Two years ago, the City of Turlock broke ground on the most ambitious affordable housing project in the city’s history.
On Thursday, officials formally celebrated the grand opening of Avena Bella, a state-of-the-art facility which meets green building standards and has already changed hundreds of lives.
“Now, two years later, look at what we have,” said Judy Binsacca, chair of the EAH Housing Board of Directors.
The 80-unit, $17 million facility was developed by EAH Housing, a San Rafael-based nonprofit housing corporation, in partnership with the City of Turlock. EAH representatives said the entire project, located at 500 W. Linwood Ave., went from concept to grand opening in four years – a new record for the corporation.
“Quite honestly, we think four years is too long,” said Turlock City Manager Roy Wasden.
The 100 percent affordable housing development offers two and three-bedroom apartments. Rents on the two-bedroom units range from $317 to $736 per month, depending on household size and income, while three-bedroom unit rents range from $374 to $858.
But most importantly, those apartments are making a difference in the lives of 80 local families.
“I’m excited thinking of all the lives we have been able to touch,” said an emotional Turlock Assistant to the City Manager for Housing and Economic Development Maryn Pitt. “… It makes it all worth it, truly.”
Avena Bella resident Nicole Esparza was previously living in a one-bedroom Turlock home with her four daughters. The house, in a bad part of town, was victimized with an attempted break-in while Esparza and her daughters were sleeping one night.
But then, on Christmas Eve, Esparza received the call that she had been accepted to move into Avena Bella.
“I wanted a stair-stepper for Christmas,” Esparza said with a laugh. “I got one; I’m on the third floor.”
Now, Esparza and her daughters have a safe place to live. And she’s taking advantage of the community’s numerous built-in services, getting help with her resume from the community’s resource coordinator.
In addition to resume help, the resource coordinator runs after-school programs and has established a neighborhood watch. And all residents have access to a community computer lab, pool, community room, play structure, and community garden.
Utilities costs have gone down for Esparza too, thanks to the community’s numerous green features.The development incorporates solar panels, energy-efficient heating and cooling using heat pumps, an energy recovery ventilation system that brings in fresh, filtered outside air, and super-efficient roofing. Developers expect Avena Bella to achieve LEED Gold certification, and to be GreenPoint Rated.
The units themselves feature granite countertops, maple cabinets, and energy-efficient appliances.
“Affordable doesn’t have to mean ‘Not a great place to live,’” Wasden said.
Though stories like Esparza’s are common in Avena Bella, many more Turlockers are in need of affordable housing. As of Wednesday, 530 families remain on the waiting list for an Avena Bella apartment.
“Clearly, we still have a lot more work to do,” said Mary Murtaugh, President and CEO of EAH Housing.
The City of Turlock is currently planning the second phase of Avena Bella, consisting of another 61 units. Those units would be one- and two-bedroom apartments.
Development of Phase II is contingent upon financing, however, and the City of Turlock is currently in the midst of a debate with the State of California regarding that funding.
Turlock Mayor John Lazar called upon Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to restore redevelopment funding, which made projects like Avena Bella possible. Since the state legislature put an end to redevelopment as a budget-saving measure in 2011, cities have no mechanism to build affordable housing.
If all goes well, Phase II could be financed as soon as this summer.