More Homes Coming For Area Homeless
Unless something goes terribly awry, 53-units of low and very low-income housing are going to be built on lower Bath Street this winter, courtesy of The Housing Authority of the CIty of Santa Barbara (HACSB). Half the units will be reserved for Santa Barbara’s homeless. At a Wednesday morning hearing, a Staff Hearing Officer (from the Planning Department) approved four modifications so the project now has a green light to move forward. However, an architect named Paul Zink, mad because, he said, the Housing Authority removed a large Ash tree in the middle of the lot before receiving a hearing officer’s approval to do so, spoke in opposition to the whole project and could now file an appeal. That would put the entire development on hold, Housing Authority Chief Rob Pearson said.
HACSB was well within its rights to remove the tree, Pearson said. It was nowhere near the perimeter of the lot and the plan had received approval from the Architectural Board of Review (ABR) already. Plus, he said, it would have been impossible to build the seven smallish buildings—including a community center—with the tree there. Fifty new trees, including a Sycamore, are going to be planted around the complex before it’s done, he said.
Notwithstanding the chance of an appeal, HACSB will submit an application for federal tax-credits to the state by July 7th. These development credits, given to states by the Housing and Urban Development (HUD), are meant entirely to help fund low-income housing. They’re passed on to developers who then use them to raise capital from investors. Receiving them is a competitive process but Pearson put the odds of winning them for this project at 80 percent. (HACSB has never had an application for these tax credits turned down.)
The lot where the units are going is at 512 Bath Street, across from the Santa Barbara Athletic Club. Height poles are now up to show neighbors and interested residents just how tall the two- and three-story buildings are going to be. They currently surround a half-dozen garden beds where browning stalks of corn and gigantic sun flowers are protected by a scarecrow, but seem otherwise pretty neglected. Pearson said the lot was untended to the extreme before they purchased it in 2008, and that, ironically, homeless people were known to camp there. Maybe they were anticipating their future home.
Another apartment complex on the lot will be demolished to make way for the units. HACSB will relocate all the residents of the complex to places that are equal to or lower in rent, Pearson said–as long as they were already living there when the HACSB bought the lot.
To say Santa Barbara needs a development along these lines is, as most people know, a vast understatement. With roughly 2,000 homeless and quasi-homeless in the South County camping on the beach, in parks and secret spots, and crammed into in shelters; with rents and home prices phenomenally high, even for studio apartments; it’s not surprising low-income families double and triple up in single-family houses.
The other 26 Bath Street units are going be for low-income workers; people with jobs downtown who walk or bicycle to work. All of them will be studios between 320 and 445 square feet. Ten of them will have patios.
Since Santa Barbara County’s Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness was adopted three years ago, 217 units of permanent housing for the homeless have been either built or put in the pipeline. They include this project, known as the Bradley property, The El Carrillo apartments, Homebase on G and Artisan Court on Cota Street. El Carrillo has 61 units of housing reserved entirely for the chronically homeless. With wraparound support services like alcohol and drug counseling, mental health and job development counseling on site, it comes closer than anything else in Santa Barbara to a true Housing First model. The idea behind this emerging approach to ending chronic homelessness is to get people into housing and then provide them rehabilitative services like recovery, mental health care and medication right where they live. In the past, housing was always withheld from active substance users. But sobriety is now understood to be particularly impossible to achieve while a person is navigating the perils of street and shelter living. A Housing Authority official said 392 of the applicants on waiting lists there identify themselves as homeless.
Since the late 80s, 90 percent of the city’s single room occupancy hotels (a.k.a. SROs, a.k.a. flop houses) have been converted to regular tourist hotels. The Redevelopment Agency, when it began gentrifying the downtown 20 years ago, set that transformation in process.
The El Carrillo units are small studios, averaging 216 square feet, but because adjusting to living indoors after being on the street can be challenging, the smaller sized units are actually propitious.
The Bath Street complex will have support services, but not to the degree they’re available at El Carrillo. Pearson said the 512 Bath units could become a step-up housing situation for El Carrillo residents who’ve built up such a level of self-sufficiency and adjustment that they no longer need so much on site support. If they can move to 512 Bath, a unit for another homeless person would open up at El Carrillo.
By Isabelle T. Walker