Increasing prices in Santa Barbara’s South Coast housing market are driving more workers to live outside of the area, many of whom commute from as far as North County, a study released Friday shows.
The disparity between where employees work, and where they live, does more than pinch pocketbooks — it creates a trade-off between commuting, civic engagement, and quality of life, according to a study surveying 126 South Coast employers and almost 3,000 employees.
“There’s a spatial mismatch between the location of jobs and housing affordable to employees working in those jobs,” said Timothy McLarney, President of True North Research, which conducted the study for the Coastal Housing Coalition.
Roughly 75 percent of employees cannot purchase homes on the South Coast, while a third cannot afford rent.
As a result, more South Coast employees are trading off the convenience of a short commute for the luxury of owning a home more than 25 minutes away from their employers.
“The minute you get out to Lompoc, Santa Ynez, Solvang, Santa Maria, those rates of rentership were lower and home ownership are much higher. That’s a piece of the puzzle that shows how people are moving out there because they want to own their home and can’t seem to be able to do that locally,” McLarney said.
Beyond affordability, part of the allure, McLarney said, is the draw of a single-family home. Multi-family housing situations are encountered more often on the South Coast, he added.
The increasingly common housing situation leads to a “dual life, where they work here and sleep there, and commute back and forth,” McLarney said.
More than half of the commuters traveling more than 25 minutes to work on the South Coast said it reduces their quality of life and causes them stress. Seven out of 10 respondents said they spend less time with family and it reduces their involvement with the community.
Those who are living on the South Coast said that the majority of their income is spent on housing.
Ranel Phelps, a teacher at La Cumbre Junior High School, said she was given just three weeks to find housing on the South Coast after getting the job. The single mother secured a unit for she and her two kids just two days before starting. She spends between 60 and 70 percent of her income on housing.
Families spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing are considered “cost burdened,” according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“I can’t commute from Ventura because they [the kids] would pretty much be raising themselves,” Phelps said.
During the past five years, Santa Barbara Unified School District has hired more than 100 teachers following a slew of retirements, but many of those teachers resigned before even starting after seeing the high rental rates and steep home prices.
“They jumped at the chance to take the job, then weeks before said they can’t find a place to live,” said Ann Peak, the coordinator for certified personnel at SBUSD.
The lack of workforce housing leads to a dwindling talent pool from employers to draw from, McLarney said. As soon as jobs are available closer to a commuter’s home, they typically take them.
Almost half of South Coast employees surveyed said they have considered relocating to a more affordable environment.
“Most under 35 say they are seriously considering leaving the South Coast all together,” McLarney said. “Once they pull that trigger, they don’t come back.”
South Coast workers are divided in two camps, McLarney said: those who purchased homes 15 years ago before the housing market began to spike and those who began working in the area afterwards, now struggling to afford climbing housing costs.
Although homeowners who made purchases on the South Coast more than 15 years ago are more likely to live in a single family residence and “are much more positive about the housing market,” they are a retiring workforce, McLarney said.
“You’ve got to have housing reasonably affordable for employees running your economy locally,” McLarney said. “South Coast is going to become more dependent on those employees.”