In a rush to secure more than $6 million in funding, the Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday approved a grant application that would provide money for 40 tiny homes at one of the gateways to the city.
The city’s Housing Authority wants to erect the homes and ancillary structures on a 1.3-acre city-owned parking lot on the corner of Castillo and Carrillo Streets, to provide housing for the most vulnerable homeless residents for up to 30 months. The lot is currently used by a variety of downtown employee commuters.
The facilities would provide temporary electricity, common shower and sanitary facilities and meals provided by a nonprofit agency. The site would have a resident on-site manager, supportive services, 24-hour security and a Police Department work station.
The city said it would cost about $3.1 to pay for the homes.
The vote to approve the grant funding application was 5-2, with councilmen Randy Rowse and Jason Dominguez voting in opposition.
“The only solution to homelessness is a home and that is what we provide,” said Rob Fredericks, executive director of the Housing Authority.
He said Kansas City, Missouri, Seattle and Knoxville “have all created tiny home villages.”
Fredericks said, “these tiny homes are truly homes. They are not sheds with beds.”
Earlier this year, California enacted the Homeless Emergency Aid Program, or HEAP, which provides $500 million in block grants to cities and counties to address homelessness.
Santa Barbara County is eligible to receive up to $9.4 million in HEAP funds, an amount based on the countywide 2017 Point In Time Count of homeless individuals. The city’s grant application involves several community organizations, including Cottage Health, PATH and CityNet.
The site is located across the street from a gas station and a block away from apartments, houses and condos. The lot is covered with mature trees with heavy canopies, a fact that the city said would provide cover for the residents.
About 150 cars use the commuter lot now and if they are displaced, the drivers would have to park in other city structures.
“We can give a person a key to a home,” said Fredericks, who noted that he didn’t want the homes in the central business district.
“There aren’t any other available sites for us to have under our control to be able to respond so quickly,” Fredericks said.
City staff said the city’s grant application is much stronger if a site is already identified for the homes.
Several members of the public spoke at the meeting in opposition to the city’s rush to seek the grant funding. The deadline for the city to submit the application is Friday.
Critics said nearby residents were not given notice that the tiny homes were proposed for the area. In fact, the council’s staff report for the meeting makes no reference to the tiny homes as part of the grant application.
City Administrator Paul Casey said he takes responsibility for the rushed timing of the proposal.
“We could have come here two weeks ago, but we didn’t have a plan to give you,” Casey said.
He also said that he didn’t have to bring the matter to the council, to get approval to submit the grant application because the law doesn’t require it.
Councilman Eric Friedman said he has concerns about the location of the tiny homes.
“I want to look at other sites, but I also want to look at splitting sites,” Friedman said. “Are there other places in other neighborhoods where you can put this? Maybe 40 isn’t the right number.”
Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon too asked the city to consider other sites for the project, but that she strongly supports the concept of tiny homes, even if the commuter lot is the only location. She wants neighborhood updates on the project and increased police patrols.
“This is a great opportunity to show where it could be,” Sneddon said. “We are so desperately in need this type of sea change to the problems we are facing. I have been supportive of this for a long time.”
Councilman Gregg Hart said there is controversy up and down the state of California over the homeless issue.
“The state has no comprehension of this tension and this reality and is appropriately saying there is a housing crisis, there’s a homeless crisis, and the state has to do something about it, here’s some money,” Hart said.
Hart said city staff members were trying to hit a home run with its grant application, and instead should be going for singles and doubles. Still, he supported the grant application.
“The residents are going to have to have a say in this process and we need to figure out how to integrate them,” Hart said.
He chastised Fredericks for not wanting to reduce the number of tiny homes, saying “everyone needs to be more flexible” with the proposal.
Kori Rider, a homeowner and business owner in the area, said the lot is the wrong spot for homeless housing.
“I have had three break-ins by homeles speople in the past three years,” said Rider, adding that they climbed her fence and “defecated on my property.”
“They enter my front gate every day they got water from my spigot and they urinate in my yard,” Rider said.
She said she has been followed home on three occasions.
“Is this the image we are trying to portray in Santa Barbra,” Rider asked.
Other local cities and the county also recently declared homeless emergencies so they can apply for HEAP funding.
Santa Barbara County is in the early stages of planning for a 10-person project on county-owned land, Assistant County Executive Officer Terri Nisich said at Tuesday’s Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors meeting. Staff are looking for small county-owned sites near services, and expect to have a site proposal in January, she said.