Fresno COG, Visalia reap key state housing grants

Sequoia Village will be one of the Project Roomkey locations converted to Project Homekey with new state funding - Photo by Rigo Moran

Housing projects throughout Fresno County, Visalia receive state money to expand affordable, climate-friendly housing availability

SACRAMENTO – Two different state housing initiatives released grant awards, furthering the effort to address the housing crisis across all California communities.

Local grant recipients include the city of Visalia and the Fresno Council of Governments (COG), which will distribute the award to its member agencies. The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) announced the awards earlier this month.

The city of Visalia received $13.8 million from the third round of the Homekey initiative, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s follow-up to the pandemic-era Project Roomkey. Fresno COG received $13 million from the second round of the Regional Early Action Planning Grants of 2021 (REAP 2.0).

“Governor Newsom’s signature Homekey program continues to demonstrate progress through partnership on solutions that rapidly create deeply affordable homes for people exiting homelessness,” Lourdes Castro Ramirez, state business, consumer services and housing secretary, said in a press release.

Homekey Round 3

The Homekey initiative is intended to help jurisdictions rapidly expand the availability of permanent or transitional housing for individuals experiencing homelessness or those at risk of homelessness. The nearly $180 million in grants announced by the HCD Oct. 10 is just part of the $736 million earmarked for the initiative.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the state created the Project Roomkey initiative to convert motels, hotels, vacant apartments, residential care facilities and tiny homes into temporary housing for people experiencing homelessness. Newsom announced Homekey in June 2020 as a continuation of Roomkey to continue to get people into more permanent housing.

Past Homekey money helped fund the purchase and rehabilitation of a former 50-unit motel in Visalia, turning it into Sequoia Village, a permanent supportive housing complex.

The city of Visalia grant is for a housing project named Majestic Gardens. According to HCD, Visalia and RH Community Builders (RHCB) Development, a Fresno-based organization working to reduce homelessness, will use the funds to convert an old motel, the Majestic Inn, into 41 housing units.

The Majestic Gardens units will serve chronically homeless individuals and include an on-site manager unit. They are located at 4545 W. Noble Ave. in Visalia.

According to the project proposal submitted to the Visalia City Council earlier this year, the site will be geared toward homeless individuals including those living with disabilities, and 25% of the units will be reserved for households that meet the federal definition of chronic homelessness.

Regional Early Action Planning 2.0

REAP 2.0 is structured to meet the state’s housing and climate goals by creating more housing availability while minimizing environmental impact. Eligible projects are ones that accelerate infill development, reduce vehicle miles traveled, increase housing supply across affordability levels and affirmatively further fair housing, according to HCD.

By supporting infill projects — such as building an apartment complex on a vacant lot in the heart of a city — the state hopes to cut down on how far people have to travel to reach essential services, thereby reducing vehicle emissions, and utilize all available land without taking away from farmland or natural open spaces.

Robert Phipps, Fresno COG deputy director, said the second round of funding builds on the goals of the first round, which focused on grants jurisdictions could use for planning activities, such as housing element updates and environmental impact reports.

Fresno COG is a voluntary associate of local governments within Fresno County. As the holder of the $13 million in REAP 2.0 grant funds, Fresno COG is accepting applications from its member agencies and will distribute the funds to projects that meet REAP 2.0 criteria.

“We’re looking forward to a variety of projects, both urban and rural,” Phipps said. “It is our desire to spread this money around; we’re not interested in seeing all of it go into a single project or location.”

Fresno COG member agencies can apply for funding through the COG’s community engagement hub website; community-based organizations may also apply as subconsultants to Fresno COG member agencies. Phipps stressed that the COG wants to ensure projects brought by developers have already been presented to local jurisdictions so that they can move forward smoothly.

Applications are open from now through Dec. 15, and Fresno COG is also looking for “affordable housing stakeholders representing communities not seeking funding” to serve on the application scoring committee.

The scoring committee will release a draft of the projects recommended for funding by Jan. 17 and the Fresno COG Policy Board plans to approve the funded projects by Feb. 29.

“Fresno County is vast in its area and its geography, and we would love to see projects come in from all over the place that we could help kickstart or help complete because the need is everywhere,” Phipps said. “Of course people feel it most acutely where they live, but the fact is the need is all around us.”

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