400 W. Carrillo Street – Proposed Development | Credit: Courtesy Housing Authority, City of Santa Barbara

The Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara unveiled a long-awaited housing project to build workforce apartments at the Carrillo-Castillo Commuter Lot to an online crowd of neighbors and interested Santa Barbarans on Monday evening. The anticipated rents for the 103-unit project aimed at the “missing middle” would range between $1,600 for studios and up to $2,200 for a two bedroom.

The commuter lot, the lowest-performing of the city’s parking lots, has been explored by the Housing Authority previously. Among the proposals was one in 2018 for temporary housing in the form of tiny homes for the homeless community. As city Public Works’ Rob Dayton said after a community forum for the concept, “The neighborhood was not okay with that.” However, Santa Barbara residents responded differently when approached with the idea of permanent housing.

A large number of questions during Monday’s presentation revolved around providing enough parking for residents. The 103 apartments are served by 46 parking spaces, and six extra spaces for guests. Skip Szymanski, Housing Authority’s chief operating officer, offered that Casa de las Fuentes, an earlier Housing Authority building that sits kitty-corner to this lot, advertised for tenants who were not vehicle dependent. They worked downtown, walked or biked, or customarily took public transportation. He said its lot, built to the one-to-one ratio that was the rule at the time, sits about 50-60 percent full. The neighbors on Monday made it clear that on-street parking in the area was bumper-to-bumper.

Attendees also questioned the staff about possible traffic and road hazards as West Carrillo Street is by the heavily used Highway 101 on-ramp. They also wondered about accessibility onto the property and preserving the yellow-flowered tipuana trees that have matured in the parking lot.

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The Workforce Housing Program intends to help mitigate rising rent prices and the scarcity of available affordable housing by building for Santa Barbara’s “missing middle” — or, according to Symanski, the “backbone of Santa Barbara’s workforce.” They are the teachers, construction workers, mail carriers, medical assistants, hospitality and service-industry employees, and office workers in the area whose annual income does not support current rental rates or homeownership in the city; they also earn too much to qualify for federal subsidy programs. In addition to the affordable housing, the project could curb the environmental impact of some of the more than 15,000 commuters that travel to Santa Barbara daily.

The median income for those in the missing middle is around $60,000. This income is incompatible with housing prices in Santa Barbara, where the median home price is $1.29 million. Szymasnki continued, “If you look at what is needed to afford a rent of $2,550 a month and still pay no more than 30 percent of your income, a person would need to make almost $50 an hour, which is about $100,000 a year.”

At the Carrillo-Castillo project, currently, studio apartments would be available for $1,600 a month. Single bedroom apartments would be offered at $1,900 a month compared to the normal midrange price of $3,000 a month. Two-bedroom apartments would be available for $2,200 a month compared to the midrange rent of $3,800. Comparatively, however, two-bedroom apartments at the recently completed apartments at Anacapa and Ortega streets go for as high as $5,200.

The Housing Authority brought on architect Christine Pierron with the Cearnal Collective to help design the site. Cearnal architects are well-versed in city planning rules, having left their fingerprints on numerous projects around town, including the Anatega apartments, which was a city density project that allowed fewer parking spaces. Drawings for the 103 apartments — 66 studios, 26 one bedrooms, and 11 two bedrooms — show a three- and four-story Mediterranean-style building with a central courtyard. Pierron hopes to preserve the natural foliage around the property, specifically the tipuana trees.

The project is in its preliminary stages and will arrive at City Council for further discussion before approval. During this time, the public may voice their concerns to 400WCarrillo@hacsb.org.

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