Housing supply

“Flexible density units”: another tool to increase the supply of housing in Santa Cruz

On Tuesday, the Santa Cruz City Council approved a new type of housing model: the flexible-density unit, which aims to give developers more options in terms of the size of units they can bring to the housing stock. from the city.

Adding UDFs to the city’s housing palette would help developers draw up their building plans. This:

  • allows them to plan larger units (more square feet) than was allowed in new projects;
  • allows them to use otherwise empty space;
  • allows them to add units.

The city’s planning department said the new measure would increase housing supply mainly around the city center and in the corridor along Soquel Avenue. It would also provide more options for tenants and buyers.

Based on the most recent regional housing need allocation estimates, Santa Cruz needs 3,400 additional homes by 2031 to meet projected demand. Planners held two community meetings last fall to gauge interest in UDFs, and developers expressed interest in the new type of unit.

“We’re going to see changes come out of Sacramento, there’s not a day in the next 25 or 30 or 40 years that they’re going to stand still on housing…if we wait for them to stop, that means we’re stopping. to plan for our community,” senior urban planner Sarah Neuse told the council. “Some people might prefer that, and that’s not what you’ll hear recommended by our department.”

Additionally, Neuse reminded council and the public that if the city does not produce needed housing, the city of Santa Cruz could see the state override the city’s approval and discretion, such as with the recent proposal for 831 Water Streetmade possible by Senate Bill 35.

“We are interested in maintaining whatever local control the state allows us to have, and one of the ways to do that is to allow housing to be built and find ways to create units, he said. she stated.

Council member Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson, who backed the UDF measure, noted that adding units like these to the development toolkit would help the city’s short- and long-term housing goals . By acting now and approving this type of development, she said, there would not be as much threat of more SB 35 developments, which can override local authority, across the city.

A map of proposed mixed-use development areas in Santa Cruz.

A map of proposed mixed-use development areas in Santa Cruz.

“Where is the intersectionality of the decisions we make about housing and land use if we commit to addressing climate change – that’s just one area. Where is the commitment to this if we don’t think proactively and come up with innovative solutions? Kalantari-Johnson asked. “If we want to grow sustainably, let’s be proactive and don’t get beat up by the state.”

Two board members dissented on the 4-2 vote, with board member Renee Golder absent. Council members Justin Cummings and Sandy Brown, joined by five calls from community members, raised questions about affordability and increased density.

“What more can we do to make these units actually affordable and not just affordable in concept?” Cummings asked, saying developers could always charge more money for UDFs.

Community members on both sides of the issue have called and written to the council. During public comments, seven were in favor, five against.

Local activist and FDU supporter Kyle Kelley said the FDU model would provide many options, especially for small families or seniors looking to downsize. On the other end, opponent Lira Filippini, speaking for Santa Cruz Tomorrow, mentioned her group’s concerns about how an FDU order would affect long-term sustainability and equitable access to affordable housing.

The ordinance will then go to the California Coastal Commission for development approval in the coastal area. If approved, the order could take effect within 30 days.