Santa Barbara's "tiny houses" proposal eliminated due to insufficient funds: SB County still hopes to alleviate homelessness
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After receiving a grant that fell $4.5 million short of the original amount applied for, Santa Barbara’s City Council unanimously approved a revised proposal on March 19th to reallocate their available funding to best address local homelessness.
Originally, SB City Council approved an application requesting $6.5 million from California’s Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP), which is “a $500 million block grant program designed to provide direct assistance to cities, counties, and Continuums of Care to address the homelessness crisis throughout California.” The primary goal of the original proposal was to create a temporary downtown facility comprised of 40 “tiny houses,” fully equipped with electricity, common restrooms, and showers, with meals provided, support services, onsite management, and 24/7 security. While this proposal was met with what Rob Fredericks (CEO and Executive Director of Housing Authority SB) calls an “allergic reaction” of public opposition from local residents, the obstacle that ultimately blocked this proposal’s success was the lack of necessary funding from the HEAP grant.
After hearing back from HEAP in December 2018 that Santa Barbara county’s grant would amount to $2 million, the city council and partnering organizations report they were forced to eliminate the tiny homes plan, and opt for a revised version of the project.
As presented in the March 19th City Council meeting, the new proposal delegates SB County’s $2 million in HEAP funds to a collaboration of local government, non-profits, and other organizations with the aim of expanding comprehensive outreach to those experiencing homelessness in SB County. Out of the grant, $410,000 will go to SB City/Police Department to staff the project and add one full-time police officer dedicated to restorative policing, $872,983 to City Net for ongoing street-level outreach including case managers, housing navigators, and data specialists, and $717,017 to Cottage Health to hire a mobile Nurse Practitioner and increase efficient, coordinated care. In-kind contributions will include an additional $856,000 from the Housing Authority of Santa Barbara (HASB) towards rental vouchers for unhoused residents in the process of becoming Section 8 tenants, and Cottage Hospital plans to subsidize added beds in a PATH temporary shelter.
Although SB County received the second-largest award out of all of HEAP’s grants, the funding was not adequate to provide any new permanent housing. During the March 19th meeting, councilwoman Sneddon approved the revised proposal as “a creative use of funds,” and Administrator Casey added, “I don’t want to diminish that it’s $2 million ... in an area of great need.”
Jeff Shaffer, who serves as the Director of Initiatives for SB ACT, expressed in an interview with the Horizon that establishing countywide outreach service helps to identify and assist those experiencing homelessness, but fails to fully address the crisis of homelessness in the community. According to 2019 data from the annual Point-in-Time (PIT) count, SB County’s population of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness has increased by 27 percent since 2017. Rob Fredericks finds this spike to be particularly tragic. “We haven’t moved the needle much,” Fredericks said in a phone interview, noting the extremely low housing vacancy of less than 2 percent in Santa Barbara, and the over 5,000 eligible tenants on a waiting list for Section 8 housing.
Going forward, the revised agreement for the use of the $2 million HEAP grant is expected to be finalized on April 2nd, and will run as a continuous program from April 3, 2019, through June 30, 2021. Many in the Continuum of Care hope for success in future proposals and grant applications similar to HEAP. Fredericks recognizes the need for in-depth public engagement and education around these issues, and Shaffer is actively working to raise up local advocates who are trained to contribute public comment in support of future affordable housing solutions. “At the end of the day, we need more permanent housing,” Fredericks says, citing the example of HASB’s El Carrillo single-residence occupancy units. Shaffer agrees: “If you really want to alleviate homelessness in Santa Barbara, you have to build.”