Santa Barbara County will seek a consultant to study the issue of workforce housing and spend up to $245,000 to develop a strategic plan for developing affordable housing.

During the Oct. 5 meeting, the Board of Supervisors voted 4-0, with 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino absent, to issue a request for proposals and authorize the funding for a consultant to determine the true housing gap, study model housing programs, identify funding opportunities and figure out how the county can build strong financing resources for housing development.

Laurie Baker, grants and programs manager for the Community Services Department, gave the board an overview of housing affordability problems facing the county along with available subsidies and input the county received from various housing stakeholders.

“Land tends to be the most expensive element in workforce housing,” said Dinah Lockhart, the department’s deputy director for housing and community development.

Board Chairman and 4th District Supervisor Bob Nelson said he believes the county is closer to solving the homelessness challenge than it is the affordable housing issue.

“There’s a reason why real estate is expensive here,” Nelson said. “It’s a place where a lot of people want to live. It’s maybe the best environment in the world.”

Referring to assessor’s data from 2014, Nelson said the median house on the South Coast was $930,000.

“I don’t think you can get anything below the [Gaviota] tunnel for a million dollars right now,” he said.

That same data showed the median home in Cuyama at $30,000.

“We went on Zillow, and you can’t get a shack for $250,000 in Cuyama right now,” Nelson said.

He also said he is more interested in making it easier for people to buy homes than rent them.

“I think homeownership is a huge part of the American dream,” he said.

Nelson added that the North County needs more jobs, and he would like to see South Coast companies move northward so residents there could live closer to where they work.

First District Supervisor Das Williams said locating housing close to jobs is a big factor in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, pointing out that 60% of the county’s emissions come from vehicles, many of them driven by people commuting from one end of the county to the other.

Williams also favored using county-owned land to develop workforce housing as at least a partial solution to the high land costs inflating housing prices.

“My vision … is sort of like a stakeholder version of what the [Santa Barbara] city’s program is,” he said. “They essentially cover the second down at 2% interest, so they make a little bit of money and they essentially expand the eligibility of their employees for what they can buy.”

Williams said his idea is to build units for county employees on county-owned land, with the employees getting 80% loans from a lender and the county providing 10% of the cost at 10% interest.

“Of course, this model only works if people want to live there,” he added.

George Chapjian, director of the Community Services Department, said stakeholders have told the county the biggest bang for the buck is by purchasing existing buildings and converting them, rather than building new ones.

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