Census Reveals a Culprit Behind Santa Barbara’s Housing Crisis

More Housing Units Being Left Empty Than New Ones Being Built

Credit: Tierra Mallorca / Unsplash

In the past 10 years, the City of Santa Barbara witnessed the construction of 388 new housing units within city limits. In that same time, however, 454 units of housing were taken off the housing market — either for sale or for rent — thus generating a net reduction in actual housing units of 66.

This new data comes courtesy of the new Census and explains why there’s increased interest among elected officials on the South Coast for imposing some sort of vacancy tax to penalize those who choose to leave their properties vacant. Whether that notion goes anywhere has yet to be seen, but driving these numbers, among other factors, is the increase in vacation rentals.

In 2010, 2,371 of the city’s 37,820 housing units were left vacant by their owners. By 2020, that number increased to 2,825 out of a total housing supply of 38,208 units. While Santa Barbara led this charge, Montecito, Mission Canyon, Toro Canyon, Summerland, and Carpinteria all followed suit.

Countywide, however, the numbers tell a different story; the total number of housing units left unoccupied dropped marginally — from 10,588 in 2010 to 9,926 in 2020. 

Of the 5,445 units of new housing built in the past 10 years, the largest number were built in Santa Maria — 1,666 — followed by Goleta, which saw the construction of 1,170 new units.


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