We press Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend and challenger Becky Steinbruner on what we heard are your top issues: homelessness, traffic, the environment, housing and the rail corridor. Friend and Steinbruner are the candidates in the District 2 county supervisor election that will take place March 3. The district covers Aptos, Corralitos, Freedom, La Selva Beach, Pajaro Dunes, eastern Capitola and other areas.
Do you live in District 2? You’ll vote in this race.
Editor’s note: Transcripts are usually only for members, but we’re making our “Vote March 3” transcripts available to everyone. We hope this series will encourage more people to get informed about the March 3 local elections.
KARA MEYBERG GUZMAN: This episode is sponsored by UC Santa Cruz. UC Santa Cruz tells its story every other week in its StoryCruz podcast. Listen to conversations about UC Santa Cruz news, research, breakthroughs, people and events. Find StoryCruz on Stitcher, iTunes, and Google Play.
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KMG: I’m Kara Meyberg Guzman.
STEPHEN BAXTER: And I’m Stephen Baxter.
KMG: Welcome to Santa Cruz Local. This is Part 3 of our elections series “Vote March 3.”
Today’s episode: The District 2 supervisor’s race.
If you’re a voter in Aptos, the east part of Capitola, Corralitos, Freedom, La Selva Beach, Pajaro Dunes, or the surrounding areas, you’ll vote on this race.
Stephen, tell us about the candidates.
SB: We’ve got two candidates: Zach Friend and Becky Steinbruner.
Zach Friend is the incumbent. He’s 40. He lives in Seacliff.
You may remember Zach Friend as the former spokesman for Santa Cruz Police. He was first elected to the county board of supervisors in 2012. He was re-elected in 2016.
Becky Steinbruner is 64.She’s a longtime resident of rural Aptos. She’s an activist. Steinbruner an unsuccessful recall effort against Friend in 2016. This is the second time she’s run against him.
KMG: Stephen, can you remind our listeners about our goal with these candidate interviews?
SB: We detailed our approach in our last episode. We interviewed more than 200 people across the county. That included about 50 people from District 2. We wanted to hear people’s priorities for the upcoming election. Top themes were homelessness, housing, the environment, traffic and the future of the rail corridor. We came up with a list of questions for the candidates based on what we heard.
We’re calling that the “People’s Agenda.” We’ll get to those questions after a quick get-to-know-you with the candidates.
I interviewed Friend at Aptos Village. I asked him what are his top issues.
ZACH FRIEND: I think the most important issue facing Santa Cruz County is affordable housing and it’s directly connected to challenges and homelessness as well as challenges with transportation. I think additionally, public safety challenges we’ve seen a pretty significant increase on the property base crime side. And the third issue that I think is important, although it’s connected again to the housing side is transportation and transportation equity.
STEPHEN BAXTER: And getting back to you personally, what’s a fun fact about you? Do you have any hobbies something that people didn’t know about you?
FRIEND: Every year on my birthday, I go bowling since I was in sixth grade. But I only bowl once a year so I’m not really that great of a bowl — Well, I don’t know, I can bowl 100. And I think that that’s like, the number if you — without the bumpers. And I can do it without the bumpers. So I’m bowling, I’m bowling a solid 100-plus every year on my birthday.
SB: I interviewed Becky Steinbruner at our headquarters at Cruzio in downtown Santa Cruz. I asked her, “What are the issues that affect you and makes you want to run for office?”
BECKY STEINBRUNER: Personally, the issues that affect me most are traffic, the conditions of infrastructure, roadways. Water supply is a big concern to me and affects the entire region. And what I would do to fix those is spend more money filling potholes and really have more public input on how Measure D monies are spent, and a better public process in terms of government in general.
BAXTER: Anything that people don’t know about you? Any hobbies that you do?
STEINBRUNER: Well, I rode my bicycle across the United States and mostly back. We did take a train across Canada, but we rode down from the Canadian Rockies, back to our home in Aptos.
And I am beekeeper. I don’t have any hives at the moment. But I do enjoy beekeeping.
SB: Now for the People’s Agenda. I asked them both this question. About half of the roughly 50 people we interviewed in your district told us homelessness is a top concern. They see a lack of progress. What is the problem with the way the county has been handling homelessness? What policy would you push forth with new state money for homeless programs?
