Council members say trust could address permanent housing for the homeless
In an unexpected but far-reaching move, the Santa Barbara City Council voted 7-0 Tuesday to approve more than $726,000 in Human Services funds to help those in need, then set aside $250,000 from that money to create an affordable housing trust.
The council did so at the urging of Councilmembers Eric Friedman and Meagan Harmon, who said a new affordable housing trust could finally address the need to build permanent housing for the homeless.
“It would send a strong message to the philanthropic community that we are taking the housing situation seriously,” Councilmember Friedman said.
In short order, the council tweaked recommendations from staff regarding approving the Human Service funds so that nonprofit agencies could apply for two-year grants instead of just one and must seek a minimum of $25,000 but could apply for more. The council also directed staff to add reducing gun violence and stressing suicide prevention to its list of priorities when considering grant applications.
But the most compelling difference was the decision to allocate $250,000 of the $726,150 approved for the affordable housing trust, with direction to staff to return to council with a plan on how to create and implement that trust.
“We have an opportunity to engage, leverage city dollars and have a multiplier impact of loaning this money,” Councilwoman Harmon said.
She called the creation of a public-private partnership a form of coalition building “to build homes and find affordable permanent housing solutions, and say we have made a meaningful difference for our neighbors,” she said.
“We have big problems, and it’s time for me to take a big swing at it,”
At the same time, Councilmember Harmon said she did not mean to take away from the “critical work” being done by the nonprofits to help the homeless and low-income families,
“I don’t want to take money from these programs, but it’s time to consider a different way,” she said.
Councilmember Kristen Sneddon, who has pushed for such a trust for a long time, tried to persuade her colleagues to add an extra $250,000 to the $726,150 for a total of $976,150 rather than reduce funding from various agencies who count on the funds to continue operating and providing services to those in need.
“I’m not confident with the possible consequences of reducing funds,” she said. “That’s what’s weighing on me the most,”
As an alternative, she suggested a separate vote to take the housing trust money from the General Fund and avoid touching the $726,150 originally sought by staff, or find the money from a sustainable funding source.
But seeing the direction the board was heading, she decided to make the vote unanimous.
“It’s far too momentous for me not to support it,” she said.
But she also made it clear that at the earliest opportunity she would be back before the council on restoring the Human Services funds that will now be available to grant applications by that same $250,000.
“I’ll be coming in to make this fund whole again through the budget cycle.”