Houses Become Homes


After nearly a decade of anticipation for some, 81 Cottage employees finally stepped into their new homes at Bella Riviera.


Nestled among the hills of Santa Barbara’s Upper Eastside, Bella Riviera features a collection of 115 brand-new townhomes, villas, and cottages. Here palm tree- and floral-lined walkways and sweeping views of the California coastline complement two- and three-story Spanish and native craftsman style homes in a picture of serenity.


Modeled after university programs that offer housing to faculty, the Bella Riviera development was completed last winter and includes 81 affordably priced professional units sold to Cottage Health System employees, along with 34 market-rate traditional units for members of the larger community. Eighty-one Cottage employees from Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital, and Pacific Diagnostic Laboratories are now home- owners at Bella Riviera.


“When we started this project in 2003, the average home price in Santa Barbara was almost $1 million, and the supply of less expensive homes was very low, which made it difficult for CHS to recruit and retain one of its most valuable assets — its employees,” recalls Ron Lafrican, Cottage Health System Director of Benefits and Compensation. “The City of Santa Barbara already has an established affordable housing program and guidelines. Our idea was to take what already existed and overlay it on our structure to help our staff buy homes.”


For Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital employee and registered nurse Hannah Ferrer, living in Bella Riviera seems like a dream come true. “We feel really lucky to live here,” the Santa Barbara native beams.


Before moving to Bella Riviera, Hannah and her husband Arturo lived in a small studio on the Westside. When their daughter, Carmen, was born last July, Hannah remembers their challenge: “We didn’t have enough space.” She adds, “We always wanted to stay in Santa Barbara. When we realized that we would want to buy a house, we thought that we would one day have to move to Oxnard or Ventura.”


Having planned to rent for at least the next ten years, Hannah and Arturo were overjoyed when they learned last August that a two-bedroom cottage at Bella Riviera was available. By November, they had moved into their new home.



“It is not only a financial decision for those of us who bought workforce homes, but also a reinforcement of our commitment to Cottage Health System,” says Heidi Albert, RN (pictured above, right), one of the first to move into Bella Riviera. Heidi is a clinical resource nurse at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital’s Birth Center and a 25-year Cottage employee.


“It is truly not only a benefit, but a privilege,” says Heidi. “The views are stunning ... and I love the ease of commuting to work. I often walk, but it is great to ride the free shuttle and meet some of my neighbors and co-workers. This development is a complex and innovative social and financial experiment — and I would have to say so far it is a huge success!! It seems to be a universal sentiment in Bella Riviera ... We are so blessed to live here. Sometimes in the middle of a conversation with neighbors someone will get a big smile and say with wonder, ‘We live here!’”


Ron explains that the Ferrers are not the only family facing these challenges, “Each year we see more migration of employees to the Oxnard/Ventura area. We have to be creative to help employees stay at Cottage.”


Another concern for healthcare professionals, many of whom have irregular work schedules, is maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Clinical staff occupy more than 70 percent of the professional units, and Hannah notes, “We all work long hours at the hospital, and half of us work nights.”


For many, living in Bella Riviera provides an exciting solution to these challenges — increased financial security from owning a home rather than renting, as well as a reduced commute. As a benefit for residents and to decrease traffic congestion in the area, a complimentary shuttle between Bella Riviera and SBCH offers employees the chance to relax on the way to and from work on weekdays.


Retaining a strong healthcare workforce in the Santa Barbara community just became easier as many employees like Hannah can now afford to own a home in the same community in which they work. Hannah admits almost five months after moving in, “Living here still doesn’t feel real sometimes.”


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