Friday, December 14, 2007

St. Vincent's housing project opens its doors


For the last four months, Dionne Stubbs had been staying in local hotels with her two autistic sons, desperately searching for a place to live.
She pulled up her Arizona roots in August, leaving Scottsdale in pursuit of better educational opportunities for her children in Santa Barbara. Although she expected higher rental prices in California, she said the local housing market shocked her.

“Oh, it was much more expensive than I expected,” Stubbs said. “…The biggest hassle was going to these showings, which I’ve never heard of for rentals. You’re there with four or five other people and it’s basically a competition.”
So when a woman at Catholic Charities on Haley Street told her about an affordable housing project for low-income families going up at the St. Vincent’s campus near Calle Real and Highway 154, she sent in an application and crossed her fingers.
In early November, word came through. Stubbs and her two sons, Aaron, 12, and Syirei, 21, had qualified in a lottery of more than 450 other families for a brand-new, spacious three-bedroom apartment at the recently constructed St. Vincent’s Gardens.
“It was perfect timing,” she said. “I moved in on my birthday. I’ll always remember that now, the day we moved in.”
Stubbs and her sons joined 73 other families who have found a home at St. Vincent’s, along with a group of low-income seniors moving into the 94-unit Villa Caridad complex, also on the St. Vincent’s campus.
The Gardens and Villa Caridad are the end result of a two-pronged affordable housing project that has been in various stages of development since February 1997, when St. Vincent’s Daughters of Charity conducted an analysis of community needs and found low-income housing at the top of the list.
“They actually had the idea to develop part of their property for affordable housing,” said Mee Heh Risdon, a project manager with Mercy Housing.
A partnership between the Sisters, Los Angeles-based non-profit Mercy Housing, and city and county officials grew out of the discussion.
“It’s taken a lot to pull all the parties together and come up with a plan and finance it and so on,” Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum said. “We were very supportive from the beginning.”
After the city annexed the property, Redevelopment Agency funds and financial support from the County of Santa Barbara helped pave the way for planning and construction, which started in 2004.
Work on the residential buildings is pretty much complete, Risdon said, adding that final touches on the roadway are expected to wrap up by the end of the month. Several projects remain on the broader campus and off-site, including the restoration of Cieneguitas Creek, repaving of a portion of Calle Real and installation of a traffic signal at Calle Real and Old Mill Road.
Risdon said both housing complexes received certificates of occupancy in October and started letting folks move into their apartments in early November.
“It’s great,” she said. “Some of these families have been waiting a long time to move in and are happy to be in a new home for the holidays and the new year.”
Although about 13 families are still working their way through the application and interview process, Oscar Funez, the manager of St. Vincent’s Gardens, said he has been working weekends for the last six months in an attempt to get everyone settled in by Christmas.
“I think it would be great for them to be in their own home,” he said. “Even though they have to rent, to have their own place to call home for that special day would be great.”
Although the families and seniors that made it through the application process will likely enjoy the holiday season in a new home, the need for affordable housing remains a critical issue in the Santa Barbara area, as evidenced by the large applicant pools and lengthy waiting lists for both St. Vincent’s projects.
“I know we have probably 460 people that already applied [for St. Vincent’s Gardens],” Funez said. “It’s been a long, long and hard process.”
Although Risdon did not have exact figures for how many seniors applied for housing at Villa Caridad, she said housing management used a lottery system to determine qualified candidates.
“That’s the only way to keep the process fair,” she said. “It’s subjective, trying to determine who is the most needy.”
Applicants that made the cutoff date received a randomly assigned a number, which served as the order in which management reviewed their applications. Those that met income and credit qualifications first were given the opportunity to sign a lease.
When Stubbs found out she had made the cut, she didn’t even stop by to see the apartment.
“I didn’t care,” she said. “When you have been looking for so long, you don’t care what it looks like. I knew it was new and had three bedrooms.”
She had signed the lease and received her keys before even stepping foot in her new home.
“We loved it,” she said. “…I feel really lucky to get in. After a while, you start losing hope.”
Working on a doctorate in psychology and planning to get her sons enrolled in a local autism program, Stubbs hopes to settle down in Santa Barbara, eventually opening her own practice. For now, she said she is just happy to have a place to call home.


GF said...

is St. Vincent's going to have any kind of Open House celebration for the community?

St. Vincent's Gardens Apartments said...

No news about an open house yet, but we still giving away application, waiting list still open for both buildings (St. Vincent's Gardens: 2,3 and 4 bedrooms for families and Villa Caridad: single apartment for seniors 62 years or older)Villa Caridad is located at 4202 Calle Real, Santa Barbara, CA 93110 and St. Vincent's Gardens 4234 Pozzo Circle, Santa Barbara, CA 93110.

Anonymous said...

I am shocked that these valuable residences are available to anyone who has just moved here from another state. What about our poverty stricken residents who have been here for years?

Anonymous said...

I believe that housing should be based on a need, and not on who had residential status the longest in the state. I am sure that if you were a single parent of two disabled children, you would want them to have housing as soon as possble. After all, the elderly and the disabled should always be high up on the priority list.