Friday, February 29, 2008

Slice of affordable housing opens downtown


After a year of anticipation and noisy construction, more than 100 residents and local political officials gathered yesterday near the corner of Anapamu and Anacapa Streets to celebrate the official opening of Casas las Granadas, a 12-unit residential building that will provide affordable, downtown workforce housing.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” said Jeanette Duncan, executive director of People’ Self-Help Housing, the non profit that spearheaded the project and will oversee its operation into the future. “It turned out much more attractive and beautiful than we ever imagined. It’s a work of art.”
In downtown Santa Barbara, which is known for many things, including its ever-expanding cost of living, which often forces workers to commute long distances into the city each day for work, the apartments are a welcome site.
“This has just been a delight,” Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum said. “This project really symbolizes the very best in our community.”
Located on the south side of the Granada Garage, near the Coffee Cat, the roughly $3 million complex is now occupied by 12 people who live and work downtown.
One is a single mother, another a Vietnam War veteran while another has a disability that requires he use a wheelchair.
While all have vastly different tales to tell, each has one thing in common: Santa Barbara is there home and it’s difficult to live here.
Michael Just, 53, who has been confined to a wheelchair ever since he was struck by a drunken drive a couple of years ago, said he now has a true home.
He said trying to find an affordable place in Santa Barbara that was wheelchair accessible was “impossible.”
“There wasn’t anything available,” he said.
Originally from Port Hueneme, Just said he began thinking about relocating to the Santa Barbara area last September when he got his dream job working for the Independent Living Resource Center, which is located about five blocks away from Casas las Granadas on West Victoria Street.
But he had little luck finding a place, so resorted to commuting, but that didn’t work out.
“I can roll out of bed and cruise to work,” Just said of his current living situation. “I think it’s the best place in the world.”
The apartments range in size from 485 to 575 square feet and cost between $560 and $680 to rent per month.
Four of the units are for people who have incomes that fall within 50 percent of the area’s median income and eight units are for people who make 60 percent of the median income.
The units join the already existing 600 affordable units that Peoples’ Self-Help Housing operates throughout the county, 331 of which are in the Goleta, Santa Barbara area.
City of Goleta Mayor Michael Bennett was on hand yesterday and noted that he and his colleagues are looking forward to working with the non profit agency in providing 63 affordable units in the recently approved Village at Los Carneros.
“We’re very, very excited by this,” Bennett said.
Looking back on the approval process of the project, Santa Barbara City Councilman Grant House said he remembers many people being skeptical that housing could be associated with a garage, but it appears to be working just fine.
That garage of course is the Granada Garage, which was completed more than a year ago. After it was finished, work began on Casas las Granadas, which has occurred in-step with a massive renovation of the nearby Granada Theatre.
Any skepticism the city council may have once entertained dissolved yesterday, at least for Blum, who told the crowd she wasn’t sure about the project at first, but now, “I would love to live here.”
Navigating the city’s sometimes arduous planning process for Peoples’ Self-Help Housing was local architect Detlev Peikert, who said his firm, Peikert Group Architects, has developed a fondness for working on affordable housing projects with local non profits.
“We specialize in affordable housing,” Peikert said. “We do get a lot of satisfaction of seeing how this type of housing helps people in need.”
Duncan said some of the units still aren’t completely furnished and anyone who would like to donate is encouraged to. The number for Peoples’ Self-Help Housing is 962-5152.

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