Homelessness shelter operator Santa Cruz’s next landlord?April 12, 2019
SANTA CRUZ — Looking to expand beyond short-term sheltering of the needy, the Homeless Services Center is aiming to bolster the housing market itself.
When looking to create permanent housing, the nonprofit’s leaders had to look no further than a historic home, vacant for the past two decades, just steps from their 115 Coral St. property. On March 20, the organization paid $825,000 to buy the two-story Victorian at 801 River St., on the corner of Coral Street, with financing from Santa Cruz County Bank and Community Foundation Santa Cruz County.
The plan, Homeless Services Center officials said, is to convert the house into six or seven affordable-rate or federal subsidy-eligible single-bedroom rental units which could most easily benefit those transitioning out of the several shelter programs across the street and have easy access to its services.
“We’re excited to be adding just a little bit of affordable rental inventory into the Santa Cruz market,” Homeless Services Center Executive Director Phil Kramer said. “We’re estimating about a year’s worth of planning, permits and construction before the units are online.”
Sibley Simon, who has dual roles as president of the nonprofit New Way Homes and as a Homeless Services Center board director, said he brought the idea of going after the 7,524-square-foot lot as an affordable housing project to the board. The Homeless Services Center also owns the 33,700-square-foot piece of the center’s property along Highway 1 — the City of Santa Cruz owns the campus’ other nearly 1.4 acres — and the Rebele Family Shelter, Recuperative Care Center and Page Smith Community House buildings.
“The Homeless Services Center has proven that it knows how to help more and more people out of homelessness. The hardest part of that, now, is finding housing units to support people in. And our housing crisis is causing more people to become homeless,” Simon said. “So, however good we are at supporting people who have been homeless — we’re not going to greatly reduce homelessness in Santa Cruz unless we have more housing. That’s a big reason for the organization taking this step.”
The city gave permit approval in September 2017 for previous owner Manon Mesa to convert the home, built in 1905 and most recently used as a dentist office, into three dwelling units. That project, however, did not move forward. Simon said those early steps should help assist the Homeless Services Center with opening units for rent by next year.
In recent years, Simon also has been investigating a permanent supportive housing project for 60 to 100 chronically homeless individuals with disabling conditions, which he hoped to see built in partnership with the Homeless Services Center on the nonprofit’s campus.