State grant supports Santa Maria Hi-Way Drive-In housing development

File photo by Caleb Wiseblood
SPACE TO LIVE: People’s Self Help Housing is geared to start construction for its new housing project at Santa Maria’s Hi-Way Drive-In in spring or summer 2024, and the state just allocated funding to help support the nonprofit in providing down payment assistance for future residents.

The California Department of Housing and Community Development awarded more than $4 million in grant funding to People’s Self Help Housing to support farmworker homeownership at its Hi-Way Drive-In housing project.

“What this award will translate into is essentially down payment assistance that will make their first mortgage smaller, and the size will become the right size for farmworkers’ income,” said Ken Trigueiro, the founder and CEO of the SLO-based nonprofit. 

People’s Self-Help Housing was one of five programs statewide selected, with the awards totaling $16 million from the state’s Joe Serna Jr. Housing Grant program to advance homeownership development projects, technical assistance projects, mortgage assistance programs, and programs for the acquisition of manufactured housing for agriculture workers, according to a statement from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office

“Serving farmworkers has always been a priority for us; we have a lot of rental units and some are set aside specifically for farmworkers, and we have long waitlists. We know there’s really high demand; farmworkers can’t find affordable housing in Santa Maria,” Trigueiro said. 

The People’s Self-Help Housing project will develop 49 single-family homes at Santa Maria’s Hi-Way Drive-In—with each home featuring three bedrooms and two bathrooms, he said. Sixteen of the 49 homes will be allotted to farmworker families, and the state award will help bridge the gap between farmworker income and housing costs. 

“It’s set up as a kind of loan, but there’s not going to be a payment due on it. That’s really the only way we can make sure the first mortgage will be affordable for them,” Trigueiro said. “Since this won’t add any more monthly payments, they can focus on meeting the payment on the first mortgage.”

Farmworkers in Santa Maria earn an average of $35,080—while the average household income in Santa Barbara County is $78,925—according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Trigueiro added that there are almost no opportunities for homeownership unless people make a substantial amount. 

“Sometimes farmworkers don’t make enough to make that mortgage affordable, and there’s a pretty substantial gap between income and cost,” he said. 

The remaining 33 are geared toward low-income families who make no more than 80 percent of the median income. The project will also serve to help Santa Maria meet the state-required Regional Housing Needs Allocation numbers to develop 536 low-income units, he said.  

Santa Maria received People’s Self-Help Housing’s application to redevelop the drive-in in March 2021 and went before the City Council and Planning Commission in the fall to get a zoning approval from commercial to residential. After some back-and-forth, the City Council unanimously approved the project in November 2021, and the project is set to begin construction in spring or summer of 2024.  

“It got attention because it was kind of a defunct thing. People remember it [the drive-in] from way back when and there was some nostalgia around that,” Trigueiro said. “It was hard for people to accept change there, but we had some pretty good support after people started to realize and hear about the needs people have for housing and how dire it is—especially for people not earning over the median income.”

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