The complicated funding and real-estate negotiations to buy housing for people without a home can take months, said John Polanskey, but when the State of California offered $20 million in CARES Act money, he had just four weeks to put it all together. As well, he was competing with four other Central Coast counties for the project money.
Polanskey is the director of housing development for the Santa Barbara County Housing Authority, and he said he couldn’t have succeeded in filing his applications in such a narrow window without help. “We had a very short time, unlike any state funding we’d competed for before,” he said. “I got a lot of cooperation from the county — Behavioral Wellness and county CEO Mona Miyasato — and from the cities of Goleta and Lompoc.”
Polanskey submitted not just one but three applications on August 13; two were for properties identified only last week. One is a set of county offices in Lompoc that was formerly a 15-room motel, something many had forgotten, but the department staff remembered and told Polanskey about the unique situation. Lompoc’s mayor and city manager affirmed their support to Polanskey, who said the council didn’t have time for a formal meeting like Goleta had had on August 4. At that time, Goleta’s City Council was unanimous in their support of a motel-to-housing transition for the Super 8 on Hollister Avenue. Lompoc will schedule the matter for an upcoming council session. The third property Polanskey has applied for is in Isla Vista.
Altogether, the three projects total an ask of about $15 million from the state’s Project Homekey program, which is funded by the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, the federal stimulus bill passed in March.
When Goleta met to consider the project, a few residents and business owners objected to putting housing for homeless people at the entrance to the city’s historic Old Town. Polanskey believed the location would work out for both homeless individuals and shopkeepers. He likened the current situation to the Housing Authority’s experience at Pescadero Lofts in Isla Vista, saying the neighbors who’d initially expressed apprehension no longer noticed that it houses people who were formerly homeless.
“When people get a unit, it’s their home, just like we have homes,” he said. “That’s where their stuff is; that’s what they call home.” Most residents were unhoused because of a lost job, messy divorce, death of a child, mental challenges, or other circumstances beyond their control, he noted.
“The vast majority of homeless people want housing that is safe and affordable,” Polanskey explained. “Finding a safe place to be, to sleep, is almost a full-time job.” Once in a home with their belongings, if anything, the resident managers had trouble prying them out of their rooms. “A lot of times, we have faith communities come and host a dinner to entice people to come out of their rooms,” Polanskey said.
Whether any of Santa Barbara County’s projects will get funding approval from the state won’t be known until all the applications are vetted. Statewide, $550 million was on the table for housing proposals and another $50 million for rent subsidies. Santa Barbara County has applied for $2 million from that second pot of money to help fund Section 8 vouchers. As a whole, counties statewide submitted about $600 million worth of proposals for the early applications due on August 13, Polanskey had heard through the grapevine.
The fund is now open to additional project applications until September 30 as some applications will inevitably fall through. “The city and the county housing authorities are still looking for hotel or motel owners who are looking to do something like this,” offered Polanskey, who was rolling up his sleeves to get back to the negotiations.
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