So many people want to live in Santa Barbara, California. There are many reasons it has always been such a popular tourist attraction. The weather is great all-year-round with around 300 days of sunshine every year. There is always a festival to go to. With both beautiful beaches and the mountains, everyone can enjoy the scenery. It is also easy to see the Spanish history that is woven into the city everywhere you look. But while many people would love to live and work in this beautiful city all the time, the Santa Barbara real estate just is not affordable for most people. This lack of affordable housing in Santa Barbara is a serious need that needs to be met in order for people to continue living in the city.
The average Santa Barbara house costs around $1,100,000. Most people could never afford to pay this much for a house. In fact, only about twenty percent of families in Santa Barbara can afford this high cost. Even renting a two-bedroom house can cost around $2,500 per month, which is incredibly high considering the average family income is only around $80,000. What is even more shocking is the fact that even though there are around 10,000 vacant homes in Santa Barbara, there are only around 2,000 people who are homeless. Some of these people are homeless because they could not afford a home in Santa Barbara, which made it difficult for them to keep a job, and many others are homeless because they have mental health conditions for which they are unable to receive help. They need the help of the city to be able to live in a safe and affordable home.
CAUSE, an advocacy group focused on the rights of tenants, surveyed 590 tenants in 2019 to determine some of the core issues they were dealing with in Santa Barbara. Around fifty-five percent of people who took the survey were considered cost-burdened; over thirty percent of their annual income was used to pay for housing. In fact, in a list of counties considered most cost-burdened in California, Santa Barbara ranks at number six. This survey also concluded that in the last five years, rent for most houses in Santa Barbara had increased by around twenty-seven percent, even though the wages employees were making had only increased by eight percent. Twenty percent of those surveyed had to move to a new home because they could not afford where they were living at the time. Ten percent of these survey-takers had no choice but to move out of town because they could no longer afford Santa Barbara real estate. Another fourteen percent had to move in with other family members in order to share the burden of housing costs.
Unfortunately, a large number of other survey-takers made financial sacrifices in other important areas of their lives. Almost forty percent of people decreased their food and health care budgets, even though they realized the necessity of these areas. Around eighty percent had to deal with significant issues in their homes, such as mold, broken pipes, and pest infestations. Only around forty percent of these tenants had these issues fixed by their landlords after they reported the problems. The rest had to either pay to fix the issues themselves or live with the problems.
Even as these houses deteriorate, landlords do not decrease the price of rent. Although Santa Barbara created a Housing Authority in 1969 to fulfill the need for more affordable housing, a recent investigation revealed that this commitment has not been a priority for the city. They have only approved around 1,300 housing units, which the Grand Jury says is not enough to make a difference in the city. The City Council has not found any funding or even any properties for housing projects. It also seems that they purposely postponed the development of housing units and, when making final approvals for new housing developments, they did not require any affordable housing.
This lack of affordable housing also creates a lack of jobs being filled. Most people who work in Santa Barbara commute from nearby towns. With more than 5,000 trips made to Santa Barbara from North Country and more than 25,000 south of the city, employers are finding it more and more difficult to not only find new employees but also to keep them because of the travel. The city of Santa Barbara must now provide more than 2,000 housing units for low-income and middle-income families by 2023. The Grand Jury suggested certain approaches that would not hurt the budget for the city, such as form-based zoning to determine if projects fit in with certain areas. Multi-use zoning was also suggested to provide more spaces for housing units. Another suggestion was to find land or property that could be funded to use for affordable housing.
According to the Grand Jury, the City Council needs help changing their vision, setting new goals, and making plans to effectively meet those goals. They believe the City has ignored the needs of residents for too long and that there needs to be an immediate change. Santa Barbara is a popular attraction for many people, and the appeal of the city likely will not go away any time soon, even with the high cost of living. For some people, this is simply the price you have to pay if you want to live in the place of your dreams, a place some consider “paradise on Earth.” But for the majority of people, this high price is one they will never be able to afford; living in a Santa Barbara house is a dream they will never reach. The city of Santa Barbara has some changes to make if they want their city to continue to thrive, and they now have a few more years to make that happen.