Healdsburg city council members, investors, developers and Sonoma County officials gathered at the Mill District on Monday, July 19, for a groundbreaking ceremony for The Exchange, a 41-unit affordable housing development that’s part of the Mill District mixed-use project on Healdsburg Avenue.
Vice Mayor Ozzy Jimenez and council members David Hagele, Ariel Kelley, Skylaer Palacios, District 4 Supervisor James Gore and others donned white hard hats and stuck shovels in the ground for the afternoon celebration.
The apartment homes will target those earning at or below 50% area median income (AMI).
In Sonoma County, that equates to $58,150 a year for a household of four, according to an informational flyer from Eden Housing, the developer behind the project.
Of the 41 units, there will be 19 one-bedroom units, 10 two-bedroom units, 11 three-bedroom units and a two-bedroom manager’s unit.
The all-electric building will sit on an 0.86-acre lot and will feature a cloud-based energy monitoring system, a high efficiency building envelope, solar power and low-flow plumbing fixtures throughout.
The groundbreaking comes just five months after the groundbreaking for the overall Mill District project, which includes the affordable housing element, a 53-room hotel and other market rate residential units.
The Exchange/Mill District project has been about five years in the making and those who spoke at the ceremony touched on the importance of the groundbreaking milestone.
“We are truly thankful to be here in this moment, but more importantly, I look forward to being here with all of you a year and a half from now when we’re not just breaking ground, but we are handing out keys to people’s front doors to their new homes so they can feel secure. There are so many people living in our community right now that are living without secure housing. There’s a mother living right down the street in that trailer park who works at our post office who calls me once a week saying, ‘Hey do you have any news on housing? I cannot stay here anymore,’” said Councilmember Ariel Kelley. “There is a woman sleeping in her car right across the street from Foss Creek Court and she is a senior and she is waiting for housing to become available. I walk past her once a week and I think to myself I need to get her an application. I invite you all to think about how there are folks in our community who are genuinely ready to get housed but need our support to get there and I look forward to a year from now when we hand over those keys.”
The affordable project, which is being led by architect team Pyatok Architecture + Design and West Creek Builders, has a total development cost of $24,574,948.
“What I just want to say is that it costs time, it costs money and it takes partnerships to make these things happen … for me and for a lot of the folks here who sit on the side of the politics of it, what we have to do with you as partners, is be courageous and we got to have the guts and the will power to sustain it through because that’s the only way results happen,” Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore said during the ceremony.
David Hill, the managing director for Replay Destinations; Ciara Emery, a field representative for Congressman Jared Huffman’s office; Will Tesconi, a field representative for the Office of Assemblymember Jim Wood; and Linda Mandolini, the president and CEO of Eden Housing, also attended the ceremony.
“Eden has been working in Healdsburg now for nearly 20 years and our other project Foss Creek also happened because the city really cares about affordable housing,” Mandolini said when she kicked off the groundbreaking event. “When we opened Foss Creek in Healdsburg, I’ll never forget I was here riding my bicycle and they were moving in the first tenants and I met this woman named Vivian. It was her birthday that day and she said to me, ‘This is the best birthday present I could ever have imagined getting.’ She moved into a one-bedroom apartment and she was paying $500 a month and I asked her where she had come from and she said she was working as a lunch lady at a local school and I still work as a lunch lady, but I was living in my car. She said, ‘You have know idea what it means to me to have a home.’ Vivian still lives there to this day.”
Eden Housing currently has two other attainable housing projects in the Bay Area in the early development stage, including Dublin Regional Street and Mitchell Park Apartments in Palo Alto.
“A lot of our history as a development company is based on a significant amount of employee housing as well as affordable housing, so when we came to Healdsburg just about six years ago we understood fully what inclusionary housing meant and really tried to embrace it as best as we possibly could,” said Hill, who’s the managing director for Replay, the group responsible for the hotel and market rate housing aspect of the Mill District.
Inclusionary housing programs are developed by jurisdictions in order to ensure that developments have a certain percentage of low-income housing.
For instance, for the Oaks at Foss Creek, the Healdsburg City Council passed an inclusionary housing agreement that requires the developers to set aside 15% of the project’s units for low-to-moderate-income housing.
Hill said it was quite a process to get through on getting folks to believe in The Exchange affordable housing project, from planning commission approvals, council approvals, tax credits and more.
He said Councilmember David Hagele, who was the mayor at the time of the project approval, was a catalyst for getting the project approved.
“I remember sitting up there at the dais, looking out and Councilmember Kelley (who wasn’t a council member at the time) was there on the ground with a lot of vulnerable members of our community who came to our council meeting — and it was packed — and there were translators there and people were in tears saying you need to help us, you have to do something, we are losing our homes and we don’t know what we are going to do. Those are the kind of things as a local elected official, it really hits you. I do believe that it takes a village to create a home and when I look out now I see elected officials, I see representatives for our elected officials, I see community members — we all work together to make projects like this happen and we all have to work together,” Hagele said. “You forget sometimes that what is being created are homes. Homes for our neighbors, homes for our grandparents, homes for babies that are going to be brought home to those units and they are going to be members of our community that are going to grow in our schools, supporting our businesses and becoming a fabric of Healdsburg and that’s not lost on me. As exciting as it was to cast the ‘yes’ vote to get this project going, are work is not done as elected officials, as a community and as a village, we still need to work together with all of our developers to make sure that all of our community members have first crack at access to those units.”
So far, much of the infrastructure and foundation work has been laid for the housing project. The expected completion date for the project is Sept. 10, 2022.