A new start: Just completed Santa Barbara apartment complex gives some homeless permanent homes

KCLU | By Lance Orozco
Published September 1, 2023 at 1:51 PM PDT

Jorge Alfaro checks out the view from the new Santa Barbara apartment complex that he now calls home. He had been living in his car for the last three years.

Jorge Alfaro checks out the view from the new Santa Barbara apartment complex that he now calls home. He had been living in his car for the last three years.

Project is part of a bigger plan to get people off the streets and into transitional housing with services, and then finding them permanent homes.

Life has been tough for Jesus Alfaro.

When he was a young man, he was a TV show host, and musician in South America. But, he moved to Santa Barbara County decades ago. For the last few years, the 74-year-old man has been homeless.

“I lived in cars…the past three years….living in the cars was tough…tough.”

But, things are looking up for Alfaro. With the help of social workers, he got a space in Dignity Moves — a popup village of tiny, temporary homes in Santa Barbara. On Friday, something even bigger is happening. Alfaro is moving into a permanent home, a studio apartment in downtown Santa Barbara.

“This is the beginning of my big change. And, the people who helped me are terrific.”

Alfaro is going to be one the more than two dozen residents of Vera Cruz Village. It’s a brand new, four story building specifically designed to house people transitioning out of homelessness.

“This is in downtown Santa Barbara, on Cota Street right across from where the new police station is being built. It’s a development for permanent supportive housing for individuals moving from a place without a home.” said Rob Fredericks, who is the Executive Director and CEO of the Housing Authority of Santa Barbara.

The agency spearheaded the project. The quarter of an acre site includes a four story building with 28 studio apartment, a unit for an on-site manager, a community room, and space for meetings for service programs.

It was originally going to be the home of an apartment complex being planned by a developer. But when that project stalled, the Housing Authority jumped on the opportunity to buy the vacant property to build affordable housing

14 of the 28 Vera Cruz Village residents are coming from the DignityMoves village in Santa Barbara. That program gets people off the streets, and into temporary housing, along with supportive social services.

The new Vera Cruz Village apartment complex in downtown Santa Barbara has 28 studio apartments specifically designed to provide people who have been homeless.

Jack Lorenz is with DignityMoves. “This is exactly how it was supposed to work. We give folks six to 12 months to get the care, the services, and most importantly their mental health and their documents in order so they become what we call the perfect tenant.”

Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rowse says Vera Cruz Village is a great part of a plan to tackle a problem the city, county, and state have struggled with for decades.

“I think we are getting somewhere. The problem is huge, and there are a lot of things that go way beyond just housing. Housing all by itself isn’t a total solution, but it’s obviously a big part.”

As community leaders tour the new apartment complex, Alfaro joins in, climbing the stairs to his fourth floor studio. He runs into Christina Garcia Alvarez, with CityNet. She’s his case manager, and helped get him an apartment in the building. He gives her a big hug.

“Oh my God…it’s like a full circle moment. I’m so excited for him,” said Alvarez.

Alvarez is overjoyed to see Alfaro exploring his new home. The studios have kitchenettes, a little dining area, spacious bathrooms, and balconies with views of the mountains and the city.

Alfaro looks emotional as he stands on the balcony of the fourth floor building, and realizes for the first time in years, he will have a real home.

“This is….I’m lucky…I’m lucky…I’m very lucky” said Alvarez.