Habitat gets land for condos

Building momentum for its first “ground-up” project in Santa Barbara, Habitat for Humanity has secured federal funding to purchase property near La Cumbre Road and will soon break ground on three, three-bedroom condominiums.

“With these funds we have achieved 75 percent of our fund-raising goal,” Habitat Executive Director Joyce McCullough said in accepting a $240,000 loan of HOME Program funds to buy the property from the city.

While the Housing Authority frequently works with nonprofit groups to develop rental housing for low-income people, the Habitat venture at 3965 Via Lucero is a very rare opportunity to be able to provide very low-income people with ownership opportunities, said Simon Kiefer, project planner for the city.

One of the principal concepts of a Habitat project is “sweat equity.” Homeowner families must contribute 500 hours of work toward building their home. They also must have a total family income between 30 percent and 50 percent of the area median income (estimated to be $30,000 per year for a family of four here). In addition, “We will look for families who currently have inadequate living conditions,” said McCullough.

The founding members of Habitat for Humanity of Southern Santa Barbara County — Bill Graves, Sarah Rettinger and Ben Ewart — knew it would be difficult to select a site in Santa Barbara and start building from scratch as a first project, said McCullough. Instead, some of their initial projects were remodeling the warehouse for Surgical Eye Expeditions; building a handicapped-access bathroom for Irene Dorado, who has multiple sclerosis; rehabilitation of Laguna Cottages for seniors; repairing the home of Bob and Mary Gilbert; and conversion of the Banana Bungalow Youth Hostel into a temporary homeless shelter.

Kiefer estimated that escrow on the Via Lucero property would close by the end of February. Groundbreaking will be soon afterward. Architect Vadim Hsu is just about ready to go to the Planning Commission for approvals, said McCullough.

“It should all dovetail nicely,” she said.

People can get involved right away by sending money or helping to coordinate community meetings for potential homeowner applicants.

“We’ll have building opportunities available once the site preparation is completed,” said McCullough, who can be reached at 692.2226.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on January 22, 2004.

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