Local politicians, community members and residents of a new housing complex on South Voluntario Street are celebrating the opening of the building, which has increased the availability of affordable housing in the area and decreased the level of crime around it.

Construction on the Paseo Voluntario apartment complex was completed in September, and, although 23 of the building’s units are already occupied, the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara is hosting a grand opening ceremony for the complex today. The project cost approximately $5.2 million, said the Housing Authority’s Director of Administrative Services Rob Fredericks, and most of the project’s funding came from the Santa Barbara Redevelopment Agency (RDA) and from the Housing Authority’s own coffers.

Fredericks said Paseo Voluntario’s residents applied for the apartments and met federal requirements qualifying them for low-income housing. The Housing Authority has a waiting list of at least 2,000 people for their subsidized housing, he said, and most people do not realize how many of Santa Barbara’s residents need assistance to be able to afford to live here.

“The need is so huge in this town and we’re seeing it across income ranges,” Fredericks said. “Everyone across the spectrum is having difficulty finding affordable housing.”

Housing Authority Acting Executive Director Skip Szymanski said the agency subsidizes rent for every apartment in the 27-unit building, with units costing between $400 and $900 per month. He said most leasers in affordable housing projects are not required to spend more than 30 percent of their annual income on rent, so they can accumulate enough funds to get back on their feet.

Before the Housing Authority built Paseo Voluntario – which also boasts an on-site manager and community center – the neighborhood around the complex was home to gang and drug activity, Szymanski said. He said illegal activities in the area have disappeared completely since the new complex was built.

“As soon as we tore the house [that used to sit on the land Paseo Voluntario now occupies] down and we flattened it out, people couldn’t come into that area and now with the units there, we’ve got people taking pride in their neighborhood,” Szymanski said. “So [crime is] gone.”

The Housing Authority originally owned and operated seven apartments on South Voluntario Street, Fredericks said, before city leaders prompted the agency to purchase two parcels of abandoned land adjacent to its property. He said the Housing Authority built Paseo Voluntario on the previously abandoned land and remodeled its existing apartments to match the old Spanish decor of the new development.

The RDA contributed approximately $2 million to the Paseo Voluntario project, said RDA Housing and Redevelopment Manager David Gustafson. He said the Paseo Voluntario project stands out from the 4,500 other affordable housing units around Santa Barbara that the RDA has invested in because its construction helped revitalize the entire neighborhood around it.

“It was in kind of a challenged block that needed a boost and some redevelopment,” Gustafson said. “It’s a beautiful addition to the neighborhood.”

Affordable housing is one of the agency’s main concerns and Gustafson said he fields many requests from needy families.

“We get calls everyday,” Gustafson said. “There’s never enough for the families that need affordable housing.”

Gustafson said he is excited to meet Paseo Voluntario’s residents at today’s celebration.

“The most gratifying [thing] for me is when they have tenants and potential tenants and I get to meet the real people whose lives are affected by the work we do,” Gustafson said.