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Rona Barrett: My New Year’s Wish and Resolution for Affordable Senior Housing

The more that I push forward on my journey to support housing and care for seniors, the more stories I hear about the indignities and suffering our seniors have to face in their so-called golden years.

From seniors having to start working again in their 80s, being forced out of their homes and living in their cars, having to make (financial) choices between food and medicine … and the list goes on. The unbelievable thing to me is that I hear these stories right here in Santa Barbara County; a place where most assume things like this could never happen.

As a Santa Barbara County resident and former caregiver for my father, I realized that if caring for him was hard for me — a person with some resources — then I could only imagine the intense difficulty it would be for others. And what of those seniors who have no family or caretakers? I had to do something.

As many of you may know, the Rona Barrett Foundation, its Board of Directors and community supporters have been embarking on an affordable housing project — the Golden Inn & Village, with 60 independent housing units, 27 affordable employee and family apartments, a community center and onsite supportive services. This will be the first affordable senior housing and residential care "aging in place" facility in Santa Ynez Valley.

GIV is designed to serve our most vulnerable residents with preference points first to the Santa Ynez Valley and then Santa Barbara County — the invisible and low-income seniors in our community, including qualified veterans. Phase II of GIV consists of an additional 60 housing units for memory care and assisted living.

Our goal is three-fold: 1) to provide care to our seniors here in Santa Barbara County, 2) to serve as a replicable model for similar housing projects across the country, and 3) to spread the word about the crisis in senior care — especially as it relates to housing and the great need for affordable assisted living (to provide seniors with what they cannot afford as well as those suffering from Alzheimer’s).

The current $30 million Phase I of the project has been quite an endeavor for me and my team over the past eight to 10 years as we have navigated the choppy waters of permitting, land use, local government consent, public hearings, etc., etc., as well as raising money to buy the land and working with our partner, the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Barbara, to secure $23 million in tax credits to assist in the building of the Golden Inn & Village.

All of this could not have happened without the support of our county and local governments and many in the community who are committed to seeing GIV become a reality. I’d like to extend a special thanks to the Santa Ynez Valley Foundation, the Ann Jackson Foundation, the Santa Barbara Foundation and many other local family foundations  and supporters, as well as a few who wish to remain anonymous.

Of course, there is always a “but,” and our “but” is that as a condition of receiving the $23 million in tax credits, the Rona Barrett Foundation must raise an additional $800,000 by Feb. 28.

Here is the “wish” part of my message. Between now and then, our focus will be knocking on doors, making phone calls and telling everyone who will listen about this need. We’ve raised some of the money but we aren’t nearly there yet (hint, hint). And construction is scheduled to begin this March. I truly hope and believe that those wanting to support our efforts will step forward.

Please also know that this tax credit award also means that for every $1 a supporter like you donates to the Campaign for the GIV, it is estimated that $23 will be returned in community dividends in the form of local jobs, local salaries and local expenditures for equipment, transportation and supplies. That is a great investment in our community!

Now for my new year’s resolution: Conservative estimates show that over 50 percent of our area's senior population is economically insecure — that is, unable to cover the cost of their most basic needs. On the Central Coast, including our Santa Ynez Valley, there is a greater percentage of seniors as compared to other areas of the state. Twenty percent of the population is 60 years of age or older versus the statewide average of 14 percent. Like the rest of the state, our 85-plus age group is the fastest growing segment of the population.

To that end, I am making — and reaffirming — my commitment to use my voice to share/spread the word locally and nationally about the impending crisis in caring for our growing senior population. I’m starting with you in 2015! I want this message to be carried by people like you through your own personal experiences and those you may know. I truly believe that communication and knowledge leads to solutions.

To support our work and learn more about GIV, please visit ronabarrettfoundation.org.

And, as always, keep thinking the good thoughts. Happy New Year.

— For more than 30 years, Rona Barrett was a pioneering entertainment reporter, commentator and producer. Since 2000, she has focused her attention and career on the growing crisis of housing and support for our aging population. She is the founder and CEO of the Rona Barrett Foundation, the catalyst behind Santa Ynez Valley’s first affordable senior housing, the Golden Inn & Village. Contact her at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are her own.

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