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Sequester Series: The Longest Wait
updated: Oct 12, 2013, 4:00 PM
By Alex Kacik
Gabriel Torres limps up the stairs of the City of Santa Barbara Housing Authority office on Laguna and
De La Guerra streets, shifting his weight from the railing to his cane. The 50-year-old single father of
two checks in and waits in the lobby. About 20 minutes later, someone calls his name and hands him an
"The Housing Authority is unable to give you any specific time frame as to when you will be called from
any particular waiting list," the letter reads. "We also do not assign numbers or places on the lists. This
is partially due to recent funding cuts to some housing assistance programs."
Torres receives a similar letter every week. He's playing a particularly difficult waiting game, one that
he hopes will end with him, his 12-year-old son Gabriel, Jr. and his 13-year-old daughter Cindy in a
long-term housing situation.
The family has moved four times in the past seven years. Transition House, a Santa Barbara homeless
shelter for families, is currently helping Torres pay for a two-bedroom apartment. Although his weekly
visit ends predictably, Torres demonstrates he's trying by showing up at the Housing Authority.
"I just gotta keep my fingers crossed and just keep waiting," says Torres. "And I know that's hard for the
kids to understand, you know, because they're kids. All I do is keep repeating myself over and over.
They're even getting tired of it. ‘Daddy you tell us the same thing over and over.' ‘Well, I don't know
what else to tell you.'"
There are 2,366 Section 8 voucher households managed by the Housing Authority of the City of Santa
Barbara and 3,670 by the county. The county's waiting list-2,590 individuals and families-has been
closed since July 1, 2009. The city's waiting list runs 7,393 households long. Signs posted in the city's
Housing Authority office read: "Effective April 1, 2013, applications for the public housing program will
no longer be accepted."
Patience doesn't put a roof over your head: Gabriel Torres comes back every week, hoping it's his turn for housing. (Alex Kacik)
Torres lifts up his left pant leg and taps on a plastic prosthetic-surgeons amputated below the knee
two years ago to prevent an infection from spreading. The doctor told him that he was permanently
"Being disabled or handicapped is not a preference that carries points," the letter in his hands reads.
Applicants are pushed up the list if they fall under one of five categories: the government forces a family
to move, the applicant is a project-based referral, the family lives or works in the South Coast, the
applicant doesn't receive housing assistance, or if the individual is a veteran.
Originally from Mexico, Torres has lived in Santa Barbara for 40 years, holding down various jobs over
the past three decades, including security and janitorial work. His wife passed away from cancer seven
"I don't know what I'm going to do. That goes for me and my kids," Torres says. "This has been
frustrating for them, not having a mom and having to move from place to place. That's just not right."
On March 1 of this year, the 2011 Budget Control Act triggered $85 billion in federal spending cuts-
split between defense and non-defense programs over seven months. The cuts, also known as
sequestration, translated to a 6 percent slash to housing authorities nationwide.
About 200 fewer low-income families and seniors throughout Santa Barbara County will receive housing
assistance due to federal budget cuts compared to pre-sequestration levels. And people on the waiting
list, like Torres, will have to wait even longer, says Rob Fredericks, the deputy executive director of the
City of Santa Barbara's Housing Authority.
"These programs, such as housing assistance and food-stamp assistance, those social services and
safety-net programs make up less than 2 percent of the federal budget," he says. "Cutting these
programs isn't going to solve the structural deficit of the federal budget."
Families using housing vouchers earn about $12,500 a year, according to the nonprofit think tank
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and spend roughly 30 percent of their income on housing.
Housing authorities pay the remainder of the rent and utilities through federal subsidies.
To qualify for housing vouchers in Santa Barbara County, families cannot make more than 50 percent of
the local median income of $71,000. Seventy-five percent of those admitted to the program earn no
more than 30 percent of the median income.
More than half of the residents in the high-poverty areas in Lompoc, Santa Maria, Isla Vista and Santa
Barbara spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to the Snapshot of Poverty
in Santa Barbara County study.
"Disabled individuals and seniors are amongst the greatest need," says Rob Pearson, Santa Barbara
Housing Authority's executive director. "If you have a fixed income of about $950 a month, that doesn't
pay for a studio in South County. They are really stuck."
This excerpt was provided by Mission & State. To read the full story visit MissionAndState.org
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