Santa Barbara County’s housing crisis affects vulnerable populations, including students who don’t have a stable place to get ready for school or complete homework.
For students who have to move around during the school year, they have to build new relationships and adapt to an environment that their peers already understand.
In a recent report by The Santa Barbara Foundation analyzing local housing shortages, researchers noted that housing and economic success are integrally linked, starting in pre-school and extending beyond college.
“It impacts their mental health as well as their attention to school in general,” said Hilda Maldonado, Santa Barbara Unified School District superintendent. “But we also know that there are some kids that are very resilient.”
The housing affordability report found that the average rent cost increased 31% from 2021 to 2023, going from $1,862 to $2,447 a month.
With a lack of affordable housing, 55% of renters are cost burdened, and 29% are severely cost burdened, making residents more at risk of homelessness.
For students who have to move around during the school year and change schools, they have to create a whole new set of bonds with their teachers and classmates, and leave behind an environment that they already understood.
“You have to establish a brand new relationship,” Maldonado said. “There are a whole new set of rules around how you get an A, what assignments there are, and what happens during the year.”
However, when students are displaced from their homes and become homeless, California law protects them from having to change schools.
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act means that homeless students don’t have to re-register at different schools every time they move, and the district has to provide the student with transportation to school no matter where they are living.
Chris Jones, a biology teacher at Dos Pueblos High School, also works as a realtor, and has helped numerous families and other teachers buy homes in the area. Jones said that students who are homeless or live in their cars struggle to find places to do their homework, which can impact their learning development.
“Anytime that you don’t know where you’re going to be, that adds anxiety, which cuts off the ability to think, so your ability to do higher processing is diminished when you have high anxiety,” Jones said. “So of course not having not having a space to work is going to cause those problems.”
Teachers in the district are facing the same issues. The housing affordability report found that most elementary school teachers in the county are making less than $70,000 a year.
“Anytime anybody’s under stress, that stress and anxiety leads to poor performance, whether it’s in the classroom, as a student or in the classroom, as a teacher,” Jones said. “But teachers do a great job of faking it for their students.”
The housing affordability report determined that renters in Santa Barbara County would have to make $47 an hour to be able to afford average rent and other expenses, but in reality the average worker makes $30 an hour, according to the housing affordability report.
Jones said almost every teacher he knows has some sort of part-time job to be able to afford the cost of living. Many teachers will pick up coaching jobs, teach extra periods, and teach summer school to make extra money.
Jones said he wonders how many teachers want to teach summer school and how many have to do it for the income.
“I’d be willing to bet it leans more toward the income,” Jones said. “Most teachers teach because they love kids. I don’t think most teachers teach summer school because they love kids.”
In its affordable housing report, the Santa Barbara Foundation found nearly 300 parcels of land that could be used to build affordable housing throughout the state. The Department of Education owns 83 of those parcels, according to the housing affordability report.
Many school districts, including SBUSD, are exploring building employee housing on unused land that they own.
In September, SBUSD announced that it is partnering with the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara to build employee-based housing for district teachers and staff.
The building is set to be built at the Parma School site at 915 E Montecito St., which has 0.66 acres and is located near shopping, transportation and schools.
A preliminary architectural study found that they could build a 40- to 45-unit development on the site.
Having employee-based housing would allow the district to keep and bring on more staff. Maldonado said they’ve run into issues when trying to hire teachers from out of the area.
“If they’re not from here, they’ll take time to come out and try to find housing, and then sometimes we’ll find after a month or so they’ll say they can’t find housing and can’t take the job,” Maldonado said.
Maldonado told Noozhawk that the lack of supply and the high cost contribute to employees struggling to find affordable housing.
Jones said a big issue he has seen families run into when trying to find housing is the lack of inventory and the cost of a down payment.
“In this town, you’re already strapped just to make rent, so how are you supposed to save $100,000, $200,000, or $300,000 for a down payment, when you can barely afford to live here in the first place?” Jones said.
For anyone looking for affordable housing, Jones recommends joining waiting lists.. For rentals, Jones suggests talking to people you know, and using your social media to let people know you’re looking for housing.