by Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

In October, the Santa Barbara City Council received a report from political consulting firm Romo & Associates — the day before a big meeting on how to spend housing dollars.

The next day, the council decided to create a $250,000 fund largely based on the consulting firm’s “white paper,” which suggested that investing city dollars would be a “force multiplier” and would attract funding from philanthropic organizations, private foundations and other organizations.

However, on Tuesday, the council received another 11th-hour letter — this one far more convincing.

The Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara objected to the fund in its current form, saying that it was duplicative and that “the range and variety in the use of the HOPE funds described in the current recommendations have the potential to act as an inadvertent hindrance or constraint to creating additional affordable housing.”

The letter states: “Given the number of uses eligible for the HOPE funds, it is entirely possible that no additional housing units would be produced from these funds before they are fully obligated to other uses. The current recommendations for use of funds are in many instances repetitive and/or have other existing resources available whereas there is currently no ongoing local source for the development of additional affordable housing.”

In response to the Housing Authority’s letter, the council voted unanimously to send the proposal to the ordinance committee.

The council was attempting to establish a new HOPE fund that would be supported by a variety of funding sources, including philanthropic donations, private foundations, grants, nonprofits and other organizations.

However, the letter from the Housing Authority halted the council’s discussion.

“It’s obvious there are quite a few things to work out,” Councilwoman Meagan Harmon said.

As proposed going into Tuesday’s meeting, the new HOPE fund intended to establish a fund supported by a variety of funding sources, including “a system where grants, nonprofit organizational funding, charitable trusts’ and organizations’ donations, for-profit entity investments, private-equity funds, limited-equity housing cooperatives’ monies, venture capital, investment and portfolio funds, bond funds, fundraising proceeds, housing trust funds, community development banks.”

The fund would distribute money for capital expenses, low-interest loans, grants, a “right to counsel” fund to help people defend against evictions, and administration fees.

No city funding will be given to an individual, only programs.

“If you are trying to be all things to all people, that doesn’t work,” said Skip Syzmanski, deputy executive director for the Housing Authority. “You already have those programs and you have money for those programs.”

He said the programs are already provided by the Housing Authority.

Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon said she agreed 100% with the Housing Authority and that the new fund should be for housing production.

Syzmanski said the fund should be about building and purchasing affordable housing.

Councilman Eric Friedman said sending the matter to the ordinance and finance committees for discussion was the best path.

“This is a critical issue we are facing, and this is a tool we need to get right,” Friedman said. “If we had gone forward tonight, there was a chance we might not have got it right.”