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Santa Cruz: California's least affordable city

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“California is a monster.”

When one of Palo Alto’s planning commissioner’s split for Santa Cruz while citing the Silicon Valley city’s brutal housing prices, some observers noted that Santa Cruz itself is one of the most crushingly unafforable metro areas in the entire state.

In fact, according to the Guardian, by some measures it’s the least affordable city in California, even more grueling on renters and would be homeowners than San Francisco or communities in Silicon Valley, just 25 miles away.

It’s "a catastrophe" and "a monster" locals complain to the paper (a community population of approximately 62,800), where the average home price rose to $800,000 for the first time this year, while the average home sale crept over $900,000 and began flirting with a million.

Meanwhile, median rent measurements ranged from $1,800 to as high as $2,500 on some sites. And yet, most of the residents are working class people who earn as little as $9 or $10 an hour.

A 2015 UC Santa Cruz study ("Working For Dignity") found that the city’s five most commonly advertised job positions were cashier, retail salesperson, farm worker, kitchen work, and waiting tables, offering wages from $18,800 to $23,500/year. Santa Cruz county's median income in the 2013 census survey was over $68,000/year.

That’s actually pretty good, relative to the median for California as a whole. But it’s not nearly enough to make it the third least affordable city in America in 2015, just ahead of San Francisco and just behind Marin County. (Brooklyn was number one, for the record.)

Real estate site RealtyTrac estimated that it would cost 115 percent of the average Santa Cruz worker’s wages for a year to buy a median-priced home in the beachfront city. Even San Francisco managed to keep below the triple-digit mark in that stat, demanding 94.6 percent (goody for us).

The culprit here should sound like a familiar story: critics say that Santa Cruz is not building enough housing, and meanwhile the tech boom just north is driving demand out of control. Beautiful Santa Cruz homes call out to highly paid workers in Silicon Valley, just 25 miles away by Highway 17.

In our interview with mayor of Palo Alto Patrick Burt, the mayor praised Santa Cruz programs to curtail local job growth (and thus, housing demand). But city policies can’t contain an explosion in neighboring communities.