Habitat for Humanity of Southern Santa Barbara County (Habitat) has launched a creative fundraiser, Porch Portraits, which gives residents the opportunity to have a beautiful portrait taken outside their home while supporting this worthy nonprofit. In exchange for a donation, families get a portrait taken by a professional photographer, and Habitat raises funds for its homeownership and home repair programs.
Professional photographers who are donating their services include Lindsay Skutch, Christian Seaton, Ken Pfeiffer, Michael Elkington, and Lisa Penny Sherratt. While wearing masks and at a social distance, they take portraits outside donors’ homes. There has already been considerable interest, with some wanting portraits for birthdays and other celebrations. Inclusion of the pet pooch in the portrait has been quite popular. One generous donor gave $5,000 and gifted photo opportunities to neighbors. Other neighbors are coordinating so the photographer can take multiple portraits while in the neighborhood. Reservations for portraits are being accepted through July. A minimum suggested donation is $100.
Habitat’s three main sources of income have taken a huge hit this year because of COVID-19: (1) its annual gala and other planned fundraisers had to be canceled; (2) its donations from individuals and foundations have fallen as donors face economic uncertainty and shift donations to organizations involved in COVID relief efforts; and (3) its ReStore shuttered operations in March and remains closed. While Habitat’s income has taken a huge hit, Board Chair Paul Wilson related that the need for new affordable housing and home repairs for low-income people remains and Habitat remains committed to its mission.
Habitat partners with low-income individuals in southern Santa Barbara County to build homes. Recipients build alongside volunteers and purchase their home with a mortgage, which is currently capped at 30 percent of their income. To qualify, homeowners must make between 40 and 80 percent of the area median income. Habitat also repairs homes for low-income homeowners. In its 20 years, Habitat has built 22 new homes for 84 people and helped rebuild and repair more than 150 homes.
Its next homebuilding project will likely be a housing project on a half-acre lot on Cota Street generously donated to the organization. Even with the land donation, the high cost of building in Santa Barbara coupled with Habitat for Humanity’s mortgage payment cap of 30 percent of income means Habitat needs to raise significant funds. In good times, this is challenge; in COVID times, it is much more so. For the Cota Street condos, Habitat is exploring a range of technologies to reduce building costs.
Even pre-COVID, demand for Habitat’s housing was enormous. For its last project, which was in Carpinteria, 300 families applied for three homes, 100 of whom met the eligibility criteria. Wilson related that selecting which three families received the housing out of a pool of 100 qualified families currently living in a garage or other type of substandard housing was very difficult.
While the challenges of building affordable housing in Santa Barbara are great, Wilson said how helping the families makes it all worth it. He has been actively involved with the 12-unit Canon Perdido project, including attending the monthly homeowner association meetings. He shared how the families, who had worked together to help build the homes and went through all of the pre-ownership classes that Habitat provides, have a real sense of community. Families socialize, kids play together, and they collaborate on landscaping and other projects. Last holiday season, the residents had a lighting contest and invited Habitat folks to judge.
Habitat’s home-repair program had to pause because of COVID but recently resumed operations and has more than a dozen projects planned. Especially since many of the low-income homeowners this program benefits are elderly, the focus in COVID times is on external repairs, but some internal ones are proceeding too, with all necessary precautions. Repairs help homeowners age safely in their home by addressing accessibility needs, fixing broken appliances and plumbing, and doing other types of work. Staff, volunteers, and contractors collaborate on these projects.
Habitat has continued its support of existing homeowner families during the pandemic, including providing face coverings and connecting families to community resources. Its in-person financial education and budget planning classes have been replaced with webinars and videos on topics tailored to COVID times. Habitat has also come to the aid of other organizations, including donating more than 500 N-95 masks to Cottage Health.
Montecito Bank & Trust VP Meredith Tynes, who had a Porch Portrait done, shared, “In this time of chaos and ambiguity, as a family we have worked to find balance in our new normal, and to find ways to make change in our world. We have slowed down, and we have appreciated our time together. This image represents us through this journey. And reminds me that I have much to embrace and be grateful for each and every day.”
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