Congresswoman Lois Capps visited the new Artisan Court public housing complex this Monday to highlight the importance of federal funding. The downtown building — completed April 13 of this year — provides housing and services to low-income downtown workers, formerly homeless individuals, and youth aging out of foster care.

The Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara (HACSB) is working in conjunction with Youth and Family Services (YFS), a division of the YMCA, on transition programs for former foster care youth. According to Lynn Karlson, Executive Director of Youth and Family Services, three full-time staff members currently work at Artisan Court to assist residents in acquiring jobs and applying to Santa Barbara City College. YFS provides social services to pre-teens, teens, and young adults from ages 18 to 24.

The HACSB is also teaming with PathPoint to provide job skills assessment, job placement, and employment services, as well as workshops and classes for Artisan Court residents.

Amazed at the level of support services offered at the housing complex, Capps added that the programs are for a special population. “These projects are never just four walls,” Capps said. “These are people who deserve it.”

Of the 55 studio apartment units, 15 are occupied by youth aging out of foster care. Noah’s Anchorage Youth Crisis Shelter provides temporary homes for people from ages 10 to 17. Prior to Artisan Court’s completion, many former foster care individuals would transition to Casa Esperanza Homeless Center or become homeless themselves. According to YFS, 40 percent of youth leaving foster care become homeless within six months.

Rent at Artisan Court ranges from $408 to $817, depending on income. Government funded subsidies are available for some units, allowing residents to pay 30 percent of their income on rent. Karlson noted that while many residents are unemployed, they must meet a $50 monthly minimum.

The subsidy vouchers are good for 18 months, after which the resident can either find other living accommodations or stay in the complex without the subsidized rent fee. Residents are provided with free utilities, Internet access, and community meeting areas. The development of a computer lab is in progress.

In addition to offering social services, Artisan Court employs energy efficiency technologies including energy efficient water heaters in each unit as well as solar panels. Each studio apartment unit is composed of a living and bedroom area, a kitchen, and a bathroom.

Barbara Allen, chair of the HACSB Board of Commissioners, assisted in buying furniture for the units. Allen remarked that members of the public contributed donations for room furnishings, many through their “Adopt-a-Room” campaign, to provide wall décor, rugs, and linens.

“One of Lynn’s kids said that he wanted a pale blue comforter to ‘make it a home,’” said Allen of a request from a former foster care individual.

Rob Pearson, chief executive director of the HACSB, explained that Artisan Court’s completion was funded by five different sources that include federal stimulus funds, private investors, and local funding from the city and the Redevelopment Agency, among others. Approximately $10 million of the $17.6 million total funding for the project came from an IRS sponsored tax credit program, in which credits are sold to private investors. Furthermore, the HACSB received $2.8 million in federal funding from a combination of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

According to Pearson, private capital is easier to attain for public projects, and the HACSB remains open to further development. “The city recognizes this block as an area to experiment with bringing more high-density housing,” Pearson said. He added that Artisan Court was the city’s largest construction project in 2010, and that it provided valuable jobs to construction workers, architects, and engineers.

Members of the HACSB — whose other projects include El Carrillo housing for 61 formerly homeless individuals — did express concern about mixing youth and formerly homeless individuals. But Rob Fredericks, Deputy Executive Director of the HACSB, and Pearson said they strongly believe the combination will be successful. Capps likened the mixed population to a real neighborhood.

According to Fredericks, the HACSB had to lease the complex fully; the certificate of occupancy was granted on March 30. The complex was met with high demand and hit full capacity March 31.

“Artisan Court is the quintessential example of how federal dollars can be put to work by local communities to meet their own unique needs,” Capps said June 24 in a statement. “The Santa Barbara Housing Authority is among the best in the nation, and their creativity and dedication to our community has made it a better place to live and work.”


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