City Council formally approves funding for The Lofts at Fort Visalia rental community and Sequoia Village motel conversion
VISALIA – Two months after approving a controversial location for a 100-bed shelter near Riverway Sports Park, the Visalia City Council took key steps last week to provide another 90 units of housing for the homeless in two other projects.
The largest of the projects is an 81-unit affordable rental community planned at 300 E. Oak Ave. in Visalia. Affordable housing experts Self-Help Enterprises (SHE) plans to raze existing buildings in what is considered the historic first block of downtown to construct The Lofts at Fort Visalia, a three-story, mixed-use housing complex combining art lofts with low-income housing and housing for the homeless. According to the staff report, the development will set aside 40 units for permanent supportive housing for those who are chronically homelessness or at-risk of chronic homelessness, meaning they have been without shelter for a year or at least four separate times in the past three years.
Three items on the consent calendar of the Aug. 16 meeting were unanimously approved by the council for the project, including an ordinance authorizing the sale of the former lumber yard for $1.2 million from the city to Self-Help, an amendment to the sale agreement allowing SHE to defer payment until February 2022 and the city issuing $2.7 million to help build the project. The money provides most of the local match SHE needs to fund the $30 million development.
The actions by the council set a timeline in motion to begin construction within the next 12 months. SHE will also be required to fill the building with eligible tenants within six months of completion.
The project will have a variety of housing including seven, art lofts and two fully accessible two-bedroom units on the ground floor and 51, one-bedroom units, and 22, two-bedroom units between the second and third floors. Thirty-four units are designated for households between 0%-30% of the area median income (AMI), 16-units are designated for households between 31%-50% AMI, and 29-units are designated for households between 51%-60% AMI.
The ground floor will feature a 3,500 square foot art gallery and community room, where residents could access resources. The Lofts will also come with amenities and services people associate with Self-Help projects, such as after school programs for kids, an interior green space with park-like features, offices, computer lab, laundry room, maintenance, and storage area.
The Lofts will serve Visalia’s current community while paying homage to the historical Fort Visalia, built from the famous Visalia oak just a few years after California’s admittance to the union in 1850. CEO Tom Collishaw said SHE intends to create a historical street marker with an artistic feature, as well as a mural that captures the historical significance of the site.
The $1.2 million from the sale of the property will be deposited into the city’s civic center fund. The city plans to use the fund to develop a new public safety headquarters that will also house the city finance department and a new council chambers.
It takes a million to raise a Sequoia Village
The council also approved agreements with Mooney Sequoia Limited Partnership to provide $1.5 million in the HOME funding to convert Sequoia Village, located at 1400 S. Mooney Boulevard, into homeless housing. Use of the funds was authorized in April and the property was purchased jointly by the city and Tulare County last fall under the state’s Project Homekey. The project will convert the 50-unit motel into 50 units of permanent supportive housing, the first step after leaving a shelter where the individual pays a subsidized monthly rent at a location where they can access case management and supportive services to help them transition into traditional housing.
The property is currently owned by Mooney Sequoia LP and is currently operating as temporary housing under the state’s Project Roomkey, which provided funding for local governments to use vacant hotels and motels to allow the homeless to isolate or quarantine during the pandemic. The ownership group is a partnership between UPholdings, RH Community Builders and Housing on Merit, a housing development organization with tax exempt status. Work has already been completed to upgrade the units for ADA compliance, new smoke detectors, façade improvements, painting, landscaping, and to remove mold. The project will feature other amenities for residents including on-site laundry, a computer room, pool and greenspace.
In addition to the city’s $1.5 million investment, the Kings/Tulare Homeless Alliance has promised $975,000 in funding and Tulare County has applied for $1.79 million in COVID relief funding toward the $5 million price tag of the project. The agencies involved are seeking an additional funding to complete the final phase of the project to meet all program and occupancy standards including a full sprinkler system, electrical upgrades, and kitchens added to all units.