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New development for low-income seniors on the Central Coast is a step closer

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The Rona Barrett Foundation
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Works officially starts Thursday on Harry's House, an affordable housing development for low-income seniors.

Construction begins Thursday on a project which is the brainchild of a former gossip columnist.

She paved the way for Hollywood gossip reporting and was a regular on the Today Show.

But Rona Barrett, now 85-years-young herself, is the determined driving force behind an affordable housing development for low-income seniors, through her self-named foundation.

Harry’s House in the Santa Ynez Valley is the final piece of her vision of a community where seniors can access care that meets their needs and was inspired by someone dear to her heart.

"Harry's House is being named after my dad. My dad was my big inspiration for understanding what one was supposed to do with their life at some point in the life. And that was, if you have an extra nickel, and you don't need it, then give it to someone who does need it," she told KCLU.

"What I noticed was that the seniors in this country were always forgotten and I thought that was a big mistake," she said. "So one day I thought that I would do something. Harry's House has been a dream for ages."

Funded through the Rona Barrett Foundation, in partnership with the Housing Authority of Santa Barbara County, Harry’s House will include 60 studio apartments in a two-story building, as part of a wider development called Golden Inn and Village, which opened in 2016.

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Mike Mesikep
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Rona Barrett was well-known as an entertainment reporter on the Today Show

She told KCLU: "One of the first residents moved in and they captured me in the hallway and said, 'Oh Miss Barrett, I never thought I'd be living in a five-star hotel.' It certainly isn't a hotel but we have tried to make it a home.

"Something that a senior might never think they could have - especially if they're low income and have been low income for many years but this is also for those who found themselves losing their homes, not being able to find something they could afford."

Barrett says she hopes the work that the non-profit has done in the community can be replicated for others all around the country, as an innovative solution to the lack of affordable housing for low-income seniors.

"I think this is a model that one day I would like to see replicated elsewhere. I think that we can show people how and what we can do and the services we can provide where they're not charged a penny and it's all done through raising funds," she said.

She added: "It's not been easy, especially with everything we've been going through lately with the pandemic. It has really made things far more difficult than anyone would have liked it to be, or thought it could be."