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A New Affordable Housing Development May Be Coming to Alhambra

A illustration of the proposed Mariposa affordable housing project. Photo courtesy of Alhambra's Department of Community Development.

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Alhambra , CA United States

Alhambra is looking to tackle California’s affordable housing crisis with a new 40-unit development that would provide permanent supportive housing and low-income rental units to tenants.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to direct city staff to flesh out an affordable housing project presented by Alhambra’s Director of Community Development Marc Castagnola. The city would develop the project in partnership with American Family Housing, a nonprofit affordable housing developer that has been operating for 25 years.

The proposed project would be located in Alhambra’s Central Business District, on 18,399 square feet or 0.42 acres of city-owned land by the AT&T building just south of Main Street, between 1st and 2nd Streets. The project would replace what is currently the 2nd Street parking lot.

The project, which the city has tentatively named Mariposa Housing, would be five stories tall, with the ground floor devoted to parking and the upper four stories made up of apartments. Twenty-eight of the apartments would be one-bedroom and one-bathroom units, while 12 would be two-bedroom and two-bath. The ground floor would have 40 parking spots, with half provided for the tenants and half for the public. The development would be within walking distance of most downtown Alhambra amenities.

“We have been waiting so long for this moment,” Castagnola said, adding that the city had been hoping to partner with a developer for a couple of years on an affordable housing project using leftover funds from Alhambra’s former redevelopment agency.

The city has around 440 affordable housing units, many of which are set aside for senior citizens and were built when Alhambra had a redevelopment agency that could get land through eminent domain and cover construction costs.

After the agency’s dissolution in 2012, Alhambra had to sell off excess land, making it difficult to find a city-owned parcel large enough for an affordable housing development, and a developer with the expertise to build such a project.

Many Alhambra residents have struggled to afford to live in Alhambra due to high housing costs. Last Thursday, more than 125 people attended a housing forum organized by Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles and co-sponsored by Grassroots Alhambra and the Alhambra Source to talk about their experience with rising rents and high housing prices.

Castagnola presented two financing proposals for the project to the City Council. In the first scenario, half of the units would become permanent supportive housing for tenants with Section 8 vouchers — a federal rent subsidy — and who make at most 30 percent of the area median income, which is $73,100 for a four-person household in Los Angeles County. Permanent supportive housing often includes healthcare, employment assistance, training on independent living skills and other services. The other half would be rented to low-income tenants who make at most 60 percent of the area median income.

With this plan, the project would qualify for state and county subsidies totaling more than $8 million, and the city of Alhambra’s portion would come out to $5.75 million. In the second scenario, the project would not qualify for state and county subsidies, and the city would have to bear almost $16.7 million of the cost. Castagnola said constructing a mixture of permanent supportive and low-income housing was more financially feasible for Alhambra, and a good balance between the two.

The total cost in both scenarios would be around $25 million, but the city would bear substantially more of the cost if the units were all rented to low-income families. The City Council voted unanimously to direct staff to continue designing the project with a 50-50 split on permanent supportive housing and low-income housing.

American Family Housing would also speed up the construction timeframe by pouring the concrete part of the development on-site, but constructing the apartments off-site using recycled shipping containers or prefabricated housing units, said Milo Peinemann, the developer’s chief executive officer. The organization used shipping containers to construct Potter’s Lane, a 16-unit housing development in Orange County for homeless veterans.

American Family Housing has also built affordable housing projects in South Gate, Long Beach, Pomona, and will soon begin construction on a project in South Los Angeles.

Three members of the public commented on the presentation, praising the idea, but raising the concerns that the city hadn’t done enough public outreach, and that would pose the risk that people who don’t understand the complexities of permanent supportive housing and low-income housing might oppose opposing the development. They also expressed concern that this project would be a one-time investment in affordable housing, instead of a long-term plan to address the housing crisis in Alhambra.

Financial negotiations have not started yet, but the City will be seeking to recoup its investment in the long term, Castagnola told the Alhambra Source.

City Council members responded enthusiastically to this idea, saying that these housing units could help the homeless and Alhambra families sorely in need of affordable housing. Vice Mayor Ross Maza and Councilmember Katherine Lee were curious about the recycled material being used for the project, which Peinemann said would save time, enhance the durability of the finished building and even result in cost savings. Lee asked if the City Council could tour Potter’s Lane and its repurposed shipping container units. American Family Housing agreed to this idea.

The City Council also voted unanimously to appropriate $10,000 from the Arts in Public Places fund to restore three historic Alhambra signs located near city limits at West Main Street, West Valley Boulevard and East Main Street. The signs were put in the 1930s or 1940s and were designed in the Art Deco Streamline Moderne style, according to Michael Lawrence, a member of the Arts and Cultural Events Committee, which recommends how the Arts in Public Places fund should be spent.

All three signs say “Alhambra” as drivers enter the city, and then “Come Again Soon” on the back for people driving outside of the city to see. The restoration would involve adding neon tubing to all of the signs so that they can all be lit up again when it’s dark. The back of the West Main Street sign would be repainted, since the “Come Again Soon” font doesn’t match the Streamline Moderne font used on the other two signs.

The City Council also continued until July 8 an appeal hearing concerning the denial of a permit by the Planning Commission to allow the construction of a three-story four-unit condominium building at 510 N. 3rd St. The hearing had already been continued two times before, with City Council members taking issue with the height of the building compared to the surrounding residences, which they fear would block sunlight and invade the privacy of the development’s neighbors.

Alhambra City Planner Scott Quyle presented on behalf of the project applicants, saying that additional landscaping and window treatments would address privacy concerns, and that a 16-foot driveway between the proposed buildings and the neighbors would minimize the shadow cast by the taller building on the other residences. The presentation also addressed Council’s concerns regarding architectural compatibility, with Quyle reiterating that the design had already been approved by the Design Review Board.

The City Council still had issues with the height and design, and asked the applicants to submit a redesign that would lower the height of the proposed building. If the City Council approved of the design, the project would go back to the Design Review Board. The City Council also asked that the applicants meet with the neighbors and try harder to address their concerns.

Alhambra’s Director of Finance Paul Espinoza also presented a draft budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins on July 1, 2019. The draft budget predicts $65,209584 in general fund revenues and $76,583,866 in expenditures. With net transfers and cost allocations of a little over a $11 million, plus around $150,000 in debt service transfers, the general fund is looking at a $445,358 deficit for the next fiscal year. In his presentation, Espinoza said that due to reductions in state funding, the city of Alhambra might face service cuts over the next several years, unless “additional sources of locally-controlled funding are identified.”

Espinoza said that the city would prioritize keeping core services, like maintenance of streets and local parks, ensuring safe and clean neighborhoods, and rapid 911 response to emergencies. The city would also identify “external threats” to keeping tax dollars local from L.A. County, the state and the federal government.

The City Council had no questions or comment on the projected budget deficit. The Council will vote on the budget on June 10.

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1 thought on “A New Affordable Housing Development May Be Coming to Alhambra”

  1. This affordable housing project will benefit many community members. It is important that city hall do its part to educate residents on the need for such housing in the city as well as get out in front of potential fearmongering by those who will try to kill this project because of classist/racist tendencies and misinformation about about the type of people who will live in these housing units. Such fearmongering has no place in our community.

    Alhambra is a majority-minority city and most of its residents fall within the low-mod income bracket. They are good people and desperately need options other than luxury housing units. Those who would speak ill of this affordable housing project do a severe injustice to the community and the many good people who deserve a roof over their head and a modicum of dignity and security in their lives.