Low-income Santa Barbara residents could soon get assistance to make essential repairs to their homes.
The Santa Barbara City Council’s Finance Committee last week unanimously endorsed the establishment of a rehabilitation pilot program for low-income homeowners to work with contractors vetted by Habitat for Humanity of Southern Santa Barbara County.
Under the pilot program, up to $50,000 in grant funding from city Inclusionary Housing Reserve Funds would be allocated to Habitat for Humanity to operate the program.
“This is an exciting opportunity to assist some of our city’s most vulnerable residents, many of whom are seniors on fixed incomes, make necessary repairs to their homes,” Councilmember Eric Friedman, the committee’s chair, told the News-Press.
“This funding will be an important tool to assist low-income homeowners remain in their homes by providing assistance for essential repairs to ensure habitability,” he said. “Even with homeownership, there are many households that don’t have the financial means to address critical home improvements such as new roofs, plumbing or electric upgrades (and) bathroom remodels to address physical constraints, or other standard repairs.
“The funding for the program comes from development in-lieu fees, which is an effective use of those funds as it will help keep residents in homes that are safe.”
The pilot program now heads to the full council for its approval. It will appear on the council’s consent agenda for consideration on Feb. 7, according to Laura Dubbels, the city’s housing and human services manager.
The pilot program would assist low-income individuals, families and seniors living in the city with necessary home repairs, accessibility modifications and aging-in-place adaptations so they can remain safely in their homes.
Home repairs would be confirmed for applicants who own their home, earn an income below 80% of the area median income, live within city limits and demonstrate urgent need based on other criteria, according to staff.
Habitat staff would manage the pilot program from the initial application solicitations through application submissions, evaluations and qualifications. The staff members would work directly with homeowners, contractors and subcontractors to develop the necessary scope of work, obtain any required permits and oversee the construction process to successful completion.
This work will include payment of funds to contractors and subcontractors for completed work. No funding will be paid directly to homeowners.
A one-time investment in a home repair can greatly extend the life of the home and is far more cost-effective than new construction, staff said. The average cost of a home repair is approximately $5,000 while new construction costs can be as high as $500/square foot.
“It is critical that Santa Barbara retains its current affordable housing stock through rehabilitations that ensure decent and sustainable housing,” staff said. “Safe, decent and affordable housing creates an environment of safety and security for all residents.
“The vast majority of government funding targets rental housing exclusively. While this is important, Santa Barbara has a vast array of affordable housing needs, including low- and very low-income households who own their home but have scarce resources for needed repairs.”
According to Habitat Program data captured since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020:
— Habitat’s home repair clients are 78 years old, on average.
— Seventy percent of households served include homeowners who have a disability. The average annual income of homeowner repair clients is below $30,000 annually.
— All homeowners served are at or below 80% of the area median income for Santa Barbara County.
“Staff supports Habitat’s request to establish and operate a pilot program in order to assist low-income homeowners with needed home repairs. Attending to repair and rehabilitation needs will ensure preservation of housing, enabling low-income households to remain in their homes,” the city staff said.
Habitat has operated the same program for Santa Barbara County for the past year “and has an excellent record of providing successful rehabilitation projects that address the needs of several households in the community,” staff said.
“By offering a one-year pilot program, the city can assess the success of the program before committing to supporting an ongoing program.”
Established in 2000, Habitat for Humanity of Southern Santa Barbara County partners with low-income individuals and families to build or improve a place to call home.
Homeowners build their residence alongside volunteers and purchase their home, paying an affordable mortgage. Habitat has built 22 new homes for 84 people (half of whom are children) and led efforts to rebuild and repair 180 homes across southern Santa Barbara County.