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Friday, May 1, 2020

Pandemic slows down Santa Maria affordable housing project

Posted By on Fri, May 1, 2020 at 4:51 PM

Days of rain and the ongoing COVID-19 crisis delayed the construction of an affordable housing project in Santa Maria that was supposed to open in February but is now slated for June.

The Housing Authority of the County of Santa Barbara is working on the Residences at Depot Street, which includes two buildings with a combined 120 units that will house homeless individuals and provide them with a location to receive a variety of social services.

click to enlarge DELAYED Last fall construction crews worked on the Residences at Depot Street, which is slated to be complete in June. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • DELAYED Last fall construction crews worked on the Residences at Depot Street, which is slated to be complete in June.
Housing authority Director of Operations Sanford Riggs said in addition to the rain, there were some regulatory issues with the Pacific Gas and Electric Company related to the COVID-19 pandemic that lead to this delay. But aside from this, there wasn’t a slowdown from the contractors who are building the apartments. Riggs said the contractors were able to continue construction while abiding by social distancing guidelines.

In addition to the delay, the housing authority had to change how it communicates with future residents. Because the affordable development is federally subsidized, it’s already a lengthy process to review and verify tenant applications, something that's now more difficult due to the pandemic.

“It has been challenging of course with COVID and not being able to meet with people face to face with the regularity we normally would,” Riggs said. “So we’ve had to do things on the telephone, via email, via online, via fax.”

Despite this change, Riggs said the authority hasn’t experienced a slowdown in the number of people applying to live in the apartments. He said the authority has a full waiting list of individuals ready to move in.

While this project is intended to be a long-term solution to people experiencing homelessness, county officials and other organizations are also trying to quickly house people during the ongoing pandemic to stop the virus from spreading through the homeless community.

During the county’s daily press briefing on April 29, the county’s Homeless Assistance Program Manager Kimberlee Albers said the county recently housed 40 people in motel rooms in South County. This is part of the state’s initiative to lease hotels and motels for emergency housing during the pandemic.

But still, even with these people housed and other services the county has rolled out, most of the 1,200 people who sleep on the streets or in their cars in Santa Barbara County on any given night, will likely stay there, Albers said.

“All of our efforts to address COVID-19 impacts will still leave most sleeping outdoors,” Albers said. “Even if there’s a heat wave and even if there’s a heavy rain storm, which we’ve had both since the stay-at-home order.” ∆

—Zac Ezzone
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