lack of housing. In 2020, the Board of Supervisors created the Housing for Health Division, which oversees homeless resolution and prevention programs and staffs the Housing for Health Partnership, a coalition of local governments and nonprofits that convenes to work on issues related to homelessness. That division prioritizes getting people off the streets and into housing, particularly the most vulnerable. While homelessness continues to be a scourge throughout California, the County has made significant investments that have laid the groundwork for more progress.
Chart 2: Housing for Health Partnership Data on Homelessness
Faced with a decades-long acceleration of local housing costs and the 2011 loss of affordable housing funding from redevelopment, new affordable housing projects are build with one-time State and Federal grants, and limited local resources.
The County uses land use policy, County property, and General Fund support to help build affordable housing. For example, the County provided land and funding for the Bienestar Plaza, contributing $7 million to create a low-cost heath care campus along with 56 units of affordable housing. The County has pledged to make additional publicly-owned parcels available for affordable rental and workforce housing.
The County has been successful in securing State and Federal funding to support project. Project Homekey grants are being used to build homes for formerly homeless veterans, familie,s and other individulas in need. County Behavioral Health secured and utilized Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) funding to develop nearly 100 new supportive units including: Harvey West Studios and Jessie Street in Santa Cruz, Bienestar Plaza in Live Oak and Tabasa Gardens in Watsonville.
Chart 3: County supported affordable housing projects.