Habitat for Humanity received a $240,000 loan from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on Jan.13 that will be used to build three new low-income houses between Highway 101 and upper State Street.

The project, located at 3965 Via Lucero, will be Habitat for Humanity of Southern Santa Barbara County’s first major building project. The plan calls for the construction of three two-story, three-bedroom houses to provide shelter for three low-income, four-person families.

Along with the HUD loan, Habitat for Humanity has also raised $150,000 in donations for the project. The organization hopes to raise an additional $290,000 before the completion of construction in 18 to 24 months. Habitat also received help from the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara, which purchased the land and acquired the easement needed to develop the project.

Robert Pearson, executive director of the Housing Authority, said the South County area is in need of more affordable housing and HUD homes are the federal government’s way of addressing the housing needs of the poor.

“We’ve got a lot of service workers, a lot of students and a lot of elderly in the area,” Pearson said. “This project will probably serve households [with an income] between $18,000 and $30,000 a year.”

Joyce McCullough, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Southern Santa Barbara County, said the lack of affordable housing in South County forces workers to live in outlying areas such as Ventura or Santa Maria. The construction of these new homes aims to ease the high costs of living in the county and allow home ownership opportunities to families that normally would not be able to afford it.

“Not only is housing expensive, it’s scarce,” McCullough said. “Health workers, for example, would rather commute to Santa Barbara because of the high cost.”

Habitat for Humanity housing typically targets families whose income ranges from 30 to 50 percent of the county’s median income. Steven Faulstich, supervisor of HUD’s Dept of Community Development, said the 2003 median income of Santa Barbara County for a four person family was $60,600.

“There have been studies done looking at income to affordability ratios,” McCullough said. “If you look at the poorest of the poor, there is no way they can afford decent housing.”

McCullough said Habitat for Humanity has more than 3,000 affiliates across the United States and has provided housing to over 750,000 people worldwide. The organization makes use of “sweat equity,” which requires the benefiting families to spend at least 500 hours working on the physical construction of their home and the paperwork necessary to help subsidize the cost of the house.