The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors discussed the need for additional, affordable workforce housing during its regular meeting on Tuesday.
The board received a presentation from the county’s Community Services Department on Tuesday, which outlined workforce housing needs and strategies to address the gap.
County officials have identified that there is a segment of the workforce population that cannot afford market-rate housing and does not qualify for government or private housing subsidies. Often, these are individuals who work in industries that are critical to the community’s infrastructure — law enforcement officers, school teachers, healthcare workers, retail clerks and those in industry trades.
According to the Community Services presentation on Tuesday, an income of over $90,000 is needed to afford a median-priced two-bedroom rental unit or a home priced at $444,000 in the county. This high cost of housing has created challenges for the community’s workforce and is further exacerbated by the lack of affordable housing properties.
“The lack of housing inventory is the most prevalent barrier to meeting the demand for the workforce,” Laurie Baker, the grants and programs manager for the Housing and Community Development sector of Community Services, said during Tuesday’s presentation.
In response to current workforce housing challenges, the county met with local stakeholders to develop a list of potential strategies. The list of strategies was presented to the board on Tuesday, and included methods like expanding down payment assistance plans, utilizing county-owned property for housing development and using tax-exempt government bonds to acquire market-rate apartment buildings and convert them to income and rent-restricted units.
During board deliberations on Tuesday, Supervisor Das Williams said he hoped the county would “emulate the Cottage Health/Westmont model” when considering workforce housing needs. Currently, Cottage Health offers housing to employees on land that used to be occupied by the St. Francis Medical Center, and Westmont College offers affordable faculty housing in its Las Barrancas area adjacent to campus.
Mr. Williams said providing more workforce housing closer to where residents work would reap environmental benefits for the county as well. He estimated that about 60% of the county’s emissions are from vehicles, and having affordable housing closer to the county’s economic centers would help to reduce this impact.
“The context already was that young families (and the) Latino middle class are just two of the more prominent demographics that are being exiled in large numbers to other communities because of our high cost of housing,” Mr. Williams said. “And to me, the context should be put in this that we say that social equity and racial equity is one of our biggest issues, we say as a society that climate change is one of our biggest issues — (housing) is the biggest determinant of both of those questions.”
Board Chair Bob Nelson always weighed in on the current situation regarding workforce housing, telling the board on Tuesday that the county needs to do “everything it can” to address current issues. He said when determining solutions, he hopes that the county will consider subsidized homeownership programs and incentivizing builders with a more streamlined process.
“I’m not all about subsidized rental housing,” Mr. Nelson said. “I don’t want to create a permanent underworking class. I really think homeownership is a huge part of the American dream, it’s a huge ability for people of all segments of society, no matter race or religion, to move up the economic ladder. And I think that we need to try to find ways for that to happen.”
At the conclusion of Tuesday’s meeting, the board unanimously agreed to direct county staff to request services from a qualified consultant who could provide the board with an affordable housing development strategic plan. Staff are expected to return at a later date to present the consultant’s full report once completed.