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Council approves over $4M in federal money for affordable housing

ESCONDIDO — Three new federal affordable housing projects may soon be in the works in Escondido. City Council voted 4-0 at its July 17 meeting to allocate funds toward construction and rehabilitation costs of over 130 new units.

Councilman John Masson abstained from both voting and the public hearing preceding the vote, as he has a contractual business interest in one of the proposed housing complexes through his architectural services company, Masson & Associates.

Nearly half of the units voted on by the City Council will be for military veterans — a demographic which often struggles with homelessness — owned by the company Veterans Village of San Diego.

The $1 million in money for that project, dubbed Veterans Villas and slated for a location of 1540 S. Escondido Boulevard, came from federal Special Housing Adaptation (SHA) funds allocated for low- and middle-income military veterans. SHA grants, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, help veterans “with certain service-connected disabilities adapt or purchase a home to accommodate the disability.”

The site formerly served as the home of New Resolve, a 44-bed sober living center which shut its doors in 2013. Taking its place will be a 54-unit affordable housing complex, 25 units of which will have “comprehensive supportive services provided on site,” according to the supporting documents for the meeting written by Mike Strong, assistant director of planning for the city.

Veterans Village of San Diego (VVSD) expressed excitement over the affirmative vote.

“VVSD is honored and thrilled that last week the Escondido City Council voted in favor of approving VVSD for a $1 million residual receipts loan to be paid out of Redevelopment funds for the new Escondido Veterans Villas that opened up last week,” Kim Mitchell, CEO of VVSD, said in an emailed statement. “In an area where affordable housing is in short supply, VVSD is thrilled to be able to expand our mission with this valuable resource for homeless veterans in North County.”

At the grand opening event launching the housing complex held the day before the City Council vote, Escondido Mayor Paul McNamara cited the need for more housing for veterans and the dearth of them dwelling in the city.

“I always love these events because I always think these events are very symbolic of people who are committed,” said McNamara, who then gave a framed award certificate to VVSD from the City Council. “To me, they always inspire me that there is a future because all of you got together and what you’re doing is putting down roots … You’re really making a commitment to the community and I always feel that is a tangible event that we can see, that there is a future for Escondido and there is a future for this community.”

If approved, 10 units will exist for those earning 30% of the Area Median Income (“AMI”), three units for households earning up to 50% of AMI, and three units for those earning up to 60% of AMI, according to supporting documents for the meeting.

Another of the housing complexes given the green light, if modifications are made, will be built by San Diego Habitat for Humanity. Located at 245 East El Norte Parkway, the project calls for 10 homes and currently sits on vacant land. City staff has recommended giving the project $15,000 in seed money once, or if, it meets a set of conditions.

“While the project as proposed satisfies preliminary screen, there are multiple questions about the feasibility of the project as proposed,” Strong wrote. “Specifically, San Diego Habitat will have to study the stormwater requirements of the site and what can be built within those restrictions.”

At the City Council meeting, Lori Pfeiler — president and CEO of San Diego Habitat for Humanity and former mayor of Escondido from 1998 to 2010 — joked that some of the future homeowners of the project could soon be political competition for McNamara.

“I’m pleased to offer the home ownership opportunity. I really believe that when a family can put roots down and know that they own that home, that’s when you create a sense of community and you become part of the community,” Pfeiler said. “I actually tell all of my families that they should run for mayor someday, so look for some competition.”

Pfeiler further detailed that the homes would be three bedrooms, with 2.5 bathrooms and 1,100 to 1,300 square feet in size. They will include two car garages and come equipped as energy efficient.

After the hearing, Pfeiler spoke of the area demands for affordable homes and inability of market forces alone to get them built.

“We know there are thousands of families that are part of our economy that do not earn the high wages necessary to be able to purchase a home in San Diego County,” said Pfeiler via email. “Homes that are affordable would have to sell between 200,000 and 300,000 dollars. The market cannot produce a home in that price range. The federal dollars that would bridge that gap are absolutely necessary.”

Pfeiler said these homes will exist for families earning between $50,000 and $75,000 per year. She said that, next up, the project will hire a civil engineer to figure out compliance with stormwater requirements. She believes it will take about a month to do the studies, and then another month to write that up into a report that can be handed to city staff. Habitat for Humanity’s goal, she said, will be to get the project back in front of the City Council within three months.

National Community Renaissance (CORE), owner of the Parkway Village complex at 1825 E. Valley Parkway, received the largest grant of federal dollars in the form $3 million in affordable housing money. It will be used to rehabilitate the apartments for low-income individuals located at that site which were constructed in 1986.