February 2024

It Is Not Just a Housing Project. It Is a CommUNITY!

Growing up in the housing projects in NYC shaped the very essence of my being. While there were physical barriers present, they were not the focal points of my upbringing. Instead, the essence of my community was rooted in the resilience and unity of its people, transcending the limitations imposed by external circumstances.

In the narrative often associated with housing projects, the emphasis tends to be on the seeming challenges—tall buildings, economic disparities, and various barriers that seemingly dictate the destiny of those who call these places home. However, my story diverges from this narrative. It is a tale of a thriving community, where the focus was not on how tall the buildings were, but on the strength and interconnectedness of the people within them.

In this community that I grew up in, the concept of “home” extended beyond the physical structures; it encompassed the bonds we forged with one another. The spirit of togetherness was a powerful force. We were not defined by our circumstances but rather by our shared experiences, dreams, and the mutual support that flowed through our tight-knit neighborhood.

My mother, a pillar of our community, resided in the same 14-story building for an astounding 70 years. Her commitment to staying rooted in one place wasn’t just a personal choice—it was a testament to the profound value she placed on the community.

Her home wasn’t merely a structure; it was a symbol of stability, resilience, and the enduring power of collective strength. As a small child, the vibrant tapestry of our community taught me invaluable lessons about the true essence of Community.

It wasn’t just about geographical proximity; it was about people growing together, respecting each other, and supporting one another through thick and thin. The laughter of children echoed throughout, the project’s businesses flourished, and economic growth became a shared desire.

As I reflect on those early years, it becomes evident that we were active participants in shaping our community’s narrative. It wasn’t just about surviving; it was about thriving against all odds. The community was our stronghold, a place where resilience was not an option but a way of life. This spirit of unity extended beyond our immediate neighborhood.

It manifested in our collective efforts to transcend the challenges imposed upon us. We weren’t merely advocates for change; we were catalysts for it. pushing for the necessary measures to build more homes—spaces where people could truly live, not just exist.

Over the course of my 22 years in Santa Cruz County, I’ve witnessed a troubling trend of an increasing number of individuals grappling with the challenge of finding and maintaining stable housing. This struggle poses a significant threat to the wellbeing of our community members but also hinders their ability to establish and sustain roots within our community.

As the Executive Director of Housing Santa Cruz County, the narrative we seek to write is one of hope, inclusivity, and forward thinking. We envision a future where Santa Cruz County can embrace the concept of community in its truest form—a place where children laugh, businesses prosper, and economic growth is a reality for all.

Our focus is on creating a level playing field, where every individual has the right to a place they can call home—a fundamental human right that transcends socio-economic boundaries. In our work of advocacy, we are not merely dismantling barriers; we are constructing bridges. These bridges connect us to a future where the narrative isn’t dictated by fear of change, the height of buildings, or the zoning challenges we face but by the collective strength of a community determined to uplift every member.

My upbringing in the housing projects instilled in me a profound belief in the power of community. It taught me that we are not defined by our circumstances but by the strength of our bonds and our shared commitment to creating a better tomorrow.

Santa Cruz County, I implore us to change our narrative, to envision a future where community isn’t just a concept but a lived reality—a place where people grow together, respect one another, and support the flourishing of all. Let us build homes, not just structures, and in doing so, let us build a future where everyone has a place, they can proudly call home.

This is a call to action, an opportunity for every member of our community to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of housing in Santa Cruz County. The challenges we face are significant, but so too is the power that collective action holds in bringing about meaningful change.

To be a part of our movement, your support is crucial. We are running ongoing fundraising efforts to fuel the initiatives that address housing instability head-on. Your contribution, no matter the size, will directly impact our ability to continue this vital work.

You can make a difference by visiting our fundraising page at housingsantacruzcounty.com/join-us and contributing to the cause. Stay informed and engaged by signing up for our newsletter. This will be your gateway to updates on our progress, upcoming events, and ways you can actively participate in our efforts.

We are gearing up for a robust Affordable Housing Month, where we will delve into the heart of the housing solution. Join us to learn about the multifaceted approaches, policies, and community initiatives that form the foundation of our strategy. it’s an opportunity to become an informed advocate for affordable housing in Santa Cruz County.

As the March election approaches, your involvement becomes even more critical. We invite you to stand with us in supporting two pivotal initiatives: Measure K and Measure L. Measure K, the County of Santa Cruz Sales Tax, and Measure L, the City of Santa Cruz Sales Tax.

We urge you to stand with us in opposing Measure M Santa Cruz. By saying NO on Measure M Santa Cruz, you align with our shared vision of fostering positive change and ensuring that the trajectory of housing in Santa Cruz County moves in the right direction.

This is not just an invitation; it’s a call to action. Join us in shaping the future of housing in Santa Cruz County. Support our fundraising efforts, sign up for our newsletter, and actively engage in Affordable Housing Month.

Let your voice be heard in the upcoming election by supporting Measures K and L, and saying NO on Measure M Santa Cruz. Together, we can build a community where everyone has the opportunity to thrive, with housing as a fundamental cornerstone of that vision.

By Elaine Johnson

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