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Stuck in the Gap Between Skyrocketing Rents and No Assistance

Santa Barbara’s ‘Missing Middle’ Housing Need


We are in the midst of a severe and persistent housing crisis. Millions of Californians in all parts of the state cannot secure safe, healthy, and affordable rental housing. According to the Office of the State Treasurer, we are short 1.5 million housing units statewide, and the deficit is worsening, with only about 13,850 units being produced per year.

The issue of the lack of affordable housing is no more acute than right here on the American Riviera, where the median home price is $1,143,000 and the rental cost of a two-bedroom apartment averages $2,500 per month. A family would have to earn $100,000 per year just to consider this an affordable rent; the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has established a standard that no more than 30 percent of household income should pay for housing costs.

Despite the South Coast’s astronomical housing costs, we are fortunate to live in a community with big hearts. Many Santa Barbara organizations strive to keep our county vital and diverse with safe, affordable housing for low-income families and individuals. But as rents continue to rise, the pool of neighbors no longer able to afford the local price tag is growing to include our service workers, teachers, nurses, emergency responders, and many others who are the core of a thriving community.

As a result, housing opportunities for households earning 80-120 percent of the area median income (defined as $77,100-$92,500 for a family of four) are disappearing, leading to a “missing middle” in our market. As the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara, our mission has been to provide safe, decent, and quality affordable housing and supportive services to eligible people with low incomes. But, we also recognize the growing need the Missing Middle represents, and we are proud to begin work to serve these vital members and families of our community.

While resources like Section 8 subsidies, HUD programs, and other opportunities for those earning 80 percent and less of the area median income simply are not available for those making more, the Housing Authority isn’t one to back away from a challenge. While our agency recognizes the efforts to address the Missing Middle housing need through the City’s Average Unit-size Density (AUD) Incentive Program, more is needed to ensure affordable rentals are provided for this critical sector of our community.

In many ways, the Housing Authority serves our workforce throughout all of its properties. The majority of our non-senior residents are working families — participating in and contributing to our workforce, our economy, and our community. Our nationally recognized Workforce Housing Program addresses the affordable housing needs of our community’s low- to moderate-income workforce, part of this Missing Middle stuck in the gap between skyrocketing rents and ineligibility for other assistance.

It is critical for people to have the option to live near their work. When more people can live where they work, our entire community benefits in countless ways. Families, and therefore communities, are strengthened when parents have more time to spend with children, when people are able to focus on education and develop their career. Decreased commuting keeps dollars local, minimizes the impact on our environment, and improves the quality of life in Santa Barbara.

The need is becoming greater and greater as high housing prices are pushing our skilled workers to commute from out of the area, or worse — losing that skilled workforce to another community. As a commuter myself, I know the challenges this presents. With even our middle-class families living from paycheck to paycheck in Santa Barbara, a single incident — such as a layoff or unexpected medical expense — could be enough to drive them out of this community.

Moving forward, we are looking into unique approaches and partnerships to fill the gap in the Missing Middle housing market. While no subsidies are available for those earning more than 80 percent of the median income, we believe we can still create fairly priced housing by integrating these units into complexes that also feature subsidized units, creating mixed-income communities.

The Housing Authority was founded on the value that access to quality, affordable housing is a basic human right held by everyone. We are proud to be expanding our role as the right to housing moves out of the reach of more and more of our hardworking neighbors. A Santa Barbara where its workers live, vote, and raise their families shouldn’t be a thing of the past. Please join us in committing to preserve our community and quality of life for all.

About the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara

Rob Fredericks is executive director and CEO of the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara, a local public agency created for the purpose of providing safe, decent, and quality affordable housing and supportive services to eligible persons with limited incomes, through a variety of federal, state, local and private resources. Since 1969, the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara has developed and/or secured over 3,600 units (about 1,200 owned or managed and 2,400 of Section 8 subsidy) of affordable rental housing for Santa Barbara through these funding sources. Please visit the website at hacsb.org.



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