Artisan Court’s Opening Draws Movers, Shakers.
The sun shined on Santa Barbara’s low-income housing advocates Wednesday, April 13th. At the grand opening of Artisan Court—the housing authority’s newly completed, $17 million, 56-unit complex for low-income workers, formerly homeless people and emancipated foster care youths—scores of city officials, including four Councilmembers, housing commissioners, philanthropists, social service providers and homeless advocates, came out for the speeches, ribbon cutting and food. William Prava, Executive Director of the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee (the agency that awards the coveted tax-credits that finance these projects) flew in from Sacramento and couldn’t help remarking: “This is the most beautiful project I’ve ever seen.”
As with last week’s opening of “My Home”—the YMCA Youth and Family Services program for aged out foster care kids at Artisan Court—the comments from 56-year-old Sonny Bradshaw, one of the residents, put the event in context. Wearing a straw hat, glasses and a short sleeve shirt that showed the colorful tattoos on his arms, Bradshaw told the crowd: “I struggled with substance abuse and addiction my whole life. At the end of my last bout, I found myself homeless in a strange town. I reached out and thank God there were hands there for me to grab on to.”
For the past 16 months, Bradshaw was living at the Hotel De Riviera, a residence for people recovering from substance abuse and co-occurring disorders. Before that, he was at Guidance House, a sober living center, and before that, the couches of friends. His pride in his new 450-square-foot studio was plain. Sweeping his arm across the space, he said it was quite a bit bigger than his room at the Riviera, where he’d had one of the largest available. Then he pointed out all the stuff that had been waiting for him when he got the keys: a bed, a nightstand, linens, a coffee pot, toaster, shaving cream.
“I could have walked in, taken a shower, brushed my teeth, cooked a meal and gotten under the sheets and gone to bed if I’d wanted to” he said. “It was all here.”
Those furnishings and amenities (about 55 items per room, according to Housing Authority officials) were put in all the rooms through an “Adopt-a Room” program spearheaded by City Housing Commissioner Barbara Allen.
Standing in for Housing Authority CEO Rob Pearson–who was caring for an ailing family member out of town—Deputy Executive Director Rob Fredericks’ remarks summed up what low-income housing advocates and homeless activists think about these matters, perhaps expressed even more directly given the new conservative leaning on the City Council. So direct were his remarks, they may even have been intended for particular sets of ears.
“Artisan Court is truly a beacon in the midst of considerable hateful blogging of late by some who are concerned about the spending of “tax-dollars” as opposed to working to end the pain that no one really wants to see,” said Fredericks.
“Hopefully, you are here today because you, like the Housing Authority, do care. You know it is wrong that 65 percent of youth who leave foster care have no place to live. It is wrong that 40 percent of these youth become homeless in the first six months of leaving the foster care system. It is wrong that the mentally ill and those suffering from alcohol and substance abuse live on our streets. And it is wrong for lower income workers who serve us in our restaurants, retail stores, etc. do not have an affordable place to call home in the community where they work.”
Not only are Artisan Court’s units affordable–ranging from $408 to $817 a month (primarily subsidized by federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) vouchers) supportive services will be provide on site. That is, counseling, group counseling, substance abuse treatment, and job development and tutoring help. Though not all the residents will need such services, some, particularly formerly homeless residents, will. That means, like El Carrillo, another Housing Authority project, it approximates the new Housing First model; a cutting edge approach to ending homelessness that calls for getting people who are addicted, mentally ill, or both, or ill in other ways, into housing before asking them to address their problems. The idea is that, in unstable living situations, like the sidewalk, people are ill equipped to take on such challenges as recovery. But, from a place of stability and support, many if not most, are not only willing to enter recovery, but actually seek it out.
There is already a waiting list for units, which, at 450 square feet, are larger than the El Carrillo studios. Its kitchens and bathrooms have elbow room. Like El Carrillo, it has multiple courtyards and decks, and three levels, providing lots of natural light and an airy spacious atmosphere to this high-density project. The architects were Christine Pierron and Mark Wienke.
Five El Carrillo tenants moved in directly from El Carrillo on April 1st. Seven chronically homeless people got units, including two from Casa Esperanza, one from the Salvation Army and one from New Beginnings’ Safe Parking program. Two tenants came from WillBridge and five from Hotel de Riviera.
The cloud hanging over the event was Governor Jerry Brown’s desire and intention to do away with Redevelopment Agencies (RDA) throughout the state. Without Santa Barbara RDA funds, Artisan Court would not been built. On top of that, according to Mayor Helene Schneider, the Housing Authority’s application for Tax Credit financing would have been weakened because the Credit Allocation Committee likes projects with multiple funding sources.
“You have to show diverse sources of funding and what’s the local match,” said Schneider.
In the meantime, Artisan Court residents are settling in. Some already have jobs. One resident works just blocks away at the Home Improvement Center, according to the Mayor. Two of the emancipated foster care youths are finishing high school, and graduating in June. Others are looking for jobs. Others are focusing strictly on getting well.
“I don’t think there’s any place like Santa Barbara,” said Bradshaw. The people here really have a heart. People really do care here about the disenfranchised, the homeless.”
By Isabelle T. Walker
Photo: 56-year-old Sonny Bradshaw, outside his new digs at Artisan Court.