STEINBRUNER: That is a very good question, and one that affects us all.
My disappointment in the way that the county has handled the money that they have received is that it hasn’t gone to any long-term solution.
They funded shelters, but that doesn’t help those people on to a more permanent solution. So I would, I would work to get something transitional housing like Tuff Sheds.
I think the city of Oakland had a great idea. I understand they bulldozed them recently, but I think it was a great idea for quick, relatively cheap, temporary housing for people who needed. And I would segregate, make, sort of, villages of people according to their needs and where they are in their lives.
They set up their own communities, their own networks, and those people need to have their own networks when they’re in transitional housing. But it would it would be a truly transitional thing, not with the idea that it would go on forever.
Those people would need to meet weekly with someone who could help guide them on either a career path or counseling or drug rehabilitation. Some progress where they feel themselves they’re making progress in their own lives, at pulling themselves out of a condition that is not the best for their health, for the community and, frankly, for the environment in some cases.
So it would be a transitional program that would have an ending point with a goal in sight and that I think would help rebuild their self confidence to take take accountability for their own lives, and that they’re in control.
And that’s what’s missing, I think, for a lot of those people. And they’re in despair and that leads to drugs.
SB: Here’s Friend. I asked him the same question. What’s wrong with the way the county has been dealing with homelessness and what policies will he push forth?
FRIEND: Well, the Public Policy Institute of California said that Santa Cruz County has one of the highest or the highest poverty rate in the state. When I spoke to the researchers to break down the variables, they said the strongest correlated variable was the cost of housing.
And when you look at homelessness in California, especially as housing prices have gone up, homelessness has increased. So communities like Alabama or Mississippi, which have exceptionally low incomes with very low cost of housing, do not have high homeless issues. And in California where we have this high cost of living, even with slightly higher incomes, we do.
So I think that the solution at its most fundamental core deals with having more affordable housing. But secondly, we have opened up a lot of new state funding, and our focus has actually been on basically the three Ps.
One of them is the production of new housing, specifically affordable housing and accessory dwelling units that are deed restricted.
Two, the preservation for those that are currently in housing before they lose it. We have a lot of expiring affordable housing in the county. They had 25-year covenants on it that’s coming to expiration. Where would those people go? They have no other options and if we have more people slip into unsheltered homelessness, it’s very hard to get them out.
And the third thing is just protection of low-income renters in general, ensuring… The state made a lot of changes in regards to this. But I think locally, ensuring that renters also don’t fall out in non-deed-restricted options is very important. I mean, right here where we’re sitting, most of the employees in the service industries are working multiple jobs and living in homes with multiple people just to make a go of it, while maybe they have high, they maybe have college debt or whatever it may be.
I think on the homelessness side, it always comes back to the affordability of housing in our community. And for the last 30 years, we basically said no to any housing, and I think that that fundamentally has to change in order to improve the homeless issues.
SB: Second question. Almost everyone we talked to in District 2 listed traffic as a daily problem, what specific projects would you push forth to address traffic?
FRIEND: So traffic, I believe is connected to two things. One of them is actually a good thing, which is that we have a great economy, 3.9% unemployment. When you look at traffic counts on the highway in 2009, 2010 during the the height of the recession… When you look at them now, and you look at them right before the recession, the changes aren’t significantly different in 2007 than they are today. So we know that the economy, when you had 12% unemployment in our county, even higher over the hill, that had a huge impact on traffic.
But the second thing, and this is a much more policy-related component, is that there’s a significant housing-jobs imbalance that I think’s causing major traffic issues. All the affordable housing in the southern portion of the county. Over the last two censuses, you’ve had thousands of jobs created in the northern portion of the county. So it shouldn’t, it’s not difficult to understand then why you have that component.
I think you should widen the highway. I think infrastructure needs to improve. But the solution isn’t just on the transportation side. I think it’s much more on the housing-jobs imbalance side, where affordable housing needs to be throughout the county and so too does jobs.
The two largest employers, for example, the county itself and UCSC. I’ve advocated for them having greater number of their workforce in the South County, a) because they already live in the South County and b) for those that don’t, the reverse commute could be enough to impact especially the highway during peak commute hours, enough to significantly alleviate the issues.
