Santa Barbara’s Creative Approach to Affordable Housing

In 2006, there were 6,300 homeless individuals in Santa Barbara County. More than 600 single-room occupancy buildings had been closed in the previous 15 years, which contributed to a housing crisis for the homeless. Faced with this sobering problem, the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara sought to bring affordable housing to the downtown area, not just for the homeless, but also for low-income individuals working in the neighborhood.

El Carrillo Studios

One of the more notable of the Housing Authority’s developments is El Carrillo Studios, an apartment community located downtown. Its 61 efficiency studio units have varying income limits. With 80% of residents relying on Social Security or General Relief, El Carrillo’s rental rates of $408 to $585 puts renting into the realm of possibility for these individuals.

From the community’s location near State Street, residents can walk, take the bus, or bike almost anywhere they need to go. In fact, car ownership is discouraged in favor of public transportation; strong preference is given to those with no vehicle. Covered bike parking and a covered bus shelter on-site facilitate alternate transportation.

El Carrillo fosters a culture of recovery and independence. Residents must adhere to mandatory treatment plans when addiction recovery or mental health treatment is indicated. On-site case managers and counselors ensure help is a stone’s throw away from residents’ front doors. In addition, nonprofit organization PathPoint provides free job-training workshops, as well as life skills and budgeting classes. A weekly community meeting and Saturday night dinners get neighbors talking to each other as well. Some community events have naturally evolved under residents’ direction, such as a library and a clothes exchange.

To avoid the typical inner-city housing projects of the 70s and 80s, the Santa Barbara Housing Authority has encouraged designers of affordable housing developments to utilize the Spanish Colonial architecture style that Santa Barbara is known for, characterized by graceful repeating arches, landscaped courtyards, and the occasional fountain. El Carrillo’s designers followed these cues, creating an attractive building with a varied façade that blends well into the neighborhood.

Designed by design firm Cearnal Andrulaitis LLP, El Carrillo was awarded the National AIA Excellent Affordable Housing Design Award for 2007. The beauty of the location makes residents proud to live there.

Other affordable housing developments

The following affordable housing complexes represent a few of Santa Barbara’s other efforts to resolve low-income housing shortages. The city’s commitment to excellent design and beautiful architecture for these developments appeals both to Santa Barbara residents and the many tourists who visit the city.

Casa de las Fuentes opened three years before El Carrillo as an affordable housing solution for downtown employees in the service and retail industries. Lush green courtyards and shared balconies showcase Spanish Colonial architecture and provide spaces for residents to meet. The 42-unit development includes 18 studios and 24 one-bedroom apartments, and requires residents to work downtown. Preference is given to renters who do not own a vehicle and agree to maintain that status during their residence.

Built in 2011, Artisan Court has 55 units for three different demographics: youth aging out of the foster care system, individuals transitioning from homelessness, and low-income workers in the downtown area. Nationally, between 18 and 22% of youth who graduate from the foster system experience homelessness within three years. YMCA Youth and Family Services provides additional support to these young people, helping them transition to independence. Just as it does in El Carrillo, PathPoint supports the formerly homeless with employment services like job skills assessment, job placement, and life skills classes. Artisan Court includes office space for these on-site services, as well as a community room equipped with computers and a flat-screen TV.

Bradley Studios offers 54 units for individuals who have achieved enough stability to leave the more intensive support services offered by places like El Carrillo and Artisan Court. Fifty percent of the studios are reserved for downtown workers, with the balance made up by former foster youth and formerly homeless individuals. Built in 2012, the complex won an Award of Excellence in Project Design from the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials. A community and recreation room fosters community, and on-site social services offices provide mental health treatment, addiction counseling, and employment services.

Casa las Granadas, built in 2007, also provides residences for downtown workers. Located just across the street from the public library and next to the county courthouse, the 12-unit affordable apartment complex sports the stucco, red tile, and arches typical of Santa Barbara’s downtown. Residents’ incomes range from 50 to 60% of the area median income, and all residents must work downtown.


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