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Refocus the Housing Conversation

While the headline on your report of the discussion on housing issues in Santa Barbara was perhaps a bit cynical, the actual title of that conference at El Encanto was more than a bit presumptuous. The idea that we need “vibrant solutions” to house “millennial tech” employees is another example of the willful ignorance adopted by politicians and business community members. To claim that “working-class and retired people need solutions just as much as people who are homeless” is blatantly untrue but passes as a rationale to continue present city housing policy.

For decades Santa Barbara City has created and enforced regulations and laws that have eliminated housing needed by the now homeless. Most expressly we subsidized the destruction of single-occupancy hotels that once allowed people with disability income and other marginal resources to live downtown. Hundreds of these rooms were turned into hotel suites for tourists. They were not replaced.

In response the occupants of these rooms (and their social heirs) found other solutions such as living in RVs and in the bushes.

Similarly city policy has long been to build subsidized housing for the elderly. This is nice but was in fact a finesse that allowed the claim that a large part of the municipal housing stock is subsidized. The purpose was to fill these subsidized spaces with the most socially acceptable. And of course there will always be a waiting list for these spaces. What about the waiting list for the real homeless population? That list does not exist.

Finally the conflation of the term “millennial,” which merely describes those of a similar age, with only that part of that age group that is tech savvy, college trained, “urbane,” and relatively economically successful is to be noted. If the discussion of housing issues in our town is to be credible, “homeless” should not be pitted against “millennial.”

What is most missing from Santa Barbara housing stock is that which is needed to house the least wealthy among us. Build this before we do more condominiums and high-cost rental spaces. And stop the long-term permission to cannibalize what little cheap housing as exists by developers seeking more profit.

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