With renters becoming 60 percent of city residents and median rent on Craigslist pushing $3,000 per month, students at UC Santa Cruz are talking with community members about a rent control campaign in 2018.
A representative of the Santa Cruz Tenant Organizing Committee announced the campaign at the end of “No Place Like Home,” showcasing a survey of 1,737 renters around the county by UCSC faculty and undergraduate researchers attended by 600 people at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium on Thursday night.
Zav Hershfield, organizer with Santa Cruz Tenant Organizing Committee, one of 22 groups on hand to assist renters, took names of volunteers. UCSC students staffed a table with buttons saying “No More Students without More Resources.”
During the two-hour presentation, UCSC sociologists Miriam Greenberg and Steve McKay honed in on two key findings: 70 percent of those surveyed spend too much on rent, and to cope, they sublet bedrooms, garages, closets and pool sheds.
According to a federal standard set decades ago, people should spend no more than 30 percent of their income on rent.
Yet 41 percent of those surveyed spent half their income on rent, and a quarter spent 75 percent of their income on rent. UCSC student presenters Thao Le and Huzaifa Shahbaz said 41 percent reported going without food or medicine to pay rent.
Santa Cruz County was rated by New Zealand researchers as the fourth most unaffordable place in the world to live.
As part of the study, students spread out across the county to conduct the survey.
Sarah Wikle, a UCSC senior, cited factors that created the rental crisis, such as not enough housing built, demand from Silicon Valley commuters, the growing student population and farmworkers taking service jobs in the city, plus Airbnb reducing year-round rentals.
“I never knew what a housing crisis was until I came to Santa Cruz,” said Hermes Padilla, 22, a UCSC senior from Palmdale who plans graduate study in urban planning and architecture.
He interviewed a woman named Teresa, a Mexican immigrant whose husband died in a fire due to an unrepaired circuit breaker in their rental here.
“She still stayed there because it was home, all the people she was surrounded by,” he said. “Sadly she is being priced out.”
When her rent went up, she sublet space so she could stay, he said.
UCSC student Samantha Garcia told of interviewing a man living with 20 people in Live Oak.
“He resorted to his truck for storage. He had to find a fourth job,” she said.
Yet he told her he was grateful to have housing.
Garcia presented a subtitled video of interviews. The interviewees were unnamed due to a confidentiality agreement with the study organizers.
One UCSC student featured in the video paid $350 a month to rent a pool shed. She couldn’t invite friends over. She felt isolated and when the roof leaked, her clothes got wet.
Another interviewee, a woman with a catering business said she moved into the living room after a tree fell through the bedroom ceiling of her Santa Cruz rental Feb. 17.
For two months, she lived with construction workers going in and out..
“I want to live a life of independence and happiness, and all of those components are slipping through my fingers,” she said.
Another woman who owned a spacious home in Mexico with her husband told of living in a place with mold that landed her child in the hospital. Her family has moved four times and currently lives in a two-bedroom apartment for $1,750 a month. She and her husband sublet a bedroom so they sleep in the living room.
“I decided to hang all my pictures,” she said, going against her husband’s wishes. “That day I felt my apartment was my home.”
A few of the resources at No Place Like Home:
Santa Cruz Tenant Organizating Committee: email@example.com or 831-222-0359.
Landlords for Rent Control: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Repeal Costa-Hawkins Act, which exempts single-family homes from rent control: actionnetwork.org.
California Rural Legal Assistance: 831-724-2253.
New Way Homes: Sibley Simon, sibley@180SantaCruz.org.
Housing Authority of the County of Santa Cruz: hacosantacruz.org/.