SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- Organizers are laying out new framework to combat the housing crisis. A report by the advocacy group CAUSE says low income families in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties are getting evicted for no reason, while others are facing constant rent hikes.
“Affordability doesn't exist in California, doesn't exist in Santa Maria,” said Gary Hall, member of the North Santa Barbara County Manufacturer Home team.
According to U.S Census data, more than 50 percent of the population in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties is struggling to pay rent.
“All of the council members understand that this is a crisis," said Santa Maria City councilwoman Gloria Soto.
The question is: How do you get out of the crisis?
Organizers at CAUSE have a few suggestions after talking to people struggling to make rent.
“We surveyed nearly 600 people in our communities," said Abraham Melendrez. "We door knocked in areas that have more people of color, that have higher renter density.”
“We consider those rents to be too high and increasing too fast, especially when compared to the fact that a lot of us are on fixed incomes," said Hall.
On Tuesday, CAUSE released a report hoping to provide a snapshot of the housing crisis in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. It indicates that between 2014 and 2019, rents increased by 27 percent, while wages only increased by 8 percent.
According to CAUSE, many families moved to another home, or to another city; others got another job. But most families sacrificed other needs.
“Families are having to give up food, healthcare. Families are having to cut back on other expenses that are also just as important and as necessary," said Councilwoman Soto. “[We're] looking into inclusionary housing ordinances and seeing how those can best fit our needs, looking at ways that we can expedite for developers to be able to build.”
CAUSE has a couple of recommendations it calls 'low hanging fruit'.
“Those are things like renter protections, mandatory lease laws –'cause a lot of renters that we talked to are either doing month by month, or don't even have a formal lease at all," said Melendrez.
Then there's the long term list, “which includes rent stabilization, just cause eviction protections, and it includes habitability inspections," the organizer said.
Of course, funding is part of the wish list.
“We have at least 12 projects that we're working on, and half of them are stalled 'cause of funding," a representative of People's Self-Help Housing said.
Furthermore, CAUSE says Santa Maria faces unique housing challenges, citing local families who are being displaced by H-2A foreign guest workers who are recruited by the agriculture industry to work seasonal jobs.
“[One woman] was evicted because her landlord saw that he could make more profit by renting bunker style units for the H2A workers," said Melendrez.
The organization says it is forwarding its report to city leaders in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Melendrez is hopeful for change.
“Goleta recently just passed the inclusionary housing ordinance, Santa Barbara city just passed the just cause eviction ordinance. So local communities are already acting," he said.