What Do They Mean?

Decoding the language of housing

Are you confused by the bureaucrat-speak often used to describe various housing elements and policies? We were, too, so we put together a glossary to help you understand the language.

Affordable Housing

In the city of Santa Barbara the term means households should not be required to pay more than 30 percent of their gross monthly income on rent and utilities, or 35 percent on house payments, homeowners’ association dues, insurance and property taxes, and that the unit should remain affordable to subsequent residents or owners throughout the term of the affordability controls. Specific affordability requirements vary depending upon whether the housing is for rental or sale.

Area Median Income (AMI)

The Housing and Urban Development Department determines the “Area Median Income” for areas throughout the nation, and updates the figure approximately yearly. Municipalities use this figure as a basis for calculating the maximum rents and maximum sale prices permitted under various affordable housing programs. The current annual AMI for a family of four in this area is $64,7000.

The city of Santa Barbara uses the following guidelines to define income:

Income Percentage of Category/Area Median Income

Very low Income 50% or below

Low Income +50% – 80%

Moderate Income +80% – 120%

Middle Income +120% – 160%

Upper-Middle Income +160% – 200%

Density Bonus

When a municipality allows development of a greater number of units than would normally be allowed under the existing zoning. In general, as a trade-off, some of the units on the site are then subject to rent restrictions or resale controls.

Inclusionary Housing Programs

Designed to increase the availability of housing opportunities for middle-income and upper-middle income households. Programs, which vary throughout the South Coast, include requirements for larger projects to provide a specified number of inclusionary units within the project or pay in-lieu fees to be used toward producing more housing at an alternate site.

Sweat Equity

A term used by Habitat for Humanity in which recipients of low-cost housing are required to put in a certain number of hours of labor to build the house.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on October 7, 2004.

New housing inches its way into town

Housing projects from Habitat for Humanity, the Mental Health Association and Hillside House are all inching their way to reality. Here’s an update on these three projects:

Habitat for Humanity of Southern Santa Barbara County cleared a final hurdle to start with plans to build three homes for low-income families last week when the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD), backed by the Santa Barbara City Council, gave its final approval of a $240,000 loan to aid in the purchase of land on Via Lucero near upper State and Calle Real. It will be the first major building project for Habitat for Humanity here. Escrow was cleared last week.

Supported by local churches, corporations, foundation and individual donors, Habitat for Humanity has raised 70 percent of the nearly $800,000 needed to pay for materials, design and permit fees.

“I am looking forward to seeing many community volunteers out there swinging hammers,” said Mayor Marty Blum.

The organization will now recruit volunteers to help build the houses and determine who will live there. A requirement for homeowners is they must contribute 500 hours of “sweat equity” for construction.

The Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County’s “Building Hope” capital campaign to build up to 50 units of housing has raised 58 percent of its $4.1 million fundraising goal, organizers announced this week. Half of the homes will be reserved for MHA clients and half for affordable housing for downtown workers.

As I understand it, in the recipe of capital campaigns, reaching that 58 percent goal is really significant, said executive director Annemarie Cameron.

The total project cost is $17.3 million but with the City of Santa Barbara’s commitment of $4.6 million in Redevelopment Agency funds, bond financing and the donation of all development costs by Bermant Development Company, only $4.1 million will come from fundraising.

In addition to housing, the new facility at 617 Garden St. will also accommodate the MHA offices, a resource center for families and the Fellowship Club, where people with mental health disabilities can meet for social time and life skills learning.

Hillside House and partners Bermant Development Company and the County Housing Authority have been working closely with neighbors and the Planning Commission to develop a master plan for the site at 1235 Veronica Springs Road. The conceptual proposal for the 26.74 acre site, reviewed by the Planning Commission this week, included 38 residential buildings with up to 127 homes, public pedestrian, equestrian and bike trails and 17.74 acres of open space with 9 acres developed.

I think the neighbors are not as worried as before, said Kirsten Ayers, spokeswoman for the development group.

The project is planned in two phases to ensure that the 59 residents of Hillside House will be able to remain on the property continuously. Groundbreaking is not anticipated until early 2006.

This story contains additional reporting by Sally Cappon.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on September 23, 2004.

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.