But I mean, looking at traffic not just as a traffic infrastructure issue or just a highway issue or just a bus issue, but instead looking at it as a jobs-housing issue is a different way that I think would actually solve the problem living long term.
BAXTER:Some of the, for what it’s worth, candidates in the District 1 race have talked about a FasTrack lane on the highway or rail or more bike lanes or things of that nature. Your thoughts on any of that?
FRIEND: Well, I mean, look, everything we do in the county and transportation gets litigated. My thought is that you stop the litigation, you might see some actual improvements in transportation. I mean, I – we’re getting sued on the EIR for the highway that the majority of voters voted for it. They’re getting sued on trail segments in the northern section of the county, the majority of voters voted for.
So I think without the litigation, maybe you could actually see this happen. So I don’t think that’s a faster solution, Stephen, at all. I think that if people stop suing it might be faster solution. I think that, at the same time though, we have the ability, be it from a telecommute or a jobs component, to say, major employers, your employees are dealing with a significant quality of life issue, a significant environmental issue when they’re sitting there idling on the highway. And you can fundamentally shift where it is that they’re working, or allow for telecommutes.
And the reason I know that it doesn’t take a major solution — if Pajaro Valley Unified School District is out of session for Easter break or Cabrillo’s out of session for Easter break, I can get to downtown from Aptos in under 10 minutes. That is, is that a two-percentage point change a one-percentage point change, 3%? I don’t know what the number is, but it’s pretty de minimis.
So I think that the solution is actually more — I’m all for the highway components — I’m just saying that we all know what’s going to happen. We start to as soon as we put a shovel in the ground on the next highway widening, I’ve got, you know, all these groups on the Upper Westside suing us over over this kind of issue. So we will have transportation challenges and housing challenges as long as people continue to litigate on this stuff. But I think that from an employer standpoint, we can solve it faster that way.
BAXTER: Just to follow on what you were saying about trying to work with employers. What have you done over your past term about that?
FRIEND: Well, the first thing I did with the county was bring forward an item to the Board of Supervisors that deals with our facilities and how we use our facilities. And we one component of that was surveying employees to say, Where do you live? Where would you be willing to work? Would you be willing to change that component? And we are in the midst of that study, actually, right now.
I think it’s going to show, because we have campuses in Watsonville, that if we expanded those campuses, we could probably have hundreds, if not over 1,000 employees that a) don’t have to commute like they did before or had a reverse commute.
I’m pretty confident that for somebody that has to work over the hill, if they knew that 1,000 less cars were going to be on the highway because an employer just reallocated resources, they’d be pretty happy about that.
I had a meeting with some of the administration at UCSC to ask them to consider the same thing. That’s the furthest commute anybody could do. It’s not just to Santa Cruz, but all the way up the hill. You’ve got a lot of employees that live in Watsonville, live in Salinas, that could be off of that highway if we had an option for reverse commute.
The last component is that I did meet with Apple, Facebook, Netflix and Google, who all charter buses over the hill, and we have 30,000 cars that commute over the hill for those types of businesses. Google aside, the others said that the lack of broadband infrastructure prevents them from building satellite offices here.
So that’s been a priority of mine over the last seven years. We’ve had significant improvements on broadband, both from state funding and otherwise, to build that, that backbone to allow there to be either satellite offices or telecommuting. Because one day a week or two days a week, if some of those employees could stay at home or work in a satellite office, I think that too, would have a major impact for the better on traffic.
SB: Here’s Steinbruner. Same question. Almost everyone we talked to in District 2 listed traffic as a daily problem, what specific projects would you push forth to address traffic?
STEINBRUNER: Well, we definitely need another alternative to Highway 1. And the bus, the bus is stuck in traffic like everybody else. I really think the rail corridor, rail-trail corridor, is an unused gem. And it is very disappointing to me to see when it was purchased in 2012, 2014, that era, that nothing has moved forward, except we spent a lot of money doing study after study after study, and nothing has been done.
So what I would like to see done is put some money into the rail-trail corridor, not pull up the tracks because that would be very expensive. Not only for just the physical part of it, but it would also disturb those very contaminated road bed railroad bed soils and I just don’t want to do that. But I think filling in temporarily the areas between the tracks with either some compacted base rock or some material so that it can be used either by bicyclists, electric carts, and build a trail off on the side, a very rudimentary trail. It doesn’t have to be a, you know, a glamour case of a thing, just something so people can get out and use that corridor and have an option.
