Santa Barbara’s Housing Crisis: How Bad Is Bad?

Economic Report Reveals 93 Percent of South Coast Renters Can’t Afford a Median-Priced Home

Only 6.5 percent of South Coast renters could afford a median-priced home in 2021 compared to nearly 8 percent in 2019. | Credit: Rosen Consulting Group

Only 6.5 percent of South Coast renters could afford the monthly costs that come with buying a median-priced single-family home last year. In 2019, that number was less than 8 percent. Statewide, it was more than 16 percent. These grim numbers come courtesy of a 44-page economic wake-up call just released on behalf of the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors by the Rosen Consulting Group. 

The rental market, the report shows, is no less exclusive; the average household income needed to afford the average monthly rent on the South Coast increased from $76,100 in November 2016 to $95,800 in November 2021. As a result, nearly twice the share of people employed in the South Coast drove more than 50 miles to work than the statewide average. Most of those long-distance commuters worked in Santa Barbara’s hospitality or service industries. 

The report concludes that housing production has suffered because of a lack of available land and an environmentally prohibitive land-use culture begat by the Oil Spill of 1969, among other things. Exacerbating the lack of supply, according to the report, is the fact that the South Coast population is defined by an inordinately large number of college-aged students coupled with a similarly large population of retired seniors. In this context, the report states, the only housing likely to be produced in meaningful numbers would be either high-end luxury units built for the very affluent or highly subsidized units built with government assistance. 

Not surprisingly, the report also concludes that rent control and inclusionary housing requirements would make a bad situation only worse.


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