Santa Cruz is categorized as one of the least affordable small cities in the world. The climate, natural beauty, world-class university and proximity to Silicon Valley also make it one of the most desirable places to live. This high desirability and lack of wage growth for the overwhelming majority of workers in Santa Cruz has led to a housing affordability crisis. Over 70% of renters in Santa Cruz are rent burdened paying in most cases well over a third of their income to housing costs. This has cascading effects on our local community and economy, including hollowing out neighborhoods and resulting in many workers having to move to outlying communities or in some cases becoming homeless. This displacement disproportionately affects people of color, increases traffic congestion, reduces air quality, increases the burden on social services and degrades the quality of life for remaining residents.
The Santa Cruz community consistently identifies the production of more affordable housing as a top priority. Funding to support the creation of affordable housing for the lowest income levels is often identified as a barrier for the production of low, very low and extremely low income affordable units. The Santa Cruz Empty Home Tax is a community driven ballot initiative to increase affordable housing options in the city of Santa Cruz by raising funds to create affordable housing through a parcel tax on empty homes. A group of community members from several local groups focused on affordable housing collected available data to inform the details of the ballot measure including how an empty home is defined and what exemptions are available for property owners. An empty home is defined as not being “in use” for 120 days per calendar year. That means a dwelling unit could be empty for 245 days a year and would not be subject to the tax. There is a suite of discretely defined exemptions to the tax an owner can utilize including loss of job, hospitalization, going into long term care, active legal proceedings or construction.
If you live on your property you won’t be subject to the tax. Publicly owned parcels and undeveloped parcels won’t be subject to the tax. If your property has 6 or less dwelling units and one of them is occupied for 120 days a year you won’t be subject to the tax. If your property has 7 or more units each unit will be treated separately and will need to be occupied for 120 days a calendar to avoid paying the tax. Property owners can live on their property, rent it or if it is only lived in occasionally the owner would pay the tax to support community needs associated with affordable housing for the lowest income levels. A condominium or townhome under separate ownership would need to be occupied for 120 days a calendar year to avoid paying the tax. The funds raised will be sequestered in a dedicated fund used to create permanently deed restricted low, very low and extremely low income housing units. The tax rate is set at $6,000 for empty Residential and $3,000 for empty Condominium or Townhomes and $3000 for empty units on parcels with 7 or more residential units.
The goal of this effort is to be part of creating solutions. This initiative creates a pathway for people who own homes or other types of residential parcels that are not being used full time to pay their fair share to create more affordable housing options in Santa Cruz. It contributes to the community these property owners and developers were drawn to and supports an economically diverse Santa Cruz which benefits us all. We want our teachers, service workers, health care workers, caregivers as well as state and county workers to be able to afford to live where they work. These are the people who allow this community to be such a special place and we want them as our neighbors.
View the full ordinance language at emptyhometax.org/initiative/