I would really like to see this county extend the JUMP bike idea to electric carts such that people could get one in Watsonville and come up on that rail corridor and be at work. And they have covers that go down that would be protected from the weather. And I think that’s something worth doing as a pilot project. I am aware that the RTC is going to do a pilot project next month with the hydrogen fuel cell train and I’m looking forward to that. And I just am happy to see something moving forward that maybe we’ll finally put that corridor to use.
SB: Question three. We interviewed more than 200 people. One of their top issues was that they wanted Santa Cruz County to be more of a leader on environmental policy. Some of the things we heard were more bike lanes, more composting programs and better public transit. What are two environmental policies that you will push to put on the supervisors agenda this year?
Here’s Becky Steinbruner.
STEINBRUNER: Well, one of them would be one that I discussed with you earlier, something that could be an electric cart / JUMP bike type thing for the rail trail corridor. I think that would reduce emissions. That would reduce traffic congestion. And that could be a big positive thing environmentally.
I would actually work to encourage consolidation of Soquel Creek Water District and Santa Cruz City water district. I think the plan that is currently being pushed forward for tertiary advanced treated water to inject into our groundwater is very, very dangerous. It will take massive amounts of electricity. It could possibly cause irreversible damage and contamination to our aquifer. And we cannot take those risks.
So there’s plenty of water in this county if there is the political will between Santa Cruz City and Soquel Creek Water District, and the latter I see as the one that is lagging. I would consolidate them.
SB: We should say here that Steinbruner last year sued the Soquel Creek Water District. The lawsuit basically said that there was not enough environmental review in that project she just mentioned. A judge threw out the case in November and Stein burner has appealed.
The project, by the way, would pump purified wastewater from Santa Cruz to a treatment plant in Live Oak. It’s then injected underground in Mid-County. The idea is to recharge aquifers and guard against sea water intrusion.
I asked that Friend the same question. What two environmental policies will you push forth in a new term?
FRIEND: It seems like something that is so big that it’s hard to address but I want to localize it, is actually climate change and sea level rise.
Because the issues that I’m dealing with on a day-to-day basis, Valencia Road falling down because of three atmospheric rivers, damage to sewer line pipes that are located within the coastal zone, are hundreds of millions of dollars worth of infrastructure changes that need to happen within the next decade in order to address these issues we’re now starting to deal with.
So while it seems big and out of reach, when you see your road fall down, and you just think it happened from a storm, it actually happened from storms that are occurring that weren’t occurring before in the same capacity. So from an environmental perspective, I think the most important thing the county can do is work with the state.
The governor just proposed in his budget significant resiliency bonds for exactly this, but to intake in an astronomical amount of money — I mean, the kind of money we haven’t even conceived of before — to totally relocate some of our infrastructure, including sewers and water infrastructure. And completely shore up areas that we think are more susceptible to damage, including roads that are lifeline roads, like Valencia or Trout Gulch, to the tune again of hundreds of millions of dollars.
But it has to happen, or we’re going to have catastrophic failures of essential systems that would also have catastrophic environmental damage issues if we don’t do it.
SB: Next question. One of the most common concerns we heard was housing. Candidates often say they’re for affordable housing, but we want to know what that means. What types of specific housing developments would you support? And where could they be in Santa Cruz County?
Here’s Becky Steinbruner.
STEINBRUNER: For housing developments, I actually think there should be more clusters, dense clusters — not a solid line of it — but some dense clusters of affordable housing near the rail-trail corridor, so people could use that as their way to get around. And that would support in the future, more population that would support a passenger rail service.
I also think that we’ve really got to work cooperatively with UCSC and make sure that they’re housing 100% of their increased enrollment on campus. And I’ve seen their Long Range Development Plan and I think it, it does a good job of that.
I don’t, I really don’t want to see that great meadow gone. So, as a supervisor, I will try to work with them. Just as the county supervisor in Yolo County did, and this, the mayor of the city of Davis did with UC Davis. They sat down at a table with a mediator. They had an — UC Davis had a new chancellor. So they let the UC regents pick the mediator. They sat down at a table and they they got all the issues on the table. And the mediator helped them weed through.
