The County of Santa Barbara HOME Consortium, with the assistance of its member cities of Santa Maria, Lompoc, Guadalupe and Carpinteria, prepared an Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice in May 1997, which was updated in September 2006. As part of the preparation, a survey of community service agencies was conducted to assess the number and types of Fair Housing complaints, Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data were collected and analyzed, and maps of the County's racial composition were created. 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.
- A primary impediment to equal choice of housing in the City at present is the lack of availability of affordable housing, particularly units for large families. Based on the vacancy rates, there is clearly a greater need for larger rental units than for zero and one bedroom units. The lack of affordable larger units constitutes an impediment to Fair Housing, and because Hispanic households tend to be large, they are disproportionately affected.
- Concentrations of low income and racial/ethnic populations are often segregated from other Santa Maria residents. The City must continue to make efforts to upgrade existing lower income neighborhoods in order to improve the living conditions of the residents and to encourage residents of varied income and racial/ethnic backgrounds to move into such neighborhoods. An effort must also be made to ensure a broad geographical distribution in the provision of affordable housing.
- Tenants and landlords are unaware of current Fair Housing laws. According to Legal Aid Foundation, the number of reported cases of discriminatory practices is on the rise throughout the County. The majority of housing discrimination cases goes unreported because of lack of education of tenants as to their rights and intimidation and threats by landlords. Many landlords are not professionals and are not aware of the laws that apply to them; it is believed that knowledge of the laws and their penalties can serve as a deterrent to discriminatory practices.
- Few programs exist to educate potential homebuyers. Increased homebuyer education is needed to prepare first-time homebuyers for the many responsibilities of homeownership. Potential homebuyers need to be given information about housing discrimination and the procedures involved in locating, qualifying for and securing a home.
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.