Housing Santa Barbara Day 2021 took place at De La Guerra Plaza on Saturday, where nearly 40 community agencies and service providers gathered to share information with local residents about housing resources.
The annual event, which is organized by the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara and its nonprofit branch Second Story Associates, acts as a one-stop-shop for all things housing and supportive services. Every year, local community members can attend the Housing Day event to connect with community agencies and receive information about housing all in one centralized place.
During this year’s event, local attendees could chat with representatives from PATH Santa Barbara, Habitat for Humanity, City Net and dozens of other participating organizations. Attendees also had the opportunity to participate in several workshops, which covered topics like accessible housing, tenant rights, emergency rental assistance programs and Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs).
Many vendors and officials present at Saturday’s event highlighted the need for more affordable housing in Santa Barbara. Jerry Morales, the leasing agent for the Housing Authority, told the News-Press on Saturday that the current housing environment is the worst he’s seen since working at the Housing Authority for 12 years.
“We’re in such a critical state right now, there’s such a shortage of housing,” Mr. Morales said. “You know, typically we’ve dealt with a 1- 2% vacancy rate, but right now, there’s nothing available. I have landlords telling me that when they put up their ad for an apartment, they get 100 to 200 people that apply, which is outrageous.”
To solve the housing shortage, it’s going to take innovation and creativity, Mr. Morales said. He was hopeful that Saturday’s event would connect community members with local agencies and public officials to spur further dialogue and collaboration on ways to alleviate the housing crisis.
To promote conversation, this year’s event featured a Community Input Tent set up by the League of Women Voters, where locals could meet with officials throughout the day to share ideas on how the revitalization of downtown Santa Barbara could include more affordable housing. Assemblymember Steve Bennett, Supervisor Das Williams, Mayor Cathy Murillo and Councilmembers Oscar Gutierrez and Kristen Sneddon were available throughout the day Saturday to meet with constituents and discuss housing.
“I think there has to be more dialogue with elected officials and the residents, and we’re also hoping that the agencies themselves are talking to each other as well — that they’re networking and sharing ideas,” Mr. Morales said.
Among the dozens of local agencies gathered on the Plaza Saturday was Itsi House, a local organization that specializes in all things Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) — from the financing, to design, to the permitting and construction. During Saturday’s event, CEO & Director of Operations Lucrezia De Leon and Managing Partner Kayla Elia met with local residents to share more information on how their organization can assist in getting an ADU up and running.
With Santa Barbara desperately needing more affordable housing units, representatives from Itsi House believe ADUs could be one of the ways to solve that problem while maintaining the city’s charm.
“We have a housing shortage in Santa Barbara, and there are actually either garages that are waiting to be converted, unused spaces or backyards that are perfectly useful for a one-bedroom, up to a three-bedroom ADU,” Ms. Elia said. “So we’re really trying to continue the design aesthetic of Santa Barbara, but also adding more units to the market to address the shortage. We just see it as a win-win.”
“Finding ways to house people is priority number one, and how can we do that in a way that retains Santa Barbara’s aesthetic design values — ADUs are an answer to that,” she later added.
Ms. De Leon, the CEO of the company, also noted that ADUs could help the county meet housing goals set by the Regional Housing Needs Allocation. The latest RHNA determined the county must create more than 24,800 units by 2031 to accommodate both existing and projected housing needs at all income levels.
“By streamlining the (ADU process), we’re addressing the housing crisis using our existing resources with minimal impact on the environment,” Ms. De Leon said. She also noted that ADUs not only help the local housing crisis by creating more housing units but also stimulate the economy by creating a passive source of income for the ADU owner if they choose to rent out the space.
Dozens of other organizations on Saturday also shared information with local residents about resources and actions that can be taken to alleviate the local housing crisis.
The Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) was present at Saturday’s event to share its current Community Rent Stabilization Initiative. The initiative calls for a 2% cap on rent increase per year in an effort to protect tenants from skyrocketing rental prices.
During Saturday’s event, Wendy Santamaria, a CAUSE organizer, talked with local residents about signing a petition in support of the initiative and provided scripts to residents interested in calling their city councilmember about this issue.
“The big thing we want to share, especially with tenants who are struggling with rising rents and struggling to find affordable housing, is that they’re not alone,” Ms. Santamaria told the News-Press. “CAUSE is here and we are actively working to stabilize rent in Santa Barbara.”
Ms. Santamaria said that CAUSE has been in consistent communication with members of the Santa Barbara City Council about rent stabilization. She voiced confidence that the Rent Stabilization Initiative has support from the city council but just needs a “final push” to be enacted as a law.
She added that CAUSE wants to see additional affordable housing added to the local housing market to address current shortages.
“Our goal, working with other housing and tenant rights groups here in Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara County, is that we build more housing, but then we also build more affordable housing to ensure that the people of Santa Barbara can remain,” Ms. Santamaria said. “And so we’re hoping for more affordable housing stock to be built at a rate that the workers in the city can actually afford.”
For local residents who were unable to attend Saturday’s event, an Affordable Housing Resource Guide is available to view online at housingsantabarbara.org/housing-resource-guide.
In addition, a Santa Barbara County Housing Day will be held next Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Town Center West in Santa Maria. The event will feature nearly 20 local agency providers from the north county. More information is available at housingsantabarbara.org.