Santa Maria Azure apartments
About 318 apartments remain under construction in the Enos Ranch development of Santa Maria, which has built the most housing units of any local jurisdiction recently. Azure Apartment Homes, 703 E. Meehan St, expects to begin leasing units in the coming months.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

With 5,736 housing units permitted in the past six years, Santa Barbara County has hit 41 percent of its development goals through California’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation.

It has been state law since 1969 that cities and counties plan for housing needs of all residents, regardless of income, and the Regional Housing Needs Allocation process, or RHNA, assigns units to each jurisdiction.

“You’re required to show you can accommodate that number,” said Michael Becker, planning director for the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments.

“Ultimately, it’s up to the market to deliver on that number. I don’t think our region has ever produced what the RHNA number’s actually been.”

On Thursday, Becker updated the SBCAG Board of Directors on progress in the current RHNA cycle, which ends in 2022, and plans for the next cycle, which runs from 2023 to 2031.

The state issues a number of housing units to each region based on population, and SBCAG will split it up among cities and unincorporated areas, and by household income level. Each government updates its General Plan Housing Element to reflect the number of housing units.

RHNA median home price chart

A Santa Barbara County Association of Governments report includes a chart of median home prices over time for Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. (Santa Barbara County Association of Governments graphic)

The RHNA numbers consider housing costs and the regional relationships between jobs and housing, as well as population.

Thousands of people commute into the job-rich Santa Barbara area every day from areas with less expensive housing, and “an increasing share of Santa Barbara County jobs are being filled by people commuting from outside the county,” according to a report by SBCAG on the RHNA process.

“Median home prices on the South Coast are over 100 percent higher than those in Ventura County and are 200 percent higher than those in North County,” the SBCAG report stated.

The number of Ventura County residents working on the South Coast increased 47 percent between 2000 and 2016, and would have grown more if not for the recession, the report concluded.

In the North County, Orcutt, Guadalupe and Lompoc have large numbers of out-of-town commuters, who work elsewhere.

RHNA jobs distribution

The SBCAG report includes job distrbution among Santa Barbara County areas, with 60 percent of jobs identified on the South Coast. (Santa Barbara County Association of Governments graphic)

“A comparison of existing housing and jobs suggests a housing deficit (adjusted by workers per household) is most significant in the South Coast followed by the Santa Ynez Valley with 21,200 and 2,000 unit deficits, respectively,” the SBCAG report states. “A similar comparison for the Lompoc and Santa Maria Valley regions suggests a surplus housing supply.”

Another issue is the higher median age on the South Coast, and a trend of more people deciding to “age in place,” which means jobs will open up to younger workers but housing will not, according to the report.

Santa Barbara County has 11,030 units in its current allocation, and jurisdictions collectively permitted 41 percent of those units as of May. Statewide, most jurisdictions are not meeting their housing need, especially in low-income housing categories, according to SBCAG.

Guadalupe has the highest production percentage, while Santa Maria has built the most units so far in the current RHNA cycle.

RHNA progress chart

Santa Maria has built the most units of any jurisdiction in Santa Barbara County. (Santa Barbara County Association of Governments graphic)

Santa Barbara has the largest jobs-housing deficit, and one of the city’s attempts to encourage more workforce housing was the Average Unit-size Density Incentive Program. Developers can build smaller units, and more of them, in a project with this program. While more projects were permitted and built, almost all of the apartments have been priced for above-moderate-income households, which make more than $93,000 a year.

Only above-moderate units were built in the city in 2019 (including accessory dwelling units), and the moderate category, for households earning 80 percent to 120 percent of the median household income, is poorly represented in recent development on the South Coast.

Santa Barbara saw just four moderate-income units built in 2015, and none since then. Its RHNA goal is 820 units for that category.

Meanwhile, Santa Maria, Lompoc and unincorporated areas exceeded their goals for moderate-income units.

RHNA moderate income units

Santa Maria, Lompoc and unincorporated areas have exceeded their RHNA goals for building moderate-income units, for households earning around the area median income of $77,500. South Coast areas have built very few units for households in this income level. (Santa Barbara County Association of Governments graphic)

Santa Barbara County’s allocation this cycle was the lowest it has ever been because of the recession, Becker said, but the next RHNA cycle is expected to have a much higher number than 11,030 units.

That’s partly because of state Senate Bill 828, which added criteria for the housing unit allocations, including overcrowding and cost burden (households paying more than 30 percent of income on housing), he said.

The state will send Santa Barbara County an estimated number in September, Becker added, and local plans are due in mid-2021.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.