Affordable housing proposed on Hwy. 12
For almost a decade, affordable housing options have been explored at 17310 Highway 12, the vacant lot south of the Sonoma Charter School, once home to Juanita’s Galley, a nationally-famous restaurant owned by Juanita Musson that burned down in the 1970s.
Now, with the right mixture of partners, a proposal is moving forward that could bring a complex of 60 affordable housing units to the Springs by 2015.
The plan began with the Sonoma Valley Community Health Center, which has been looking to relocate to the Springs. The property on Highway 12, owned by the Vailetti Family Trust, was ideal (see accompanying story above). The Sonoma County Community Development Commission maintained a contract for first right of refusal to buy the land, but when the state’s redevelopment agencies were shut down, the funding went with it.
“The redevelopment agency was going to buy the land, but when Gov. Brown stepped in and screwed everything up, everything went to hell,” said Marco Vailetti, spokesman for the trust. “When (the health center) found out my land was available, they contacted me.”
That was two years ago. The center wanted about 1.45 acres of the 6-acre parcel, while the Vailetti Family sought to maintain 0.7 acres for commercial development. That left about 3.8 acres, which both parties agreed would be best filled by affordable housing, so the health center and the Vailettis sent out a request for proposals.
“We jumped on it,” said Scott Johnson, a senior project manager for MidPen Housing Construction, a nonprofit affordable housing firm that has built more than 7,000 units across the Bay Area.
MidPen proposed building about 60 units, including one-, two- and three- bedroom rentals exclusively for low income households, defined as those making between $15,000 and $50,000 a year, total.
“That’s a big range of households in the Springs,” Johnson said. “There would be tiers of affordable rents.”
In addition, MidPen has committed to maintaining the sports fields used by the Sonoma Charter School, with a shared use arrangement in which the school would have exclusive rights to the land during school hours, while the residents could access it on evenings and weekends. The company also plans to build a pedestrian trail to provide a better pathway between the Charter School and Flowery Elementary School.
“One of the public benefit elements we’re looking to include is an extension of the Sonoma Valley trail. It gets kids off … a very unsafe Highway 12,” Johnson said.
Total project costs have not been announced, but Johnson said MidPen is seeking funds from the Internal Revenue Service’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit. Under this federal program, tax credits are designated to each state, which must designate a committee to review low-income housing applications on a competitive basis. The projects selected receive tax credits that they can sell to investors to fund the development.
“The Low Income Housing Tax Credit has been the main leverage,” Johnson said. “It creates a financial structure that is not reliant on debt.”
Johnson said the project would also seek support from the county. Nick Stewart, affordable housing finance supervisor with the Sonoma County Community Development Commission, confirmed that MidPen had applied for $700,000 from the County Fund for Housing – all of the money currently available in that fund. In Sonoma County, certain developments must include an element of affordable housing, or else developers pay a fee, which is compiled in the County Fund for Housing.
“We put out a notice of funding availability,” Stewart said, explaining that his department makes reports on each project for the Board of Supervisors. Four projects are competing for some or all of the $700,000 currently available.
“We don’t make specific recommendations. We can’t say this project is objectively better than that project,” he explained. “The supervisors will review these reports at their meeting on Nov. 13.”
Johnson said, for the time being, MidPen, the health center and the Vailettis are working in concert – all aspects of the partnership need to move forward for the proposal to continue.
“We’re coming forward with a master plan for the property. The pieces need to work together,” Johnson said.
That will remain true until the lot lines can be divided into separate parcels, at which point each entity can act independently. The partners are hopeful the subdivision can happen by next June. MidPen plans to break ground in 2014, and begin occupancy by 2015, but Johnson added, “There are a lot of variables” that could impact timeframes.
Founded in 1970, MidPen was instrumental in changing the face of affordable housing from the institutionalized public housing projects popular in the 1950s and ’60s to more attractive planned communities that have become the norm today. MidPen operates three nonprofit divisions, one that builds the projects; one that manages the complexes; and a residential services arm to provide tutoring and mentoring, computer and financial literacy classes, career development and other programs for residents.
“We spend about $3 million a year on social services for our residents,” Johnson said.
To learn more, go to midpen-housing.org.