A 2019-20 Santa Barbara County Grand Jury report “(is) Affordable Housing in Santa Barbara An Oxymoron?” opened with “The City of Santa Barbara has long been a desired destination for living and working, if you can afford the high cost of housing. The median price of a home is $1,170,200.”

This means many people, including firefighters, police officers, public works employees and clerical staff, cannot afford to live in the city where they are employed.  It also means the thousands of workers needed to staff businesses can’t afford to either.

Affordable housing really isn’t that affordable to build; the state and federal governments have created standards that escalate the per-unit costs. Large projects, like those built over the last few years in Lompoc, can cost more than $400,000 per unit to build. I am just guessing, but it will probably be substantially higher in Santa Barbara because of property values and local architectural standards.

It has long been thought that the South Coast simply sends its low-income residents up to the North County, specifically to Lompoc.

In 2018 the city of Lompoc sent a letter to the state opposing yet another conversion of market-based multi-family housing to “very low-income units.”

A chart comparing the percentage of low-cost housing in Lompoc compared to other cities was included in the letter. It demonstrated that Lompoc has 29% of its multi-family units designated for low-cost housing; Santa Barbara had only 5% and Goleta 6%. So, it’s clear there is a proportional imbalance when providing for low-income workers and their families on the South Coast.

“The (Santa Barbara) City Council needs a change in vision,” the report states. “It has spent the recent years guarding the interests of certain residents and neglecting the rich diversity of people that the city celebrates. The city of Santa Barbara needs to show that it will embrace affordable housing or inclusionary housing, as it did decades ago.

“Council members have been silent regarding recent low-cost housing developments, and those building efforts have floundered.”

They certainly try hard to ignore their responsibilities; according to the report they have only built a little over half of their Regional Housing Needs Analysis (low- and moderate-income housing) allocations.

The Grand Jury noted that “decades ago, Santa Barbara set a cap of 85,000 residents. Under the 2019 Housing Crisis Act, such a population cap cannot be established today.”

So, all you folks on the mesa who think you are better than those of us in Lompoc, Solvang, Buellton, Guadalupe or Santa Maria – think again.

Recent changes to state law require that cities must fast track low-income projects of 150 units or less within 60 days; it also requires zoning changes to allow accessory dwelling units, thus eliminating zoning that limits the builder to one house per parcel.

Low-income units provided by the Housing Authority or other nonprofit developers won’t be ordinary houses like folks live in who earn more than the low-income levels set by the government. If Lompoc is any indication, these will be very nice looking and well-maintained units that would command hefty rents if they were market-value housing.

And, the occupants don’t have to worry about cutting the grass or even watering the lawn; all that is provided for them. If something breaks, just call management and they’ll promptly fix it.

Sometimes karma catches up with the folks who least expect it; that’s the case for the social elitists in beautiful downtown Santa Barbara as they grapple with a statewide program to provide affordable housing.



— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committees since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at news@noozhawk.com. Click here to read his previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.