Change for the better

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Change is always difficult, especially in a community like Ivanhoe.

Five years ago, people living in and around the unincorporated community questioned the wisdom of building a multi-million housing project in a community known for gang violence, graffiti, gaps in service and growing poverty. They were worried an affordable housing project would quickly degrade into a gang infested slum in a community already battling substandard housing for underserved residents.

Fortunately for Ivanhoe, those people were wrong.

On June 18, County and State officials attended the grand opening of Linda Vista, a 76-unit affordable housing rental community unlike any seen in Ivanhoe. In fact, it is the only new housing development seen in Ivanhoe since 1992. The 16 one bedroom, 36 two bedroom and 24 three bedroom apartments are made of lasting quality with hardwood floors, granite countertops and sturdy amenities including a 3,500-square-foot community center, tot lot and play areas, a full-court basketball court, barbecue areas with picnic tables, community garden planters as well as a beautifully landscaped central courtyard.

“Safe, affordable housing has long been sorely needed in Ivanhoe,” said Tulare County Supervisor Steve Worthley, who represents the area. “This is a community with high demand for agricultural worker housing.”

Worthley said the project converted an unfarmable lot that had remained fallow for 40-50 years into a high-quality housing project for the unincorporated community’s hard working people. Since the project started construction in 2011, the County has been able to help fund the construction of a community center for the Ivanhoe Boys & Girls Club, a new pharmacist has taken over the dying downtown pharmacy and discount retail chain Family Dollar will be opening its newest Valley store around the corner this summer.

“It’s all a numbers game,” said Worthley. “Putting 76 units here is a shot in the arm for a community this size. When you start getting enough population to frequent these businesses you start to see some commercial development follow.”

Jake Lingo, project manager for the non-profit developer Corporation For Better Housing, said this was the fourth affordable housing project his company had built in Tulare County but the first in an unincorporated area. Lingo said Ivanhoe was the perfect candidate for this type of project because it was experiencing overcrowding conditions and substandard housing due to the high poverty of the hardworking farm labor families and the lack of investment in the community.

“This has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional life,” Lingo said. “We had done work in Tulare County before and we knew the dire need in this community when we set our project in Ivanhoe.”

Lingo said the project was also one of the most difficult to fund. He said when they started the project in 2008, the economy was experiencing its worst economic climate since the Great Depression. Instead of downsizing the project or lowering the quality of the housing, Lingo turned to Tulare County Resource Management Agency (RMA) for help. RMA staff began seeking state and federal housing grants to support the new project in 2009, after encouraging the Corporation for Better Housing to focus on Ivanhoe. The housing complex cost $16.6 million to construct. The development was financed through a mixture of state and federal housing grants, tax credits and farmworker housing funds.

“We worked closely with Tulare County staff to identify Ivanhoe as a community in need and then to assemble the necessary funding to meet this need with a worthwhile project,” said Lingo, who managed the Ivanhoe project for Corporation for Better Housing. “This was a three year process.”

County officials were able to identify and help obtain $5 million in state Home Investment Partnerships Program Funds; $854,000 from the state Neighborhood Stabilization Program, $2.5 million in federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program funding, and to dedicate $150,000 in local county funds toward the Ivanhoe housing project.

“The side effect of something like this is that it forces others to look at their own housing projects and think about upgrading,” Worthley said. “If you are losing all of your good tenants to the apartments down the street, you will start to make improvements to get those types of tenants back.”

Corporation for Better Housing either applied for or provided $4.6 million in California Tax credits, $1.75 million in Joe Serna Farmworker Housing Funds, deferred fees and mortgage funding as Ivanhoe is predominantly a rural agricultural center. Residents provide labor for packing sheds and citrus orchards in the immediate surrounding area.

The development was financed through participation from: Alliant Capital; California Tax Credit Allocation Committee; California’s Housing and Community Development Department’s Joe Serna, Jr. Farmworker Housing and NSP 1; County of Tulare’s HOME, NSP 3, and local contribution; Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco; Pacific Western Bank; and the United States HUD NSP 3 Program.

“Tulare County has been a wonderful partner with their help in getting together the lenders,” CBH Executive Director Gwendy Egnator said.

Egnator said Linda Vista is the non-profit’s 55th housing project since incorporating 18 years ago, three-quarters of which are in the Central Valley. She said their housing projects are unique because they keep on-site managers at the sites and never sell them to for profit companies looking to turn a quick investment. They now manage nearly 4,000 units throughout the various affordable housing complexes.

“We really focus on the quality of our communities,” she said. “Not just the granite countertops and landscaped areas, but also the quality of the people who live here.”

Egnator said the community center – which includes a kitchen area, TV lounge and computer lab – will run afterschool programs for the children residing there, serve as a place to have a get-together or party and provide the community at large with a meeting place for parent-teacher organizations, service clubs or community projects. Egnator said Linda Vista has leased all of its apartments since opening applications in February.

Linda Vista is located at 15975 Avenue 327 just off State Route 216 in Ivanhoe.

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