What is the biggest one? It was housing and infrastructure. So they were able to, and I talked with the mayor of Davis, I know it was was not an easy process. But they were able to come to an agreement that that the university would house 100% of their increased enrollment and they gave the city of Davis $2.3 million for infrastructure improvements.
That’s what we need to do here, not lawyer up or hire a new position for $120,000. They just hired this person Morgan Bostic to fight it. That’s ridiculous. That will get us nowhere to a positive solution.
But helping the campus build affordable housing for their students would go a long way to taking the pressure off the housing stock here.
And I would also work with Cabrillo College to help them come to a method, either working a private partner, private-public partnership, with developer or nonprofit to build on-campus student housing. Just as Columbia Community College has and Feather River Community College has.
It’s a possibility and I’m really disappointed that they didn’t include it in Measure R.
SB: Here’s Zach Friend. The question: What types of specific housing developments would you support? And where could they be in the county?
FRIEND: To answer your question of where they should go. I think that they need to go within the urbanized area. We have a Measure J that needs to be respected. It shouldn’t be built in Corralitos or anywhere near agricultural lands. It needs to be built within the urban areas, be it in sections along Soquel or into Live Oak, where we’ve designated a Sustainable Santa Cruz [County] Plan for exactly that.
Where we’re sitting, here in the Aptos Village, I think is one example of it, where you have a mixed-use development that built 69 units, of which 15% were affordable. I’d like to see more just deed-restricted affordable housing in general in the county built. But even having these kinds of units — the smaller, non-deed restricted affordable — have been purchased mostly by seniors that were allowed, that gave them an opportunity to downsize. And now those those single family homes opened up for other people to purchases so that that cycle needs to be allowed.
But it’s, it’s about saying yes, it’s not about litigating against everything. Which happens on every project we do, by the way, which adds hundreds of thousands of dollars in public costs and private cost to it and delays projects that are essential. It’s a playbook that’s used a lot on housing. I’m all for it as long as it’s not near me.
We had we heard this in the Capitola Road project that struck me as unassailable. You had a 100% affordable housing project with two health center locations associated with it that people were against, and every line would start with, ‘I’m not against affordable housing, but it just needs to be located somewhere else.’
It’s like, I mean, where should it go if I can’t build it along a transit corridor where we have a census tract that shows that people need it right in that area? But anyway, I’m going to continue to support those projects. I voted for those projects over the last seven years and will continue to support those affordable housing projects within this urban core.
SB: Last question. We heard in our Open Newsroom Office Hours about your opinions on rail-trail versus trail-only plans. I asked both candidates what they want for the future of the rail corridor.
Friend couldn’t comment. He lives within 500 feet of the rail line. So the Fair Political Practices Commission requires his recusal. Friend sends an alternate to the Regional Transportation Commission meetings when the rail corridor is discussed.
Here’s Steinbruner on the rail corridor.
STEINBRUNER: Well, I’ve read some of the studies. There are so many, but the ones that I’ve read, say that we don’t have the population at this time to support a high-capacity rail.
That’s not what the state has in mind. And the state, as we know, really is increasing what what they are telling and mandating the local jurisdictions to do. The state has a rail plan that includes passenger rail service from Santa Cruz down to Monterey linking in with the Pajaro station the regular Coast Starlight, all of those Union Pacific lines over there.
So, I think that there will be rail, passenger rail service at some point and I support that. I really support rail as an efficient way to move people and cargo. So I think we need to keep the rail there and in terms of paying for it, all public transportation is subsidized just one way or another. The roads are even the roads are subsidized. So I support both rail and trail and would not want to get rid of the rail, but I think both can be there.
And in areas where it is constricted, I think a viaduct for the bicyclists and JUMP bikes and electric carts, whatever would be there, that’s more cost effective than retaining walls and all of that. That gets very expensive.
KMG: Stephen, we interviewed 50 voters in District 2. We heard the top concern was housing. What else did you learn about the candidates’ stances on housing?
SB: Well, Becky Steinbruner, by her own admission, said that housing was not her top priority. Her priorities were traffic, water and fixing infrastructure, like roads.
Zach Friend sees himself as part of a board of supervisors that is more amenable to new housing. And his record supports that. He recently voted in favor of a housing project at Pleasure Point and another one in Live Oak.
