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831 Water Street: Meeting the Needs of Santa Cruz

With 831 Water Street, Santa Cruz has a unique opportunity to advance its affordable housing goals.

The project, a proposed mixed-income four- and five-story multi-use development at the intersection of North Branciforte Ave and Water Street, would bring 145 residential apartments — including 71 units of affordable housing and 74 units of middle-income housing — along with local artist units and ground-floor commercial space to support local entrepreneurs and students. The development would feature underground automated parking stackers, ample bike parking, and environmentally friendly amenities including a rooftop garden, rainwater recycling, 100% electric with renewable energy, and more. 

The proposal, submitted by Novin Development Corp., is seeking streamlined approval under state law SB 35. Introduced by state Sen. Scott Wiener and signed into law in 2017 as part of a package of 15 housing-related bills, SB 35 removes barriers to the development of affordable housing construction in California cities and counties that have not met state-mandated housing construction requirements.

The law, which went into effect in 2018, limits the city’s power to change the project if it qualifies for streamlined ministerial approval under SB 35. According to the city’s project page, if the project meets those standards, the city is prohibited from applying any discretionary standards that would chill the development of affordable housing on a suitable site identified in its general plan. The application is currently under review for compliance with objective standards.

The second of a series of community meetings took part on Aug. 12 as part of the community outreach process. Responsive to both the affordable housing needs of the city and to resident input, Novin Development has made multiple modifications, reducing building height and mass, increasing setbacks, and committing to sustainable building methods, including LEED certification. Plans for a rooftop bar were scrapped in favor of scenic gardens, and the number of apartments was dropped from 149 to 145 in favor of adding five “live-work units” in which local merchants or artisans could operate ground-floor retail space and live in an upstairs apartment. The number of bedrooms in several units originally designated as studios and one-bedroom apartments has also been increased.

Santa Cruz is evolving, says Iman Novin, principal at Novin Development, and it needs affordable and workforce housing to keep pace with those changes.  

“With these changes come growing pains, and nowhere is that more apparent than development and housing in the city,” writes Novin in a recent guest commentary in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. “However, a new development at 831 Water Street reflects the unique and innovative heart of the city, while helping Santa Cruz grow. It is a model for California’s equitable and sustainable housing growth in the future.”

The project, located along a major transit corridor and within walking or biking distance to downtown Santa Cruz, will help meet the workforce and affordable housing needs of Santa Cruz’s growing tech startup system, its professionals, and young families, says Novin.

The mixed-income project is unique in many ways, writes Novin:

  • The mix of unit types and mixed-income approach addresses a full spectrum of housing needs, from hard to house low- and very low-income members of our community (30%-80% area median income – AMI) to the “missing middle” workforce housing needs for those who make more than what is allowed in tax-credit subsidized housing but not enough to pay market rents (80%-120% AMI).
  • The modular construction, double-loaded corridor development is unique in many ways. It is divided into two buildings, one with 74 studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom units for middle-income households and 71 studios, one- and two-bedroom units for low- and very low-income households, including 54 project-based voucher assisted units for tenants who are on the Santa Cruz County housing authority’s waiting list. Many of those are individuals with disabilities as defined by HUD, veterans, and transition-aged youth (“TAY”) homeless people.
  • The bottom floor of 831 Water Street will be dedicated to community-serving retail establishments, like a neighborhood corner market or a restaurant/café. The project is located close to other nearby retail, located within walking distance from Whole Foods, CVS, Shoppers Corner, and many jobs. This amenity-rich location along a major transit corridor helps to promote healthy living and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging walking, biking, and public transit use.
  • The 831 Water Street project is also collaborating with UC Santa Cruz, Cabrillo College, and Santa Cruz City Schools to address workforce housing options for teachers and other staff members.  
  • Novin Development has an agreement with Native American tribes for archeological resource monitoring and will be paying prevailing wages as well as hiring a skilled and trained workforce.

MBEP has endorsed 831 Water Street as a project that provides thoughtful infill, transit-oriented, mixed-use housing that can help fulfill our need for housing availability and affordability as well as carbon mitigation and job creation.

The city has scheduled a public oversight meeting on Sept. 14 to get feedback from the council on their objective standards review of the project.

Learn more on Novin Development’s project page and sign up for notifications and updates on the city’s page.