Santa Cruz residents are sleeping in asbestos-riddled and mold-caked living rooms, leaking pool sheds, overpriced garages, laundry rooms and tents in what is, according to Demographia’s international housing survey, the fourth most unaffordable city in the world.

Photos by Lindsey vande wege

No Place Like Home is a UC Santa Cruz-based research initiative gathering data on how residents find places to live in the Santa Cruz housing crisis.

This question loomed in the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium on Oct. 19 where UCSC sociology professors Miriam Greenberg and Steve McKay and project organizers presented their data and story findings on the realities of being a Santa Cruz renter.

“[Students and residents need] city planners and for the City Council to understand the depth and scope of the issue and how they might tailor interventions and decisions that affect the most vulnerable in our community,” McKay said.

At the event, Greenberg and McKay presented their preliminary findings from 1,700 survey responses and 75 in-depth interviews conducted over two years. About 200 undergraduate students helped conduct interviews and gather data to provide a clearer understanding of the local housing crisis. These results were mapped by neighborhood and graphed by race, income and household size.

“We compared [our findings] to official statistics that illustrate overcrowding and rent burden [to be] at a much lower rate than what we found,” said fourth-year sociology major Thao Le. “We wanted to focus on people who are most affected and usually undercounted.”

Student researchers surveyed individuals by going door to door to document residents’ experiences with rent burden, overcrowding, forced moves and major structural problems.

The data was accompanied by visual representations of the individual surveyors’ experiences. Four participants’ stories were also represented by videos and voice-overs with help from UCSC’s film and digital media program.

One digital story relayed a student couple’s story of living in a cramped garage for which they paid $650, the same rate as tenants living in the house. After being evicted by their landlord, they resorted to couch surfing and booking hotel rooms for months before they found an option that fit their budget.

Fourth-year sociology major Samantha Garcia, who was involved in the production of the digital components of the project thought each person surveyed would be experiencing only one challenge but found most residents faced a number of issues.

“If we’re able to highlight [that] these problems are not just singular issues, that they touch on different levels of complex[ity] that stem from each other, then there has to be something done,” Garcia said.

By showcasing data and stories about the way Santa Cruz renters are dealing with the current housing market, the No Place Like Home team aims to inspire others to make long-term change. While the project found the housing crisis disproportionately affects low-income renters of color, by and large it affects the entire community.

“We need a movement in order to confront all these issues. Nobody, no matter what income level, is safe from being displaced,” Thao Le said