'A place they can afford': Habitat seeks to build community for low-income seniors in Yuba City

Feb. 2—In a continued effort to address an ever-growing need in the Yuba-Sutter area, Habitat for Humanity Yuba-Sutter has proposed to build a housing project in Yuba City for low-income seniors.

After previous attempts to build affordable housing in the city for those unable to keep up with skyrocketing rents, Habitat is hopeful this new project along Walton Avenue will succeed and provide an option for those who are considered to be the most vulnerable in the community.

Previously, Habitat had approached Yuba City officials to provide affordable housing through efforts such as Project Homekey, which used funding provided by the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act. That funding made available sought to alleviate the shortage of affordable housing options in California. In 2022, a plan to convert Bonanza Inn, located at 1001 Clark Ave. in Yuba City, into 130 low-income apartment units was abruptly denied by the city after neighboring residents of the proposed project voiced concerns.

The city and its mayor at the time, Dave Shaw, said publicly that the denial had more to do with the process, not specifically neighborhood objections.

In January 2022, Shaw said that even though the city and council wanted to continue to work on affordable housing options for area residents, the project presented by Habitat did not fully answer the council's and community's concerns. The Appeal was provided lengthy answers given by Habitat to the community and council about their concerns, but Shaw said those were not sufficient.

"We are extremely supportive of what Habitat for Humanity does for our community, but at this time there are too many unknowns for us to proceed," Shaw said in a statement on Jan. 14, 2022. "It is not clear what the long-term revenue commitments from the City would be, or what the long-term impacts on the community would be given this property's location."

Joseph Hale, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Yuba-Sutter, contended that Habitat did provide the information requested and the project would have provided a benefit to the city and those living in the area around Bonanza Inn. He said the denial from the city and the concerns of some residents boiled down to an often-used excuse when it comes to low-income housing in populated areas.

"I think what it's really about is NIMBYism," Hale said at the time, referring to the acronym for "not in my backyard."

The project, if it had been approved, would have brought stability and security to an area that its residents said faced extreme challenges with homelessness and drug use, proponents of the plan said. However, the city ultimately decided to pass.

Before and since that denial, Habitat for Humanity Yuba-Sutter has continued to look for ways to provide housing for those priced out of current markets. The nonprofit receives hundreds of housing requests, including a large portion in Yuba City.

"A huge number of those are elderly individuals," Hale said during a December 2021 council meeting. "People who have medical care. People the hospital can't release until they have a safe place for them to go because their medical needs are significant. That's a big part of what we look at when we do this program."

To address the need for senior housing that is affordable, Habitat has approached Yuba City to build a proposed 20-unit retirement community for low-income seniors at a vacant property at 211 and 217 S. Walton Avenue. This time, Homekey funds won't be used and the city, and Habitat, are putting more of a focus on community outreach before any final decision is made.

"This is land we are seeking to acquire from the city of Yuba City as part of the Surplus Land Act, which requires the city to sell/donate their land to nonprofits first before they go to a public market," Hale said in an email to the Appeal on Thursday. "We requested the land next to the Moose Lodge for a low-income senior housing project. We are seeing a lot of low-income seniors losing their homes due to the increase in housing costs and we wanted to provide a means for them to live safely and securely in a place they can afford. We are seeking CalHome funds to potentially build out this site over the next year once the purchase is finalized."

On Thursday night, Yuba City was set to host a "neighborhood meeting" at the Yuba City Moose Lodge to educate and get feedback from the public. Earlier this week, the Appeal sent questions to Hale about the project. The following is his response.

Q: Is this proposal related to Homekey funding?

A: We are looking for future Homekey sites, however, this is not a Homekey project.

Q: If not, where is the funding coming from for the project?

A: We are working with the city to acquire the property under cost and are hoping to utilize CalHome funding and we are also looking at AHP funding from the FHLBanks.

Q: Who exactly will benefit from this project?

A: This project would be focused on low-income senior citizens. We have many inquiries and applications from individuals and couples seeking housing after eviction or who are in the eviction process as they can no longer afford their homes. We have a number of new property owners, who purchased rental housing and increased the rental prices significantly which caused a number of senior citizens to be displaced.

Q: What pushback, if any, has Habitat received in relation to the project?

A: The city has had a number of people reach out with concerns. We attribute this to not having enough knowledge on the project so we have been having neighborhood meetings to alleviate concerns. The second one will be tonight (Thursday) at 6:00 at the Moose Lodge.

Q: When is the project slated to be approved or discussed by the city council?

A: So we are already in agreement on the property and the city has already given their recommendation to move forward with staff following the first meeting. However, we wish to continue to work with the city to provide outreach and respond to the concerns of community members.

Q: When would Habitat begin construction on the project?

A: We are hoping (if everything goes forward as we anticipate) to begin design work which we would hope to submit in the late spring. If we are approved by summer, we would like to begin infrastructure and ground work in the fall and begin building in the spring of 2024. Full project completion we would have to have by the end of summer 2024 (so around 16 to 18 months from now).

Q: What would the building and/or buildings look like?

A: It would be 20 two bedroom units and a small community hall for visits with family and a small lunch kitchen.

Q: What security features or other features would be in place?

A: We will have an onsite manager and will utilize our offsite crew for maintenance. This is low-income senior housing, so we don't anticipate many issues.

Q: Can you speak about the benefits such a project would have on the community?

A: We have a large need for housing in our community and this would deviate a lot of low-income seniors going into homelessness due to lack of money to pay rents. I think this ultimately helps us project our most vulnerable population.

Q: Would Habitat manage the property?

A: We would provide an onsite manager and maintain the property with our Operations Team. In addition, for those seniors with greater medical need, we have our Supportive Outreach Services program that would be available to provide casework and help with any enhanced care needs. HCD will need to review the agreement and process to check for compliance with the Surplus Land Act. Upon HCD's review and approval, the agreement will go before the city council for approval.