Home is Where the Least Expensive Rent Is: Exploring the Renter’s Market in Santa Cruz

14 November 2016

Devon Schoos

One of the many services SCAP offers our clients is assistance finding affordable housing in Santa Cruz county. But as one of the top five least affordable cities for renters in the entire country, the Santa Cruz renter’s market is unforgiving, especially for the county’s many low income residents. According to a National Low Income Housing Coalition report appropriately named “Out of Reach 2015”, the average tenant in Santa Cruz has to make $33.77 an hour to rent a two bedroom apartment, which is more than three times the county’s $10 minimum wage. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development suggests paying no more than 30% of one’s income on housing, but because of the disparity between average income and average rent in Santa Cruz county, renters are paying much more than this. In fact, according to a Zillow study published in the Wall Street Journal, the city of Santa Cruz boasts the highest rents in proportion to salaries in the nation. The median home rents for about 9.4 times the median income, which results in roughly 70% of renters in Santa Cruz paying more than the suggested 30% of their income on rent.

And Santa Cruz residents are speaking out. Concerned residents have been organizing community meetings and hearings about the broken housing market over the last few years. In fall of 2015, two sociology professors at UC Santa Cruz launched a multi-method research project aimed at researching and representing the affordable housing crisis, with a specific emphasis on renters given that 57% of Santa Cruz residents are renters and are among the hardest hit by the critical situation. The project, called No Place Like Home, explores four main topics:  1.) rent burden, 2.) overcrowding, 3.) evictions/forced moves, and 4.) experiences with major problems.

Phase 1 of the project took place between April and June of 2016. 435 renters in Beach Flats neighborhood, Lower Ocean Avenue, and Lower Pacific Avenue were surveyed because these areas have high renter populations, are categorized as low income neighborhoods, and have high Latino populations. Of the 435 renters surveyed, 57% made less than $30,000, 51% were Latino, and 56% of the households had children. These populations experience marginalization and are often invisible populations because they are less likely to respond to census or telephone surveys, leading to an under representation in research. And that is what makes No Place Like Home such a critical project- it exposes the plights of difficult to reach populations and sheds light on what many Santa Cruz residents experience as their daily reality.

Santa Cruz County is the least affordable county in California and the results of the survey expose the consequences of that title. 73% of renters in the surveyed neighborhoods experienced rent burden, meaning they spend more than the recommended 30% of their gross income on rent. 32% experienced overcrowding, which was defined as having more than one person per room. One student researcher reported seeing this in extreme ways such as makeshift beds being placed in kitchens. 45% of the renters experienced a forced move within the past five years, which could be anything from no longer being able to afford high rent to having to move due to unsafe conditions that weren’t being resolved by landlords. And lastly, 63% of survey respondents experienced “other major problems” including condition of building, maintenance, safety of neighborhood, security of building, and noise from neighbors. When broken down by income, race, and the presence of children, the research shows that low income renters, Latinos, and households with children are in general more heavily affected by these issues, further showing that more attention needs to be given to their situations.

And that is just what the UCSC sociologists plan to do. Phase 2 of the project will take place in Live Oak in January of 2017 and Phase 3 will focus on Watsonville beginning April 2017. For now, the project’s highly informative, bilingual website offers a page of local, state, and national resources for people experiencing housing problems and can be found at http://www.noplacelikehomeucsc.org/. This is an issue that is of high priority for SCAP, as many of our clients are among those in Santa Cruz fighting for fair housing. We understand that safe and affordable housing has broader implications for health and well being. We are proud to be a housing resource for our clients and we hope that research such as No Place Like Home will bring much needed attention to housing issues in Santa Cruz county.


De Witte, Melissa. “Community Gathers to Strengthen Public Dialogue about Santa Cruz’s Housing Crises.” UC Santa Cruz News. N.p., 14 Oct. 2016. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.

Greenberg, Miriam, and Steve McKay. “No Place Like Home.” No Place Like Home. University of California Santa Cruz, 2016. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.

Gumz, Jondi. “Santa Cruz County: Fifth Most Expensive Metro in US for Renters.” Santa Cruz Sentinel. N.p., 20 May 2015. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.


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