With residents now living in the Golden Inn & Village in Santa Ynez, Rona Barrett has seen her dream come alive.
But she’s not done.
The assisted living wing for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other memory loss needs more funding before construction can begin, hopefully this year.
And Barrett’s ultimate dream is to see Golden Inn & Village serve as a template for low-income housing in other communities.
“It’s a vision and an idea whose time had really come,” Barrett told Noozhawk. “We need many more kinds of Golden Inn & Villages because there’s just not enough affordable housing all over the state, let alone the country.”
She says the need exists, proven by the fact that her new project attracted 900 applicants in just 12 days.
“Does that not tell you something?” she asked. “It certainly told me something.”
Barrett wasn’t surprised.
“I’ve been watching the statistics and seeing for myself what was happening, not only within this community but all over,” she said. “It’s like a tsunami really was going to hit us, and it has hit us now. They call it the gray tsunami.”
Due to her own father’s declining health, Barrett, a businesswoman and former syndicated entertainment writer, created the Rona Barrett Foundation in 2000 to provide affordable housing for senior citizens with services they require.
The foundation later lined up partners, including the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Barbara.
John Polanskey, director of housing development, said Golden Inn & Village’s 60 affordable rental housing units for seniors, along with the adjacent 27 affordable rental housing units for families, are providing important new housing opportunities for Santa Barbara County’s lower income residents — including those with Santa Ynez Valley connections.
“As we held community meetings, we consistently had people come up to us who didn’t want to leave the Valley, were working in the Valley and living elsewhere, or who wanted to return to the Valley, but couldn’t find housing that was affordable,” he said.
“Many of our residents have or had some type of ties to the Valley.”
Sitting on 7.3 acres at the corner of Highway 246 and Refugio Road in Santa Ynez, the Golden Inn & Village includes 60 independent living units for low-income seniors and 27 affordable rental apartments for multigenerational employee/family housing.
A community center was designed to accommodate day programs, family visits and caregiver respite. The facility can house a barber, beauty shop and other services.
A downstairs lounge has a piano, fireplace, tables and comfortable chairs. Upstairs includes an activity room, with windows providing sweeping valley views.
The grounds include gardens and walking paths with sustainable landscaping.
The independent living facility has 66 people with every apartment filled. Across the property, the facility has larger residences for families, such as people raising grandchildren or employees.
Barrett estimated the site is now home to between 120 and 130 people.
One key aspect, making the facility a true village, is the creation of a buddy system to have neighbors checking on neighbors on a regular basis.
While the interior looks complete, Barrett said some finishing touches remain. For instance, the library needs shelving before it can be completed.
Another big piece — the Alzheimer’s disease and assisted living facility — needs more funding before construction can begin on 2.2 acres at the site.
“That, to me, is the most important facility or housing that we could possibly be building,” Barrett said.
She wanted it done yesterday, she acknowledged.
“It can’t be done fast enough or quick enough as far I’m concerned,” Barrett said, adding that partners will be required since the Alzheimer’s disease and assisted living facility will cost $13 million.
The foundation already has raised several million dollars, but since they plan to award scholarships for people who don’t have the financial means, Barrett hopes to create an endowment fund to subsidize costs of those who can’t afford the facility.
“You cannot keep shoving the elderly in this country under the rugs and under the carpets,” she said.
The trailblazing Hollywood reporter often reflected on her father’s influence on her second career.
“The funny thing is he wasn’t very inspiring during my first career,” she said. “But he has been very inspiring during this particular time of my life.”
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— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.