Thousands of local residents gathered in Del La Guerra’s Plaza on Saturday for the second annual Housing Santa Barbara Day.
Sponsored by the Santa Barbara Foundation and hosted by 2nd Story Associates, the event provided the community with an opportunity to learn about workforce and subsidized housing.
“Affordable housing is the No. 1 thing I hear about from my neighbors every day,” said Joan Hartmann, Santa Barbara County 3rd District supervisor. “When people have so much to juggle it makes putting the pieces together a challenge in itself. Today is about putting all available resources into one place.”
Booths from more than 30 organizations, as well as food trucks and live music, were on hand at the event. Housing-related workshops gave attendees another way to seek help, focusing on such topics as home ownership programs or tenant rights and responsibilities.
The event even stretched beyond the square, as trolleys leaving every fifteen minutes took residents to different affordable housing developments in the area.
Housing Santa Barbara Day started two years ago when Jerry Morales, a leasing agent with Housing Authority of Santa Barbara, wanted to promote Housing America Month in Santa Barbara.
With the help of 2nd Story Associates, HACSB’s affiliate nonprofit, Mr. Morales worked with the community to bring housing resources to those who need them most.
“Today isn’t just for people of extremely low-income,” said Mr. Morales. “It’s for everyone from the point of experiencing homelessness to our middle class. Emergency workers and teachers can’t afford to buy, or even rent a home sometimes.”
For Mr. Morales, this event addresses a larger issue within Santa Barbara.
“It doesn’t seem right that people who work here can’t afford to live here,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to buy my home 27 years ago, but now it’d be impossible. We have to think of creative ways to get more affordable housing in the area.”
Within Santa Barbara County, 42 percent of households spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to a report by the Santa Barbara Foundation. In addition to high cost housing, more than 20 percent of the area’s overall population is living at or near federal poverty rates.
For local residents like Lizette Padilla-Lee, these issues hit close to home. Ms. Padilla-Lee attended Housing Santa Barbara to get back on her feet after suffering a traumatic brain injury in 2014. Since then, she hasn’t been able to work, making affordable housing hard to find and supporting her 5-year-old daughter hard to do.
“Circumstances led to having to change my environment,” said Ms. Padilla-Lee. “I ended up moving in with my dad.”
Like others in her position, Ms. Padilla-Lee didn’t know how to find help, but Housing Santa Barbara has provided her with those resources.
“Before, I went on a couple of websites and didn’t get responses for two years,” said Ms. Padilla-Lee. “At least now I know where (the resources) are. Hopefully I can get more outlets so I can be there for my daughter.”
The resources also attracted renters Gary Salazar and Emma Tantu, who came for fear of what will happen once their lease expires.
“I’ve been living in Santa Barbara for over three decades, and our landlady hardly raises our rent,” said Ms. Tantu. “We’re very grateful, but when she passes on, we don’t know where we’ll end up.”
Like Ms. Tantu, Mr. Salazar is a longtime resident of Santa Barbara, living in the area for more than half a century. Over that time, he has stayed anywhere and everywhere, including the streets, cars and even a tent.
“I had to dumpster dive and pick off the trees to survive,” said Mr. Salazar. “It was a struggle to stay here.”
Now, Mr. Salazar is grateful events like Housing Santa Barbara exist.
“They never had these services available when I was struggling,” he said. “But they’re available for everyone now. People are reaching out to help, so I think that’s a real positive.”
Ms. Tantu shared those sentiments, happy that so many attended the event.
“It’s good to see this,” she said. “We need more unity.”