Santa Cruz is one of the top-five least affordable cities for renters in the US, in the least affordable county for renters in the state of California. This unaffordability is due to the disparity between average income and housing costs.
The housing crisis has major impacts on Santa Cruz—on our economy, diversity, and sustainability; on our children and elderly; and on our community well-being. This project explores four major issues that combine in the lives of renters to produce the crisis.
The American Community Survey defines rent burden as spending more than 30% of one’s gross income on rent and utilities. Spending more than 50% is considered “extreme rent burden.” (ACS 2014) Historically, rent burden arises when incomes fall or stagnate, while rents remain at or increase to a level that makes this income inadequate. Due to such high expenditure for housing, rent-burdened households often struggle to afford necessities such as food, clothing, transportation, and medical care. Rent burden is associated with increased stress and overwork, poor physical and mental health outcomes, and reduced time for communal, family, leisure, and cultural activities.
Overcrowding occurs when more people live in a dwelling than is considered tolerable from a safety and health perspective. The most common measure of overcrowding in the US is “more than one person per room,” with “rooms” understood to include all separate rooms, e.g. bedrooms, kitchens, and dining rooms, but exclude bathrooms, porches, balconies, foyers, halls, or unfinished basements. (ACS 2014) Overcrowding is associated with a range of negative outcomes, including for physical and mental health; personal safety and well-being; and childhood growth, development and education. (HUD 2007)
In a housing market like that of Santa Cruz County, without tenant protections or eviction controls, renters can be forced to move from their residence for a wide variety of reasons. These moves may or may not be associated with formal evictions, and commonly are linked to a rapid and unaffordable rent increase. For this reason, the broadly defined “forced move,” rather than eviction alone, was used. The question asked in the survey was, “In the last 5 years have you ever moved although you didn’t want to?” Responses included formal evictions as well as other forms of involuntary moves. For further discussion see Matthew Desmond’s Evicted (2016).
Major problems with housing—from poor security to prolonged neglect by the landlord—undermine our fundamental need for shelter and safety. Yet since units with major problems are cheaper, tenants in need of affordable housing are more likely to live with them, and so experience substandard or even dangerous living conditions. Many tenants are not aware of their rights in these situations. Further, tenants may feel pressured to accept and not report major problems, for fear of landlord retaliation, whether in the form of a rent increase or eviction. Fear of reprisal particularly affects vulnerable populations, such as the undocumented and the elderly.