Santa Cruz Rent Burden

By Phil Kramer, Executive Director, Homeless Services Center

A December 11, 2018, article in both the Mercury News and the Santa Cruz Sentinel reports on a recent study sponsored by Zillow, which indicates that rates of homelessness in the United States are worse than the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates — up to 20 percent higher across the nation, in fact.

The report had another interesting, though not terribly surprising, point: increases in rent prices lead to an increase in the rate of homelessness, especially in more expensive areas. The Bay Area is notorious for its lack of affordable housing, an issue that seems to get worse with each passing year. But the direct correlation between high rent and homelessness demonstrated by the report is one that should inform potential solutions to the homelessness crisis. At the very least, it clearly reinforces the fact that the housing crisis in the Bay Area and the issue of homelessness are inextricably linked.

The study talks about the effects of high rent burden; that is, when the proportion of a household’s income that goes to rent is above the recommended 30 percent. Zillow has an interactive tool that shows the impacts of rent affordability on homelessness in various communities throughout the country. The estimates on how many families are displaced into homelessness depending on rent affordability should be an urgent call to action to those working on housing and homelessness solutions, especially government leaders and the local residents to whom they are responsible. Solutions cannot be enacted without strong community and political will.

As we recently pointed out in a letter to the editor published in the Sentinel, while the Bay Area has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country, Santa Cruz outpaces all Bay Area locales. As Santa Cruz absorbs spillover of Silicon Valley workforce, it is imperative that Santa Cruz County be included in housing and homelessness solutions for the entire Bay Area. We must all work together in order to tackle this complex and widespread crisis.