The County of Santa Barbara HOME Consortium, with the assistance of its member cities of Santa Maria, Buellton, Goleta, Lompoc, Solvang, and the unincorporated County of Santa Barbara, prepared an Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice in 2020. As part of the preparation, a survey of community stakeholders and residents was conducted to get a sense of community positions on fair housing and more general housing and economic development issues. It was comprised of questions covering a range of data points including demographic information, residential information, knowledge of fair housing rights, experiences with fair housing discrimination, opinions on access to information on fair housing, and questions related to housing and community development more generally. In addition to the survey, community and stakeholder focus groups were held in several areas of the County of Santa Barbara. Participants in the meetings included but were not limited to community residents as well as members of organizations covering a range of services including economic development and job training, social services, housing, those serving the elderly and vulnerable populations. The focus groups covered a broad range of issues including housing, community development, and fair housing. As a result, impediments were identified and an action plan was developed. The following four impediments were identified through the Analysis for the City of Santa Maria.
1. Housing affordability gaps are increasing for both renters and owners, but renters are significantly more likely to face cost-burden challenges. The data in this report demonstrates that affordability is rapidly becoming the County’s greatest housing challenge. While these challenges are significant for most residents, they pose risks for vulnerable populations, including people with physical and mental disabilities, seniors, and at-risk youth and veterans.
2. Greater coordination in service delivery to at-risk populations is needed to address needs and prevent homelessness. The County is experiencing increases in homelessness and at-risk populations become increasingly more likely to become homeless when there is a lack of affordable housing options and service delivery is disconnected. Further, in an environment where resources are limited, efficiency and partnership are necessary to connect what’s available to those in need.
3. Asian applicants for home purchase financing are more likely to be denied than applicants of other races at the same income level. Hispanic applicants are more likely to be denied for creditworthiness. This data suggests that there is a need for targeted outreach to these demographics to address lack of access to credit and to lenders to explore issues around denials.
4. Fair housing protections and education efforts have increased, but residents still report a lack of fair housing knowledge and specific discrimination around source of income. Education around fair housing rights and enforcement is an ongoing challenge that governments must address continuously. California’s fair housing law includes source of income as a protected class, but residents reported that over 60 percent of discrimination they were aware of was based on source of income.
Impediments to Fair Housing practice are defined as any actions, omissions, or decisions taken based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status or national origin which restrict housing choices or the availability of housing choices. Fair Housing is defined as "a condition in which individuals of similar income levels in the same housing market areas have a like range of choice available to them regardless of race, marital status, color, religion, ancestry, sex, handicap, national origin, arbitrary age or any other category which may be defined by law now or in the future."
The State of California Fair Employment and Housing Act, which includes the California Fair Housing Law (often called the "Rumford Fair Housing Act"), is the primary state law banning discrimination in housing accommodations because of race, color, religion, sex, marital status, national origin, ancestry, disability, and familial status. California also upholds the Unruh Civil Rights Act of 1959 in barring discrimination in the state. The Unruh Civil Rights Act protects the right to be free from arbitrary discrimination in all public accommodations including housing. However, the primary state law is the Fair Employment and Housing Act. These statutes simultaneously guarantee protection from discriminatory acts by lenders, brokers, sellers, property managers, resident managers, and landlords on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, marital status, national origin, ancestry, age and disability.
The Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County currently has an agreement with the City of Santa Maria to perform various Fair Housing services in the City. As part of their agreement, Legal Aid provides the following services:
- random testing of apartment complexes to determine if Fair Housing practices are being followed,
- assistance in the resolution of discrimination disputes through mediation or, if necessary, litigation,
- public education about Fair Housing, and
- review of local newspapers and reporting on presence of discrimination in advertising of residential tenancies.
More detailed information about these services can be found on Legal Aid Foundation's website. For those individuals who reside in the unincorporated area outside the city limits of Santa Maria, Fair Housing services may be accessed through the Rental Housing Mediation Task Force.