The quest for affordable housing in Nevada County
Special to The Union
Editor’s note: The is the first of two parts.
There’s no place like home — except when you don’t have one.
Just like the rest of the country, Nevada County is facing a dual crisis of housing and homelessness. The two issues are inextricably intertwined because the lack of affordable housing is a major cause of homelessness.
Nevada County Health and Human Services Director Ryan Gruver, Housing Director Mike Dent and Behavioral Health Director Phebe Bell met recently to discuss the state of affordable housing in Nevada County.
Due to space limitations, only the most significant affordable housing projects will be reviewed here.
HOMES FOR HOMELESS
It’s taken a panoply of funding sources and multi-jurisdictional negotiations to create Brunswick Commons on Old Tunnel Road in Grass Valley. After numerous delays, the Commons is now due to open late this summer, reported Gruver.
“Twelve of the 41 units are for full-service partnership clients of Behavioral Health, people who qualify for the highest level of care and support,” Gruver said.
Hospitality House, Nevada County’s primary homeless nonprofit, is the lead agency to manage the income-restricted apartment complex. To be eligible to rent an apartment, tenants’ household income must be less than 30% of the area median income, Dent said. Featuring an on-site resource center, the apartments will provide transitional housing and support to formerly homeless people and those at risk of homelessness.
Located at the intersection of Ridge Road and Zion Street in Nevada City, Cashin’s Field is a three-story, 51-unit complex of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments on a fast track to open in January 2023, Dent said.
“We have quite a few (homeless) people who are actually working and living out of their cars,” Gruver noted.
Cashin’s Field is designed as “workforce and/or family housing,” Dent said. People living in their cars can trade in their car keys for house keys if they fall within the 30%, 50% or 60% of median income. Of course, anyone else who meets the income criteria can also apply.
The former Coach’n’Four motel in Grass Valley is being converted into permanent housing to serve at-risk-of-homelessness residents — and it’s ahead of schedule, Dent said.
Conversion of the former motel property into studio apartments is about half done.
“Nine of the 19 rooms are done and occupied,” Dent reported. “We’re anticipating converting the rest of the rooms by the end of the summer.”
Using Project Homekey funds for purchase and a Community Development Block Grant for renovation, the new Empire Mine Courtyard apartments will be managed by Advocates for Mentally (AMI) Housing to serve residents who need mental health support, according to Dent and Bell.
“Housing people is complicated,” Bell said. “AMI Housing is a great example of a partner who works incredibly hard and incredibly flexibly to keep people housed (who have) lots and lots complex needs and behaviors.”
THE RANCH HOUSE
The Ranch House “is going from a single home where three people shared the living space to six individual units so people can be more independent,” Dent said.
Funded through a program called No Place Like Home, the Ranch House provides “permanent supportive housing for persons who are in need of mental health services and are experiencing homelessness, chronic homelessness, or at risk of chronic homelessness,” according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development website.
For the privacy and security of the residents, the location of the Ranch House is not disclosed.
“There are about 140 people who we support heavily to stay housed — that can range from paying some of their rent to having someone there every single day to check on them, make sure they take their meds, make sure they’re doing OK,” Bell said.
PENN VALLEY SENIORS
Phase I of the income-restricted Lone Oak Senior Apartments in Penn Valley is open and occupied as of last July. Phase II has been approved by the planning commission, and the developers are “looking for that mystical financing,” Dent reported.
The two phases are mirror images of each other and when completed, will comprise 62 one- and two-bedroom apartments for people who are 62 years and older.
The Town of Truckee and the Regional Housing Authority leveraged federal tax credits to build the Truckee Artist Lofts, an income-restricted, mixed-use community. From studios to three-bedroom apartments, 76 upper-story units sit above ground-floor retail shops and commercial spaces.
Residents’ total household income must be less than 80% of Nevada County’s are median income.
“Truckee Artist Lofts is a place for creative individuals and households to live, work, learn and collaborate with one another,” according to their website. The common areas of the Lofts include an art room and band room. On-site management presents year-round programming and special events.
Dent reported 220 affordable housing units have been built or will be finished in the 2020-2022.
It’s not enough.
“We need more affordable housing. That’s the bottom line,” Gruver said. But, “We can’t do things that we don’t have the funds to do.”
Dent was blunt: “We need more money. This nation’s never going to get out of the housing crisis unless there’s a whole array of housing for everybody. It’s going to take some money to get the lower income housing built because you can’t build it without tax credits, housing subsidies — you need those things to make it happen.”
“The solutions to homelessness are much, much more broad than what county services can do,” Bell said. “Nonprofits, faith-based communities – they’ve always played a critical role in the array of services and supports to address this complex issue.”
She continued: “I think is hard for people to understand the role of government vs. the role of nonprofits vs. the role of individual people. I wish people understood better the way everybody can be part of the solution.”
Tom Durkin is a freelance writer, editor and photographer in Nevada County. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tim Kiser, the city manager for Grass Valley, presented solutions to the growing number of short term rentals (STR) within the city limits at Tuesday’s city council meeting.
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