We’re housing experts: This is why Measure O’s logic doesn’t add up

A cross-section of the mixed-use project.
(Jayson Architecture via City of Santa Cruz)

Four Santa Cruz community members with 75 years of experience insist Measure O doesn’t make sense if we really care about creating affordable housing. Stopping the city’s project will add years of planning and bureaucracy, they write, and might not yield any new housing. “The proponents (of Measure O) lack sufficient knowledge of the affordable housing development process,” they say. They explain why here.

Have something to say? Lookout welcomes letters to the editor, within our policies, from readers. Guidelines here.

We have over 75 years of combined experience developing nonprofit affordable housing projects in this area.

The downtown Santa Cruz library project includes 124 affordable apartments and a child care center for families that live and work in our community. Measure O is aimed at stopping it, and grossly understates the time and effort to switch sites.

Sharing our knowledge might help you understand the harm this measure could do.

The proponents lack sufficient knowledge of the affordable housing development process. Because their background in affordable housing falls short, some of their statements about its impact do a disservice to our community. They discount the impact of stopping the project and starting over on a new, as-yet-unidentified site. The resulting harm to the community of a likely five-year delay is tremendous given that housing is such a crucial need.

We’d like to explain why bringing a significant affordable-housing project from conception to the start of construction takes a such a long time. Time is incurred to secure the site and in preparing architectural plans, required consultant reports (soil testing for contaminants and soil conditions, engineering plans, civil, lighting, traffic, environmental, energy, etc.). These are costly steps that can easily add up to well over $2 million before construction.

Should Measure O prevail, it will affect the future interest of affordable-housing developers in building and investing in our community. No one wants to lose money spent on pre-development if local initiatives are killing affordable housing projects.

Securing an appropriate site is difficult, given the limited land inventory that is suitable for multifamily apartment development.

First an initial feasibility study of a project is undertaken which requires a conceptual plan. Site control must then be achieved via a lease or ownership. Formal local government approval is then needed, which generates community discussion and typically takes longer than for market-rate developments.

After approval, funding the project begins, which is the most difficult part of creating new affordable housing. It is not unusual for a significant affordable apartment complex to require five to seven funding sources. Many funding sources have a multistep process that can take a year or more — even longer if an initial application is not approved.

Once all public loan funding is approved, the developer must then find an investor to contribute the equity. This often adds a year to the project. Finally, the developer can start construction, which can now take two to three years depending on the size of the project and availability of labor and materials.

Detailing the work and time it takes to build an affordable housing project is our long way of saying that it is an incredible waste of both time and money to shut down a good project that has already wound its way through half of this process including city council approvals.

Simply pointing to another flat parking lot and saying, “let’s start over again,” does not make sense.

By voting no on Measure O, voters can choose the proposed downtown housing and library complex which is a win-win for the community. It includes the financial efficiency of combining several uses into one project creating tremendous cost savings. In the case of the housing and library project, the savings are in the millions of dollars of public funds.

We have dedicated our lives to addressing the most challenging issue of our time: making sure every person has a decent, safe place to live.

We understand the human damage incurred by the incredible stress of overcrowding and/or paying more than half of one’s income for rent. Working families should not have to live outside the community in which they work and drive two hours a day to get to work.

We want to create decent homes for our community right now.

We simply cannot afford to delay, nor can we rely on solutions based on unfounded assumptions. It’s important to vote NO on Measure O. We need to move forward on affordable housing now.

David Foster is the former executive director of Habitat for Humanity Monterey Bay.

Linda Mandolini is the president of Eden Housing (a nonprofit organization).

Ray Bramson is a nonprofit affordable housing professional and a board member of Housing Matters.

Sibley Simon is the president of nonprofit New Way Homes.