When I first ran for elected office in 1996, many Isla Vista residents told me that quality housing was their highest priority.
As the county supervisor representing Isla Vista, I proposed a housing inspection program that would have required a mandatory inspection once every four or five years, focusing on basic building and safety code requirements that are dictated by the state of California and adopted by Santa Barbara County.
I was successful in convincing the Board of Supervisors that housing conditions in Isla Vista warranted a full-time inspector, and we tailored the program to simply respond to complaints from tenants.
A complaint-driven program was not my first choice, but I felt it was important for the county’s Building and Safety Division to have a consistent presence in I.V. and this was a good way to start. Since 1998, the housing inspector has responded to almost 400 complaints from Isla Vista residents.
A number of the complaints have been minor in nature, such as broken windows and doors that can be easily repaired. But unfortunately, most cases were serious and required significant attention to the heating, electrical and plumbing systems of the building. As a result, I have proposed that the county reconsider the complaint-driven program and assign the necessary staff to Isla Vista in order to inspect all the rental units in I.V. over a four- to five-year period.
The budget for the program is $38 a year per unit. This would pay for two full-time inspectors and one support staff person. Their responsibilities would be to systematically inspect residential rentals in I.V., focusing their attention on the features of the state’s building and safety code.
That means they would check to make sure the lighting system was safe, the heat worked and the plumbing (both water and sewer) was adequate. They would also check for any excessive molds growing or pest infestations presenting health risks in the unit.
Many communities around the state, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Fresno, have implemented these types of programs. In fact, a legal challenge recently upheld our ability to address deteriorating housing conditions through an inspection program.
With input from the community, I would like to develop a program that will effectively improve the housing conditions in Isla Vista.
I want this program to be effective and take into account the concerns of the many families and students who call Isla Vista their home. It is not our goal to put anyone out on the street, but rather to ensure the units are safe to live in.
The inspectors will work off a checklist of specific items, including heating and plumbing systems, ventilation and natural light, electrical systems and other fire hazards, when they are in a unit. They will not be performing a head count or focusing on the size of a family in a unit.
It is my goal to ensure that mass evictions do not occur as a result of necessary repairs that may be ordered by an inspection. It would not be fair if tenants are subjected to wholesale evictions because a landlord uses a repair order as an excuse.
To make sure that does not happen, I intend to work on a fair housing package to ensure that a landlord cannot indiscriminately evict tenants based on repairs they are required to make to ensure their rental unit meets the state’s building and safety code requirements.
We plan to work with property owners who want to receive a building permit in order to bring their units up to code. In some cases, that may not be possible because the unit does not have adequate ventilation, electrical systems, doors, windows or off-street parking.
Residents pay a high premium to live in Isla Vista. I feel the best way to ensure safe, consistent housing is to implement a systematic inspection program that balances the needs of the community’s residents and families with the state’s mandated housing requirements.
Gail Marshall is the Santa Barbara County 3rd District supervisor.