Educators Call Housing a ‘Crisis’ in South Santa Barbara County

Affordable housing has been out of reach for many of Santa Barbara’s essential workers for years. As the county continues to work out how to meet its 2023-2031 state housing quota, educators from South County are urging county leaders to do everything in their power to prioritize and approve affordable housing projects so that the region’s workforce can afford to live in the communities where they work.

Last week, a coalition of South County schools and unions sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors emphasizing the growing need for affordable housing and the negative impact the high cost of living has had on Santa Barbara’s schools. They are planning to speak at the supervisors’ Housing Element meeting on Tuesday, February 14. 

“It’s challenging to hire new staff members when those from outside the area see the cost of living here,” said Santa Barbara Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Hilda Maldonado. “Unfortunately, it is just not affordable.” 

As previously reported by the Independent, to afford the average $2,935 one-bedroom apartment in Santa Barbara today, applicants would have to make at least $117,400 a year. For a $4,464 two-bedroom apartment, the applicants would have to make $178,560. 

“That is more than what teachers and certificated staff at SB Unified are paid, including those on top of the pay scale,” Maldonado said. “At SB Unified, 20% of our employees live outside Santa Barbara City, including some who live as far as Arroyo Grande or Camarillo. “

“The goal is to get homes for people who live and work in Santa Barbara as their primary residence,” Maldonado continued. “We need housing for all income levels so everyone has a chance to live and work here.”

In their letter, the group of superintendents and union leaders from South County address how the region has always been an expensive area to live in, but it is now becoming impossible for many workers to afford housing as costs continue to spike. They say that staff from Santa Barbara Unified schools have had to take second jobs, or commute all the way from Ventura or San Luis Obispo counties, just to make ends meet.

“As some of the largest employers on the South Coast, with thousands of full and part-time employees, we hear daily how the housing situation negatively affects the workforce,” the group wrote in the letter. “During a recent Staff Listening Tour at Santa Barbara Unified schools, the number one issue brought up was the high cost of living.” 

The coalition includes the Santa Barbara Unified School District, the Santa Barbara Teachers Association, the California School Employees Association, Hope Elementary School District, Hope District Teachers Association, Goleta Union School District, and United Teaching Profession of Goleta. 

“We are simply urging county and city leaders to prioritize the sale of land to developers who are willing to build housing units that include a percentage of units that fall under the category of ‘affordable workforce housing,’” said Goleta Union School District Superintendent Dr. Diana Roybal. “Without an increase in affordable housing, we will see positions go unfilled in our district.  As a result, that has a negative impact on our ability to provide a quality school experience for the students in Santa Barbara County.”

To meet the needs of workers from all income levels, the group is asking the supervisors to mandate the “considerable inclusion” of affordable workforce housing units in the Housing Element, beyond what the state is requiring for low-income units. They also ask for the creation of new funding to engage nonprofit developers.

“Equitable, affordable housing projects are essential to any path forward for South Coast housing,” the letter reads. “We know the solutions aren’t easy … . However, the lack of development is creating a crisis for our schools.”

The letter says that the housing crisis has made it difficult for Santa Barbara’s schools to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers and staff, and ends with a plea to officials to prioritize and speed up the process of finding and implementing solutions. 

“We know many of you are parents in our district and count on us to deliver on the promise of an exemplary education, so we urge you to prioritize your children, our children, and our community and heed the call for help to support affordable housing,” the coalition letter concludes.

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