FRIEND: For me, it’s the No. 1 issue. I mean, to me… I brought forward an item that eliminated all county fees on accessory dwelling units under 640 square feet, which is a one bedroom in our code.
Since we’ve done it, we’ve nearly doubled the number of applications for it. So I know that, that there is a pretty significant issue associated with those county fees.
SB: That is accurate. But keep in mind that last year, the county only had about 43 applications for new accessory dwelling units. And only about 25 permits have been issued last year. So the impacts been limited. That could change in 2020 because the state has made it a lot easier to build ADUs.
In terms of where Becky Steinbruner is at on housing. Some people see her as kind of a crusader for due process in the county. I mean, she speaks at most every board of supervisors meeting. She reads all the documents. She’s very well-versed. I mean, Zach Friend even joked that Becky attends so many meetings that he sees Becky more than he sees his own wife. So.
For other people, they see Becky as an obstructionist of new housing. I mean, she sued the county over the Aptos Village project, and she lost that case. Here’s what she says.
STEINBRUNER: I’ve been pegged as a NIMBY. I’m really not. What I had issue with was the process. It was poor process.
KMG: All right, Stephen, what other differences are there between Friend and Steinbruner?
SB: Well, they’re split on Measure R. That’s the Cabrillo College bond measure that’s on the March 3 ballot. That’s a $274 million bond that would mainly fund capital improvements at the college. Zach Friend is for the measure. Becky Steinbruner is against the measure. And Becky is one of the signers of the ballot argument against Measure R.
Another difference between the candidates: inclusionary rates. Inclusionary rates determine the number of affordable housing units that a developer has to build as part of a market-rate project. If you’ve been following our podcast, you’ve seen this debate play out recently in the city of Santa Cruz.
Basically, the question is how much you think the market will bear. If you set it too low, you may not get as many affordable units. But if you set it too high, you may not get any units at all because developers could walk away
Becky Steinbruner, her stance is that the county should raise its inclusionary rate from 15% to 20%. Zach Friend’s stance is that the county should leave it at 15%.
One thing that candidates are actually aligned on is they both agree that supervisors should not be voting on their own pay as they have been. In this last term, Zach Friend voted with the rest of the board to raise supervisors’ pay and give it a 4% increase each year. That’s in line with managers in the county.
Friend told me that he would peg the supervisors’ pay with judges’, which is what some other counties do. Becky said that she doesn’t believe the supervisors should have voted to raise their pay. She said she would donate some of her salary as Supervisor Greg Caput does now.
KMG: Lastly, let’s talk about campaign finance. Looking at lists of donors can tell you how much support that candidates are getting. It can also tell you who supports them. Since January of 2019, Zach Friend has raised $14,699. Some of his notable donors include $500 from Ryan Coonerty’s campaign committee, Coonerty for Supervisor 2018. He got $500 from that committee.
He also got 250 bucks from Santa Cruz City Council member Cynthia Mathews and $500 from former Santa Cruz City Council member Pamela Comstock.
On the other hand, Becky Steinbruner has raised $3,302 since July of 2019. That’s the earliest that she’s posted filings for her race. Her list includes $962 from anonymous donors.
KMG: That’s it for this session. If you haven’t already, sign up for our newsletter. We update you on what’s going on in our local government. It’s in your inbox a few times a week. And it’s free. Signup is at santacruzlocal.org.
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Look for our next episode in our election series in the next few days.
I’m Kara Meyberg Guzman.
SB: And I’m Stephen Baxter.
KMG: Thanks for listening to Santa Cruz Local.
Listen to the rest of our “Vote March 3” elections series.
- Part 1: Voting in Santa Cruz County 101 (Jan. 8, 2020)
- Part 2: The People’s Agenda (Jan. 30, 2020)
- Part 3: The District 2 supervisor race (Feb. 3, 2020)
- Part 4: The District 1 supervisor race (Feb. 6, 2020)
- Part 5: Santa Cruz City Council recall, Drew Glover’s seat (Feb. 9, 2020)
- Part 6: Santa Cruz City Council recall, Chris Krohn’s seat (Feb. 10, 2020)
Editor’s note: This post has been edited to correct a typo in Kara Meyberg Guzman’s question to Stephen Baxter regarding the candidates’ stances on housing.