Friday, May 09, 2008


The southern part of Santa Barbara county is one of the least affordable places to purchase a home in the United States. The median income is around $69K while the median house price is now down to about $1.1 million. Do the math. The history of the community and the patterns of ownership are complicated but the future is clear. The middle class is rapidly disappearing. Both the private and the public sector have difficulty getting employees because folk cannot afford to live here.

Add to that the fact that Santa Barbara is relatively cut off in every direction. To the south is ocean. There is one road north that goes across the Santa Ynez Mountains. In the valley, there are a number of small towns but the commute across the pass is treacherous and it takes about 45 minutes to get to the closest towns. To the east, there is also one road - the 101. Housing is spotty heading along the coast to Ventura (about 25 miles from Santa Barbara) and traffic is horrendous - remember, one road and much of it is two lanes in either direction. Many workers in the SB area commute from Ventura, Oxnard (the next town to the southeast), and further along this highway. Take 101 west along the coast and then north and the nearest town is Buellton, about 30 miles away with Lompoc about 50 and Santa Maria about 60. Fewer people commute from this direction and there is virtually no development for 30 miles so traffic is very reasonable and prices are more affordable, getting cheaper the further away you travel from Santa Barbara.

Churches in Santa Barbara without parsonages have had a terrible time attracting pastors. Those with parsonages (like Cambridge Drive) can attract pastors but often they don't stay long term. The loss of potential to build equity and the increased taxes that come when one doesn't have a mortgage make their tenures short.

We have lived in a parsonage the last 5.5 years and it has been a good experience. The house is very nice. We enjoy our neighbors. The church folk have been wonderful. Still every year, we have bristled at the size of our taxes, especially as we have watched those dollars fund the war in Iraq. And every year we wonder how not owning property would effect our retirement years. We have looked at the rare "workforce" housing projects in Santa Barbara - projects with restrictions on price, appreciation, and income of the owners. We haven't qualified for any that have opened up while we have been here. Even if we had, there are lotteries for the limited spots.

Recently we learned of some new projects in Buellton and we placed an offer on a condo in a project called Vintage Walk. The prices are still ridiculous compared to much of the country, we'd be giving ourselves a 30 mile commute (+9 more for Cheryl), moving into a smaller space with fewer amenities, and we'd live in a different community than where I do my ministry. The up side is that we could begin to build some equity and if the urban plan for Buellton takes place, we'd be in the middle of a very quaint little walking village. We'd stay put a lot longer than otherwise. Plus... Buellton is in the wine country. Remember Sideways? The condo we've made an offer on is about 3 blocks or so from the motel they stayed in.

Just what we needed to add more stress to our lives and more expense at the same time we're planning a wedding for Alexis. Still it feels good and right. I just heard that our offer has been accepted. We just need to hear back from the mortgage people and forward we go!

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