The new emergency housing voucher program has streamlined the eligibility process, said Sanford Riggs, director of operations for the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Barbara. | Credit: Danielle Riggs

Among the 73 housing agencies statewide that got $250 million in vouchers, two in Santa Barbara are geared up to receive $1.2 million of it for emergency housing aid. The funds will go to help not only people who need a home but also to find housing for people making an escape from domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and human trafficking.

“It’s very good news for our community and communities across the nation as this rental assistance will help address the growing homeless issue,” said Rob Fredericks, who has been a leader at the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara for 25 years. Up to 89 vouchers were awarded to his agency, and another 123 will go to the county’s Housing Authority, as part of the American Rescue Plan signed into law by President Biden in March.

The new assistance streamlines the process already in place for Section 8 recipients, which is a similar voucher system. The emergency vouchers broaden the criteria to include those that can lead to homelessness, such as domestic violence, explained Sanford Riggs, who heads operations at the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Barbara. The funds also allow for supportive services. Referrals for the new program will come from the Coordinated Entry System, a countywide project that collects homeless information in one place, and Riggs said they’re advising their wait-listed applicants to be sure they’re in that system. New applicants are also being admitted.

The waitlists at both the city and county are long for these types of housing aid. In addition to the voucher wait list of about 1,700 people, the county’s own 1,400 units of housing across 33 buildings have thousands of people waiting in line. Only about 17 people move on from the county’s programs each month, Riggs said. Other community-based organizations build and supply housing, too, but the county’s voucher wait list is incredibly popular. It stopped taking applications in 2009 due to an overwhelming demand; when it opened in 2018 for three weeks, 7,000 people applied and 6,000 people called in one day, Riggs said. The struggle for low-income housing in Santa Barbara has been a lengthy and continuing one. Still, every new voucher can put an individual or family in a home: “This makes a dent in it,” said Riggs of the 123 new vouchers.

COVID shook up the voucher system, Riggs noted, as it has so many aspects of life. Landlords had been asking the Housing Authority about its program after 2019’s Senate Bill 329 passed, which requires landlords to accept Section 8 tenants. “After COVID, they had the situation where many had vacant units, not a lot of people were moving, and some weren’t paying,” Riggs said. The vouchers guarantee 100 percent payment of monthly rents — 30 percent to the tenant’s ability and 70 percent by the Housing Authority — and many landlords were really anxious to have voucher holders in their rental properties. “We’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Riggs said.

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