A recent assessment of affordable housing availability in Santa Barbara County, California revealed that the county has a long way to go in meeting the needs of its low-income residents. And the current economic crisis is making matters worse.
Santa Barbara has less than 1,000 affordable housing units, and a waiting list of between 4,000 and 5,000 families who can’t afford market-rate homes. The list is so long that it was officially closed in July of 2009, which means there may be more families out there in need of affordable housing who have even fewer options than those on the waiting list.
An estimated 700 of the 1,000 affordable units are located in the north, leaving very few options for low-income residents elsewhere. Santa Barbara County’s cost of living is high, but many of its residents work in lower-paying agriculture and service-industry jobs, creating a significant disparity between what housing costs and what people can afford.
The county’s housing shortfall is exacerbated by an expected $60 to $90 million budget gap this year, putting development incentive programs at risk of being reduced or outright eliminated. Those incentives are often necessary in order for projects that include affordable housing to be financially viable.
The county’s Housing and Community Development Department administers several programs aimed at making housing more accessible.
- It awards HOME Program grants to developers interested in building or refurbishing low-income rental units.
- It also offers mortgage assistance for first-time home-buyers.
- The Department’s Homeless Program provides both transitional and permanent housing opportunities for homeless families and individuals.
- In addition, it has formed the Santa Barbara Urban County Partnership, which receives Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) aimed at eliminating blight in severely distressed neighborhoods, and encouraging comprehensive development of housing, transportation and infrastructure.
- The county also provides technical assistance to affordable housing developers through its Grants Administration Division staff, and
- all CHCD staff is made available to make presentation or attend meetings in an effort to educate those interested in providing community development or affordable housing services.
Santa Barbara County has a total of five Housing Market Areas (HMAs), and affordable housing availability is an issue in most of them. The above-mentioned programs are on-going, and funding for most of them is renewed annually.
This latest assessment, however, makes it clear that Santa Barbara County’s efforts are not reducing the need for low-income housing. Though the county is aware of its housing needs, no plan to address the problem is forthcoming. Developers and other affordable housing advocates are encouraged to share ideas and plans with the county’s Housing Authority.