The Santa Cruz City Planning Commission approved a proposal to construct permanent supportive housing for Santa Cruz’s houseless population at a Nov. 19 meeting. Set to be built at 119 Coral St., the building will be a five-story, 121 unit complex providing housing and health services to its residents.  

“It’s very exciting that [the creation of supportive housing] is happening,” said Santa Cruz planning commissioner Miriam Greenberg during the meeting. “This is incredibly needed for the community.”

Permanent supportive housing (PSH) is a type of housing that offers both shelter and health services to those who need support. Unlike a shelter or transitional housing, which usually only provide temporary places to sleep, permanent supportive housing provides individuals with a stable place to live, as well as facilities like laundry, a community room, and outdoor space.  The $25 million project is backed by New Way Homes, a nonprofit organization that funds affordable housing projects.

“Federal funding has been going to homelessness prevention.” said Sibley Simon, the founder and executive director of New Way Homes in a webinar introducing the project. “The construction of this project is not funded federally, there’s no public grants going into the project.  We’ve been raising private dollars to build the housing.”

The project will be run by Housing Matters, an organization that helps people transition out of houselessness and into permanent housing. The planned location is part of their campus at Coral Street, a site which has a recuperative care center and six transitional housing units that contain 40 beds.  

The PSH would replace those existing buildings, and include a recuperative center as well as permanent living accommodations. There will be a care center available for people who need health support at a different location during construction. People currently living in the transitional units will not be removed during the new construction. All current residents will time out of their stays, which are limited to 18 months, before the project begins development.  

An illustration of people living at the proposed apartment building.
Illustration by Allison Che.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, supportive housing is designed for people who experience chronic houselessness, or those who have been houseless for extended periods of time. Many of the chronically houseless have disabling conditions that prevent them from being able to consistently maintain housing — a problem PSH attempts to remedy.

Potential residents of the development will be admitted through Smart Path, a program that assesses houseless individuals and determines their vulnerability to repeated houselessness.  Individuals who have a high vulnerability index and a  disabling condition, get referred to permanent housing. Prospective individuals reach out to Smart Path to take the assessment, which helps them find housing that best supports their needs.

“This is a huge step forward toward potentially ending chronic homelessness in Santa Cruz county,” said Cassie Blom, communications manager for Housing Matters. “While it should be celebrated, we need more projects like this.” 

It is planned to begin construction in fall or early winter of 2021, but the timeline is unclear.   While it’s hard to predict how prevalent COVID-19 will be at that time, Sibley Simon says the necessary precautions will be made during construction and when the project is built.  

“We really don’t have that kind of housing in Santa Cruz,” Simon said. “The amount of services that can be provided here in this location is beyond what other housing we have in Santa Cruz.”