construction in Ben Lomond
A contractor works on a house in Ben Lomond (Drew Penner / file photo)

As Affordable Housing Month—aka May—approaches, Linda Kerner has been taking stock of all the years she’s been raising awareness about the subject.

“Oh my gosh, I’ve been involved with Affordable Housing NOW for eight, nine years,” she said, recalling how she got involved with the task force in the first place. “After I retired, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”

Back then, she says, there weren’t as many advocates for building homes for people with lower-than-average incomes.

Now, as the housing crisis heats up and Sacramento turns the screws to force municipalities to create more places for people to live, it seems everyone is talking about affordable housing.

And Kerner says she wants to make sure local residents have the chance to shape what residential development will look like in San Lorenzo Valley and Scotts Valley.

That’s why Affordable Housing NOW is sponsoring an affordable housing community forum on Monday, May 8, at 7pm.

Representatives from the City of Scotts Valley and Santa Cruz County’s Community Development and Infrastructure Department (the department formerly known as Planning) are set to discuss efforts to address the affordable housing needs in the North County.

Under California’s Housing Element law, every eight years cities and counties are required to develop plans to meet new State housing goals and create programs to incentivize production of affordable housing, she notes, adding plans must address housing needs for residents in Very Low, Low, Moderate and Above Moderate categories.

“We have such a lack of affordable housing,” Kerner said. “Businesses can’t keep workers, because people can’t afford to live here. It is in the City’s best interest to do everything they can to make more affordable housing available for its residents. I mean, everybody who sits on the council—and everyone I know—has at least one family member who used to live here but who has moved away to another community where it’s more affordable.”

The lack of cheaper housing options has even affected her family directly.

“My daughter lived in Santa Cruz for many years with two of my grandchildren, and they moved to Grass Valley, where they were able to afford a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home on a half-acre,” she said. “Here, they were paycheck-to-paycheck and barely making ends meet—even though they had two jobs. It’s too expensive to live here. If a community wants to thrive, they have to ensure there’s enough housing for people in all (income) levels—for young families, young professionals…It’s tough for those folks to be able to find an affordable place to live here.”

At the virtual event, Tim Willoughby, chair of Affordable Housing NOW, is scheduled to give an overview of what a Housing Element is and describe what other communities are doing.

“We’re really going to be focusing on what the City and the County will be looking at in terms of solutions to provide more housing in all those categories that the State requires them to address,” Kerner said. “Community members need to know what’s happening with the jurisdictions right now.”

Clearly this online gathering will be of interest to policy wonks and urban planning-types. But why should the average person care?

“If they have young kids, they should care about the quality of education their kids are going to be getting,” Kerner said, referring to the challenges local school districts have had in hiring new teachers when older ones retire. “It impacts everyone if we don’t have adequate housing for people who live here; everyone pays some kind of consequence.”

Lack of housing can particularly hurt older residents, she adds.

“A lot of people have seen their grandkids move away,” she said. “That’s a very, very common occurrence.”

But it is a subject that should be of interest to younger people, too, she continues.

“Young people often want to have a place of their own instead of living with their parents,” she said. “So, everybody should care.”

Kerner also sees the production of more housing as a way to fight climate change.

“If you can build the housing where the people are working, then you’ll get more cars off the road,” she said. “People won’t be forced to have those long commutes.”

The State requires cities to involve community members in the creation of their Housing Elements.

“That will only help the city leaders as they move forward with their plans,” Kerner said. “Because if they have community involvement, they’ll have community buy-in, so that when these plans go forward, community members will have the electeds’ backs.”

Community members are encouraged to attend and learn how they can become involved in planning efforts to help address the affordable housing crisis.

For more information, visit for the Zoom meeting link, or call 831-566-2360.

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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