The Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara (HACSB) was awarded earlier this September with the Gindroz Award for Excellence in Affordable Housing for its recent housing projects. Given by the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art (ICAA), the inaugural award recognizes “organizations that have demonstrated excellence in the design and implementation of affordable housing in the classical tradition,” according to an ICAA press release detailing the announcement, taking the context of the project and its social impact into consideration.
The ICAA jury singled out the Housing Authority’s Artisan Court, Casa de las Fuentes (described in the “Mediterranean” style), El Carrillo (described in the “Spanish” style), and Jacaranda Court public housing projects as “models of excellence in design and social impact.” HACSB built them with collaborative processes involving local architects and community input, with the goal of creating safe, affordable, and quality housing. These housing projects largely target underserved or low-income groups and are in areas convenient for downtown workers. El Carrillo, for instance, is home to 61 formerly homeless individuals, while Artisan Court’s 55 units house not only formerly homeless individuals but also youth aging out of foster care and low-income downtown workers.
Eric Osth, an ICAA boardmember, said over email, “We were drawn to the beautiful design and consistent social mission. These projects were part of a neighborhood process that involved a lot of listening, design, and leadership. Together, the outcomes are extraordinary.”
While Jacaranda Court has yet to be constructed, the three other housing projects are complete with arches, courtyards, and lush greenery. There is plainly artistic intent behind the architecture and design, which may seem anomalous to the grim idea of what public housing is thought to be.
Rob Fredericks, HCASB’s executive director, explained why the Housing Authority chose to prioritize design along with affordability.
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“We want the development to be compatible with the neighborhood,” Fredericks said. “To go beyond that, we want our development to be beautiful. As affordable housing, it doesn’t have to be bland or ugly as you might see in other communities. They can be built with a design that the entire community of Santa Barbara is proud of, and that’s something we also do to have a livable environment for our residents.”
As promised, rent for these housing units is well below market range for Santa Barbara. Rent is calculated based on different factors, such as individual development, the size of the unit, and income of the resident(s), which culminates in rent that can range from $579 to $1,159 to live at Artisan Court. El Carrillo is described as having rent “$300 to $585 less than an average studio apartment currently available on the market in the City of Santa Barbara” according to the HACSB website.
Such traits make these housing units extremely desirable — and the demand is difficult to meet in Santa Barbara. Fredericks said that on HACSB’s waitlist alone, it has “close to 5,000 households that have applied for housing through the Housing Authority that need housing now, but the waiting time is typically five to six years because we don’t have enough units and we don’t have enough turnover once we house our residents.”
To address the city’s public housing shortage, Fredericks said more funding is needed “to take advantage of opportunities that come our way for available and developmental land to make new buildings that fit within the neighborhood. We take advantage of as much density as we can to add as many units as we can while also being cognizant of what will fit with the community.”
The ICAA plans to hold an educational program in Santa Barbara on Sunday, October 1, to highlight lessons from the work of HACSB that can be applicable to the nation’s critical housing shortage.