When the Housing Crisis Task Force was established on April 19, it was the Santa Barbara City Council’s compromise in a contentious, seven-hour meeting which was intended to end in a vote on a proposed 2 percent rent cap, but instead ended up in the formation of a three-person committee tasked with taking a deep look at how to address the City’s rising rents and lack of housing.
In the April 19 meeting — which coincided with another hot-button issue of city workers asking for a higher wage and was held in a standing-room-only council chambers — dozens of community members, rental advocates, property owners, and stakeholders from every corner of the city’s housing world weighed in during public comment. Those in support of the 2 percent rent cap urged the City Council, which was split down the middle on the issue, to think of the city’s 60 percent of renters and vote for the ordinance. Opponents to the rent cap insisted that an ordinance modeled after those in other cities would only hurt Santa Barbara in the long run.
Nine weeks later, the committee has yet to meet. City staff have set a date for the ad hoc’s first meeting in mid-July, though city staff has said the meetings will not be available to the public and will not be recorded for online streaming.
Councilmember Oscar Guiterrez, who suggested the ad hoc committee in April, volunteered to chair the task force, with councilmembers Alejandra Gutierrez and Kristen Sneddon joining the group. Housing and Human Services Manager Laura Dubbels and Community Development Director Elias Isaacson are the city staff assigned to the committee.
Dubbels said that there is no timeline or itemized outline on what exactly the subcommittee will be talking about, but that they would be looking into the 2 percent rent cap and “any alternatives that would be good for the City.”
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When he first suggested the idea, Councilmember Gutierrez said that when the issue of housing is relegated to a single item in a busy City Council agenda, councilmembers sometimes only have the opportunity to ask staff a few questions, often receiving short answers that fail to consider the full depth of the problems renters and property owners face.
“This [committee] is the opportunity where we could deal with and address each one of those ideas on a broader stage, and actually try to come up with some sort of middle ground for it,” he said. In addition to rent control, community members have suggested alternative methods like vouchers or rental assistance.
A major motivating factor for an “in-house” subcommittee was the insistence of several councilmembers that a proposed $200,000 study by an outside consultant would be a waste of time and money, when Santa Barbara itself has a deeply involved community with plenty of homegrown advocate groups and organizations.
That money, he said, could possibly be reallocated “to address some of these issues” that advocates have suggested.
“Outside consultants always come back and ask us in the city,” Councilmember Alejandra Gutierrez added. ”I think it’s very clear that we have the answers within our community.”
It is unclear at this time whether any community organizations or members of the public will be given the opportunity to speak or provide input at these ad hoc committee meetings, but city staff is hoping to have a better idea once the first meeting is held.
“For now, it’s kind of open-ended,” Dubbels said.