Northern Santa Barbara County's new affordable farmworker housing complex, Guadalupe Court, has officially opened to its first group of tenants after a lengthy search for applications.

Located along 11th Street in Guadalupe and managed by Peoples' Self-Help Housing, the 38-unit complex offers housing to income-qualified applicants who receive the majority of their income from agricultural work.

The complex is made up mainly of two-bedroom units, along with several three-bedroom units and a handful of one-bedroom units. Tenant amenities include an outdoor courtyard, computer lab, onsite laundry facilities, a barbecue area, a playground and a community center. Peoples' Self-Help Housing also offers “wraparound services” for residents including an after-school education program and licensed social workers onsite. 

Before opening in September, the project initially struggled to find applicants during the spring and summer, a phenomenon that initially surprised many who work in affordable housing, according to Peoples' Self-Help Housing President and CEO John Fowler. 

"COVID definitely did throw a curveball to us," Fowler said. "Usually these things have a waiting list hundreds of people long. It usually happens very quickly. This has been a little challenging, but I'm happy to [say] that we’re almost all leased up." 

Part of the struggle to find tenants, he said, was due to the fact that many people were staying in their homes at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Legislature delaying evictions may also have caused less people to be on the hunt for immediate housing, he said. 

"It did take us a while to get the word out, for people to come find us," Fowler said. 

When applications did begin to come in more rapidly following increased outreach, Fowler said the process was further delayed by a lack of responsiveness from employers and government agencies, from whom the organization needed income and employment verification. 

"It was very hard to get employer verification. Even when you did get applications, employers weren't providing the information back to us. ... approving the applications became quite timely," he said. 

"Thankfully, the majority of units have now been filled and the complex is up and running," Fowler said. "The site itself is completely done and beautiful, so we’re trying to sell those last couple of units."

To prevent the spread of illness, the complex has implemented various safety guidelines, with face coverings required for staff and residents when outside their own units. The complex also has stocked up on sanitation supplies, personal protective equipment and sneeze guards to separate tenants and employees.

If a COVID-19 case was to be confirmed in the complex, all residents may be required to quarantine, Fowler said. 

Peoples' Self-Help Housing has multiple affordable housing projects through Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties, including three farmworker housing facilities in Santa Maria. The organization is currently working to complete an affordable housing complex for seniors in Orcutt called Sierra Madre Cottages

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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