Auditor says state department’s errors led to lower, inaccurate number for Santa Barbara
Data entry issues resulted in a lower and inaccurate number of needed housing units in the Santa Barbara area, a recent state evaluation found.
The report from the state auditor examined how the Department of Housing and Community Development conducted its regional housing needs assessments, which communities can then rely on for planning purposes, with a specific focus on the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, Sacramento Area Council of Governments and Amador County.
Overall, the audit found HCD did not appropriately review and assess housing needs assessment, making errors through not sufficiently verifying data used and failing to demonstrate it properly considered certain factors state law requires for housing needs assessments, among other issues.
“This insufficient oversight and lack of support for its considerations risks eroding public confidence that HCD is informing local governments of the appropriate amount of housing they will need,” Michael Tilden, acting state auditor, said in a letter to the governor and legislature accompanying the audit.
The report recommended HCD implement a formal process to document consideration of all factors required by state law in assessments and ensure all staff review often the data used.
The audit also suggested HCD perform an analysis of healthy housing vacancy rates and historical trends to supplement its adjustments.
With Santa Barbara, one such data entry error resulted in about 1,338 fewer houses (or about 5%) included in HCD’s assessment provided to SBCAG.
The audit found HCD didn’t properly consider housing lost during a state of emergency, such as the Thomas Fire, which destroyed more than 1,000 housing units in 2017 in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, the report said.
This led to more of an understated housing needs assessment in Santa Barbara, according to the report.
“We acknowledge the audit uncovered that some process improvements are needed, and we are already addressing those by adding staff to the (assessments) team and implementing the suggested changes,” Megan Kirkeby, deputy director of housing policy development for HCD, said in a statement to the News-Press. “The audit found minor cases of undercounting in some areas, but HCD remains confident in its approach (to the assessment process), both from a legal and methodological perspective — and the auditor did not find cause to disagree with our determinations.”
Lauren Bianchi Klemann, government affairs and public information manager for SBCAG, said the association “followed the process directed by state law” and noted SBCAG will monitor the report’s recommendations in the next cycle expected to begin in 2029.
“We do recognize that absent the errors that were identified in the report, there could have been up to 5,000 more housing units allocated to this region,” Ms. Bianchi Klemann told the News-Press. “It’s also important to recognize that these numbers provide a floor, not a ceiling, for regions to plan to accommodate their share of regional housing needs.”
The recent regional housing needs assessment, which was the 6th cycle, identified 24,856 units needed to be planned for the Santa Barbara region, she said.
SBCAG, or Santa Barbara Association as it’s called in the report, is a regional planning agency for the county and the eight incorporated cities, addressing regional and multi-jurisdictional issues.
Regional housing needs assessments are conducted to help local governments meet the projected housing needs of the entire community, including from all incomes levels.