When looking back on 2020, there hasn’t been much good news to report. 2020 will go down in history as an epic global disaster in many respects—most notably, in terms of public health and the economy. We are in the middle of yet another COVID-19 pandemic surge and as the contagion strengthens its hold, employment opportunities continue to weaken and housing threatened. Some businesses are temporarily closed, hunkering down to ride out the storm, while others – in food, hospitality, entertainment and personal care services – are shuttered for good. Here at home and across the nation, the number of people living in poverty has grown by eight million since May, according to researchers at Columbia University’s Center on Poverty & Social Policy.
The pandemic has uncovered the glaring social injustices among race and class in our country. Job loss suffered by workforce hourly wage earners is producing a devastating domino effect on their access to healthcare, education and food security. The current public health crisis has laid bare system failures in the United States and key among them is the country’s housing affordability crisis. In Santa Barbara, 80% of extremely low-income households are paying more than half their income on housing costs and renters must earn $37.21 per hour, which is 2.9 times the state minimum wage, just to afford the average monthly asking rent of $1,935. These same families were already struggling before the onset of the pandemic. It is undeniable that the impact of COVID-19 has been immediate and severe on lower-income residents and people of modest economic means. The 2020 accomplishments of the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara (HACSB) and their partner agencies cast a ray of light that continues to lead our community through dark times. Thankfully, due to their resources and those of the City and other local non-profits working together, Santa Barbara has provided many of the basic needs including stable affordable housing and access to nutritious food to our most vulnerable citizens.
The following is a review of the HACSB’s 2020 achievements:
Housing Choice Voucher Program – Stable, Pandemic-Proof Housing for Tenants and Landlords
The safety net of “essential services” cast by HACSB was quickly adapted amid the COVID-19 outbreak to keep providing necessary and critical support to residents. Their goal was and is to maintain the same level of service as before the pandemic. They are proud of the fact that not one individual or family in their programs lost their housing
due to any economic hardships because of the pandemic. HACSB currently represents 2,784 households on the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program and 1,370 households in their own properties. Landlords who participate in the Section 8 Voucher Program were also protected in terms of the full rent they receive. The program alone
brings $36 million annually into our community.
Johnson Court & The Gardens on Hope – New Housing for Seniors and Veterans
During the first quarter of 2020, HACSB dedicated two new permanent housing developments after years of planning and development. The Gardens on Hope consists of 89 studio units, a one-bedroom manager unit, and provides residents with three meals a day, housekeeping, transportation to medical appointments and a host of social programs.
All units are subsidized with Project Based Housing Choice Vouchers, making rent affordable at 30% of residents’ income. This new 90-unit community will enable this financially vulnerable population to avoid premature placement in skilled nursing, often the only option for our frail, low-income seniors. Like Gardens of Hope, Johnson Court offer the same rental subsidy assistance. The new complex, located on the Eastside of Santa Barbara, consists of 16 studio units for low income veterans who were once homeless.
In August 2020, the Housing Authority purchased a .25 acre vacant parcel of land at 116 E. Cota Street, the future site
of 28 studio units for persons coming out of homelessness plus a two-bedroom manager’s apartment. The goal is to have all discretionary approvals in time to apply for Low Income Housing Tax Credits in 2021.
Tools for School
Thanks to Union Bank’s generous donation, 450 low-income children living in affordable housing received gift bags filled with a$50 gift card, “school tools”, and other goodies from community agencies.
COVID-19 Response Grant
The Housing Authority’s affiliate nonprofit, 2nd Story Associates, applied for and was awarded $10,000 from
United Way to provide emergency assistance in the form of rent and utilities to families struggling as a result of the
pandemic. The grant targets families with undocumented members who are normally ineligible for assistance.
Healthy Food Pantry
The Housing Authority served over 1,500 families with fresh food through their Healthy Food Pantry in partnership
with the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County. Since Covid-19 safety measures took effect, the Foodbank has tripled the
amount of food it provides to community members facing hunger and food insecurity.
Higher Education Scholarships
Each year since 1998, the Housing Authority has provided financial aid to affordable housing residents to pursue
higher education. For the 2020-2021 school year, scholarships were awarded to students attending undergraduate
studies at UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine and UC Santa Cruz and a graduate degree at California Lutheran University.
All are first-generation college students.
HACSB continued to work closely with their City of Santa Barbara partners to address the need for affordable housing targeted to moderate income households. With City Council’s approval, the Housing Authority and City staff moved forward to determine the feasibility of developing rental housing on the underutilized commuter lot located
at 400 W. Carrillo St., and in 2020, an MOU was executed to memorialize this intent. The Housing Authority will continue
to work with City staff and hopefully in 2021 will reach the goal of obtaining funding and approved plans for an
affordable housing development at this site.
Senior Supportive Services Program
The Housing Authority’s affiliate nonprofit, 2nd Story Associates, was awarded a $100,000 grant by the Women’s
Fund of Santa Barbara to administer a Senior Supportive Services Program in partnership with Santa Barbara
Neighborhood Clinics. This grant funds a dedicated senior services team who coordinates physical healthcare, including
onsite medical assessments, health screenings and medical and mental health case management onsite at Garden
Court, Gardens on Hope, Villa Santa Fe, Villa La Cumbre, Presidio Springs, and other senior sites.
A $30,379 reimbursement grant was awarded to the Housing Authority by the County of SB to promote Census 2020 participation to “hard to count” residents in Santa Barbara County. Events included an “Everyone Counts” campaign in January, to weekly social media and website posts, phone-banking, monthly email reminders, and PSAs on local Spanish radio stations, to a Census Caravan in June.
Housing Santa Barbara Day
The Housing Authority hosted a (virtual) “Housing Santa Barbara Day” to advocate for affordable housing for the community. This annual event included the participation of local agencies, and included workshops on Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance, Homeownership Programs and Tenant Rights and Responsibilities. This innovative event earned HACSB a National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Official’s Award of Excellence this year.
Housing for Homeless
HACSB was able to provide affordable housing to 50 individuals moving from homelessness with the help of additional rental assistance provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“Bring the Vote Home” Campaign
Housing Authority staff formed a committee to promote and implement voter registration activities. Low-income
individuals vote about 20 percentage points lower than higher income voters due to lack of interest in the issues or
feeling their vote will not matter. The goal of the “Bring the Vote Home Campaign” was to empower and encourage
affordable housing residents to participate in the voting process.
According to Rob Fredericks, HACSB Executive Director/CEO, “As we get to the other side of challenges, we are experiencing because of COVID-19, we can recognize some positive aspects. The destructive impact of income inequality and disparities in health care and housing are now plainly visible. We have an opportunity to focus on the common good and build a more humane society. We’ve learned to do with less, communicate in new and more efficient ways, become nimbler and more flexible in business and daily life. It has offered us a new perspective and sense of gratitude on things we may have taken for granted – our family, friends, home, community, work, leisure, health, and even how we live. The post-COVID world offers many possibilities, and the Housing Authority will continue to advocate for affordable housing, which is a basic human need.”
About The Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara
The Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara is a local public agency created for the purpose of providing safe, decent, and quality affordable housing and supportive services to eligible persons with limited incomes, through a variety of federal, state, local and private resources. Since 1969, the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara has developed and/or secured over 4,000 units of affordable rental housing for Santa Barbara through a variety of federal, state, local and private funding sources. Please visit the website at hacsb.org.