After a lull during the economic downturn, all at once, houses seem to be going up everywhere in Goleta: 101 units at the Hideaway, 266 at Hollister Village, 400-plus at Villages@Los Carneros, 100 at Willow Springs II, and down the road, 220 at Willow Springs III.
What happened to the so-called slow growth Goleta City Council? In fact, all these projects are included in the Goleta General Plan, adopted in 2006. They conform to “smart growth” guidelines of placing higher density housing adjacent to transit corridors such as Hollister Avenue, and to jobs. The Housing Element is part of the General Plan that is required to follow State Housing and Community Development (HCD) guidelines and designate enough sites to meet the estimated need for housing for all income levels. Goleta’s assignment for the next eight years is 979 units — 115 for extremely low income, 120 for very low income, 174 for moderate income, and 413 for above moderate income.
Are these developments meeting Goletans’ needs for housing? Recognizing that there will probably never be enough housing for all the people who would like to live here, how do we define the need over the next eight years?
First, there is a great shortage of affordable “workforce” housing. As many as 19,000 people commute to the South Coast from North County and Ventura. Not all work in Goleta, but many do, and they spend close to two hours a day on the road so that they can own a home for their families in an affordable community elsewhere. Among them are police officers, fire fighters, teachers, nurses, and even some doctors who, for community safety, should live close to where they work. According to economist Mark Schniepp, the median price on the South Coast is $995,000 for a single-family home and $565,000 for a condo. With median income locally at $73,000, even two-income families have difficulty purchasing a home. The Santa Barbara Housing Trust Fund and the Coastal Housing Partnership can help with loans to meet down-payment requirements to make home ownership possible for some, but the gap remains.
Of course much of the local workforce falls into the lower income range — most retail, hotel, and tourist industry employees earn little more than the minimum wage and are renters rather than home owners. In addition to these workers, there are seniors on limited incomes, single mothers with children, and people with special needs, and of course the houseless living in cars or RVs or out in the woods.
A number of the new projects are for rental housing — Hollister Village and Willow Springs II and III for example — and, at 20 units to the acre, are regarded as affordable by the state. However rents can be set at what the market will bear, and there are no low-income inclusionary requirements for rentals. So families will double up, or if they are lucky they qualify for federal Section 8 vouchers to reduce their rent.
It is important to note that the city does not build housing. In for-sale projects, for-profit developers are required to build 20 percent of the units as affordable ones. But low-income housing in Goleta is built primarily by nonprofit agencies such as Peoples’ Self-Help Housing and the County Housing Authority. They depend on subsidies from federal, state, and local governments. Peoples’ Self-Help is creatively combining resources for 70 low-income rental units at Villages@Los Carneros, with land from the developer to meet his inclusionary requirement, and federal and other grant sources.
While working-age individuals will remain the main component of the population of Goleta, the next eight years will see a significant increase in seniors of 65 years and older. Many will choose to remain as long as possible in single-family homes purchased in earlier times when they were affordable to working folk. But there will likely be a trend toward downsizing and a demand for smaller units, even studios. There will be a need for more assisted-living facilities for the elderly as well as individuals with special needs.
State law requires that jurisdictions such as Goleta provide zoning for emergency shelters, transitional and supportive housing, single-room occupancy (SROs), and farmworker housing. Goleta and Isla Vista together had close to 100 homeless identified in the last count in 2013. Housing is the main remedy for homelessness, and SROs and co-housing are practical solutions to be encouraged.
With the loss of Redevelopment Agency funding in 2012, the city has a very limited ability to subsidize affordable housing. But there are some things it can do. It can provide density bonuses to developers for building affordable units. It can review regulations to make sure they are necessary and not barriers — for example, a review of parking and open-space requirements for assisted-living facilities. Second units for aging parents, or returning adult children, can be a significant resource, and the city’s current regulation needs a second look. Rehabilitation of existing housing and mobile-home parks also are important components of the housing mix.
The projects now underway may put more moderate and upper-moderate housing on the market. The significant increase in rental units may serve to keep rents competitive for lower-income residents. But there still needs to be much more emphasis on developing smaller units for low-income singles and senior citizens moving out of family homes. This requires both funding and developers who are paying attention to the shifting demographics.
Goleta is a vibrant city with a strong business sector and a healthy environment. It should be a city where people of all incomes and life circumstances can have a roof over their heads. That is the challenge.
Longtime Goleta resident Margaret Connell created the original Goleta Grapevine column and has served on the Goleta City Council as mayor and councilperson.