After seven and a half years of planning, construction will finally begin on Santa Barbara’s largest affordable housing project ever.
The project, which has a total budget of approximately $50 million, will provide 170 units of housing for low-income families and seniors. It is the result of a joint effort between developers Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, Mercy Housing California, and the county and city of Santa Barbara. Last week, the Santa Barbara City Council voted unanimously to give the project an additional $6.7 million to help cover the rising cost of building materials.
Sister Alicia Martin, the executive director of St. Vincent’s, said the project has been in the works for over seven years. Now that the project has the funds it needs, Martin said construction should begin in the near future.
“When it started, it wasn’t really that costly,” Martin said. “But costs have shot up since then. We couldn’t even start construction until we were sure we had the money.”
When the project reaches completion, it will feature an indoor swimming pool and numerous trees, Martin said. She said she was excited about the environment the project will offer its future occupants.
“It’s going to be quite a haven for them,” Martin said. “The units are going to be on a beautiful campus.”
Martin said 95 of the housing project’s 170 units will be set aside for seniors, and 75 will be reserved for families. In order to qualify for housing, families will have to make less than 60 percent of the median area income, and seniors 62 and older will have to make less than 50 percent.
City Councilman Das Williams voted to grant St. Vincent’s the extra funds, although the council had already reserved $10.6 million dollars for the project. He said the city council has always claimed it values affordable housing, but this latest grant proves it.
“Judging from the rhetoric, affordable housing is really important to both the city and the county,” Williams said. “I’d say we are almost living up to the rhetoric with this vote.”
Williams said he believes the city must do everything it can to provide low-income residents with affordable housing, even in times of budget difficulties.
“If we don’t, more and more of our workforce will live outside of town,” Williams said. “There will be more traffic, more pollution and more congestion.”
Oversight of the housing project was transferred from the county to the city’s redevelopment agency last year so it could provide the rest of the money required for the project’s completion.
“Their budget is under a lot more pressure than ours is,” Williams said. “They didn’t have the money and we did, so we used it.”
Tim Wong, housing program specialist for the county, said the county has reserved over $4.3 million for the St. Vincent’s housing project since it initially got involved with the project in 1998.
“This is the most we’ve ever given to a housing project,” Wong said. “This was a high-priority project for the county.”
Wong said the county would likely have provided more money for the project if it had been able to but that budgetary constraints limited the amount it could contribute.
“That was the final piece of the funds that were needed,” Wong said. “The city could use money from their redevelopment fund, but the county doesn’t have a redevelopment fund in that area.”