Digging into a heap of earth with plastic shovels and buckets, a half-dozen toddlers from Transition House’s daycare program got the chance Tuesday to help celebrate the groundbreaking on an eight-unit housing project that will reach out to other children and families.

It’s an effort aimed at homeless families with children and who have special needs such as a serious mental illness or physical or developmental disability.

An expanded 25-baby infant care facility will be part of the project as well. The new facility will replace the old Mom’s Restaurant building at 421 E. Cota St., which operated at the location for 62 years. Aptly, Transition House leaders voted to keep the project’s name the same.

“Transition House has worked to address homelessness in Santa Barbara for over 27 years,” Executive Director Kathleen Baushke said.

She said supportive housing, which provides case management and shelter, is a priority for the organization, and families with “multiples barriers to stability” can benefit the most from the approach.

A parent with a serious physical or mental disability may be living off Social Security or be unable to sustain full-time employment, and housing creates a starting point. Homeless children also have much to gain from housing, she said, adding that children in homeless families are three to four times more likely than their housed peers to experience homelessness as adults.

“(The Mom’s Project) will change the future for the homeless and impoverished kids in our community,” Baushke said.

The group has worked for years to secure funding for the project, the bulk of which comes from federal low-income housing tax credits, and competition is fierce, according to board president Craig Allen.

In addition to getting families off the streets and giving them a chance to restart their lives, Allen said the project has big financial benefits, too. The project’s construction budget is $3 million and will take a year to build, supporting local workers. Funding from Santa Barbara’s Community Development Department and the city’s Housing Authority was also used.

Baushke said the nonprofit was excited about working with Melchiori Construction on the project because of its family connection to the original building.

“The ‘mom’ who started Mom’s Restaurant was, after all, a Melchiori,” she said.

Taking down the old restaurant will be bittersweet for the contractor, she said, but added that the new structure would support a community mission.

Housing Authority Executive Director Rob Pearson also spoke Tuesday and praised the work of Baushke and Transition House.

“They’ll roll up their sleeves and get the job done,” he said.

Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider lauded Transition House’s role in the city’s 10-step plan to end chronic homelessness. Partnerships are even more important during times of economic strain, and she encouraged cooperation in the future. Half of the application for the tax credits was about $1.5 million in redevelopment agency funds — “a big issue in Sacramento,” she said.

Social services such as mental health that will be crucial to the operation are also state funded and constantly being cut. 

“We’re going to have a big challenge in front of us, and the more we can work together as public agencies towards that common goal, the better,” Schneider said.

While facing the challenges, she expressed hope in the project’s mission of building a better quality of life for formerly homeless families.

“That’s what this is about,” Schneider said.

Other project partners include Montecito Bank & Trust, WNC & Associates Inc., Riverside Charitable Corp., Garden Court Inc., the Bower Foundation, Enterprise Community Partners, architects Christine Pierron and Mark Wienke, Frank Thompson Housing Consultants, Tracey Taylor, Keith Stanley, Horizon Development Consulting and Allen & Kimbell LLP.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at lcooper@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at lcooper@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.