Priced out in Santa Barbara: You asked, we answered

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In preparation for Thursday’s live on-stage broadcast about the housing shortage in Santa Barbara, we asked you what questions you have.

We received dozens of great questions. Many of them we’ll answer live at the event itself, but we wanted to get started. 

With the water crisis, why is the City of Santa Barbara approving so many high density housing projects?

Asked by Paula Schaefer

While water usage is of major concern, new development doesn’t seem to be the main culprit. For that reason, City Council hasn’t decided to enact a moratorium on development or changed local ordinances to prevent development from continuing.

“The actual net new water demand these developments have is very small in light of our overall community’s demand for water,” said Renee Brooke, city planner for the City of Santa Barbara. On average, over the last 10 years (2006 thru 2015), new development has accounted for 27 acre-feet per year (AFY), or about 0.28 % of the total drought demand of 9,500 AFY.

Also, many of the projects being constructed right now were approved years ago, some before the drought even began.

The city is most concerned with landscaping – that’s where most of the water used by residents goes. The good news about new, high-density projects, says Brooke, is there’s not as much space for landscaping, and the space that does exist is required to be drought tolerant.

How does rent control work in the city of Santa Barbara? Does it exist? If so, how do we pressure the city to enforce it?

Asked by Megan DeBrito

No, rent control does not exist. The issue has been raised over the years, but not talked about much in the past 20 years.

“My experience looking at various communities that have passed rent control, it usually has an active tenants rights group,” says Rob Pearson, executive director of the Santa Barbara Housing Authority, which provides affordable housing for low income residents. “Santa Barbara has predominantly renters, but they just have not been that organized in our community to try to promote rent control.”

A big reason we don’t see many rent control options across the state is because of the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act. In 1995, this law basically eliminated rent control throughout the state on any units built after the act went into effect.

“The California legislature realized in 1995 that rent control was having a chilling effect on the development of new rental housing because the investors weren’t sure if they wanted to build a product whose price would be controlled.”

But now, with more and more communities facing pressure from tenants’ rights groups, Pearson says he’s going to conferences where rent control is being discussed.

Last fall in Alameda, CA (a similarly sized city to Santa Barbara with the same percentage of renters), for example, citizens pushed city council to adopt a rent stabilization and eviction limitation ordinance. So, as long as these types of regulations don’t violate state law, we may see more examples of rent control throughout the state.

How many students at Santa Barbara City College come from outside of Santa Barbara? How do they affect the city’s housing market?

Asked by Alec Beloin

The initial mission of community colleges in California was to serve people who already lived within the region, so there was never any provision for student housing.

“City College students have to figure it out on their own,” said Geoff Greene, President of the Santa Barbara City College Foundation.

But since those early years, things have changed. SBCC now accepts about 3,200 students from outside the county each year.

The impact these students have had on the tight housing market has prompted discussions about whether the college should take an active role in housing their students. Those conversations started with SBCC’s former president, Lori Gaskin, and continue with the current president, Anthony Beebe. But, any action will take time.

“Even if we had the perfect solution today, we’d still be several years from implementation,” said Greene.

How many ESL students per year come to Santa Barbara and take up occupancy as a result of “destination marketing” by schools?

Asked by Marina Read

There are four for-profit language schools in Santa Barbara: Education First (EF), English Language School (ELS), English Language Center (ELC) and Kaplan.

From Switzerland to Saudi Arabia, students come from all over the world to learn English at these schools. Some students stay for only a week. Others stay for a whole year. Most of these students are hosted by families in Santa Barbara, which means they don’t compete for rental housing.

But, some schools rent rooms in apartment complexes in which they house students. Or, a student can choose to find his or her own housing altogether.

On average, about 400-1,000 EF students are in Santa Barbara at one given time.

ELC had a total of 553 students in 2015. While 69% of these students were housed by the school, 31% chose to find housing on their own.

Kaplan brings in about 130 students each year. 90% of them stay with host families.

We’re stilling requesting numbers from ELS.

What questions do you have?