How is “affordable” housing defined is the first question. Generally it is considered to be one third of your income, but rents in the county are averaging $2,500 per month for a two-bedroom apartment. If we divided the annual county median income of $61,000 by 12, we would get $2,500 a month. Therefore one third of $2,500 would be $833 per month, or an affordable amount to pay for rent. A recent experience of a low-income friend was that she was lucky to have found a one-bedroom apartment for $1,600 per month plus utilities. The vacancy rate is less than one percent here in Santa Barbara.
We don’t have official statistics, but it is likely that many people are paying up to one half of their monthly income in rent or sharing apartments. Many young people struggling to go to college are working up to three jobs, and most married couples both have to work to have a middle-class lifestyle and a family in Santa Barbara.
The City Housing Authority has a large inventory of rental housing for low-income folks who can qualify, providing our community with hard-working people who don’t have to commute. About 13 percent of the total low-income housing inventory in Santa Barbara is subsidized.
The state has recently passed legislation to address the lack of affordable housing, including the accessory dwelling (or granny flat) requirement in single-family zones; and the city continues to try to address the problem with ordinances like the AUD, or average unit density, lowering the size of units, presuming that rental costs will also come down. But so far rents have not come down. There is now state funding for congregate housing for the elderly, which is used to subsidize loans for construction and or rehabilitation.
I have described the many difficulties we face in providing affordable housing, but we need to change our conventional approaches and thinking. Here is an innovative approach now being used according to a blog entitled “Gimme Shelter” and noted in the January 2 edition of the Los Angeles Times.
London, England, has a program called “Roam” which provides modern living for professionals. Investors are getting excellent returns (much more than they would get from banks) by building co-living residences that have modern kitchens, central communal living rooms, and separate private rooms. They also have co-working offices and gym memberships. The rental costs range from $500 to $800 per month including utility bills. If you would like to see photos of these co-living spaces and read more about the concept, here is the link: co-livingspaces.co.uk. There is also another London co-living program called “The Collective,” housing 550 residents and appealing to the young adults with a rental cost of $200 per week. See the link thecollective.co.uk/coliving/old-oak”>.
In October, at the Regional Housing Task Force Meeting, the idea of “tiny homes” was illustrated. A tiny home is a dwelling that is 400 square feet in floor area. These can be constructed for $80,000 to $120,000. One city put them in a circle and added a communal kitchen and supportive services. These tiny homes get fast-track permit approvals and are factory built to code. Fresno has put tiny homes in mobile home parks and church parking lots. In order to achieve success, Fresno adopted new development requirements in its Zoning Code. The city also allowed granny flats on lots of 6,000 square foot or larger. The City created plans for three tiny-home models and offered reduced utility connection fees for the downtown area.
Could Santa Barbara take notice of this possible future for affordable rental homes?