Residents are moving into Veterans Village, an affordable housing project in Windsor geared toward veterans experiencing homeless or who are at risk of homelessness that was partially funded by the town council.
Veterans Village is a 60-unit project for low-income veterans and their families located on a 9.75-acre parcel at Oak Park Street and Daybrook Drive. Regional nonprofit Nation’s Finest, formerly Veterans Resource Centers for America, will provide ongoing case management services to its veteran resident population who are very-low- and low-income, providing social services directly or otherwise connecting them to outside providers.
Rent support will be provided as needed by the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA) through its Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program, which assists homeless veterans, in addition to resources from the Santa Rosa and Sonoma County Housing Authorities.
“For some it becomes a life changing experience to get their own place and have access to the resources,” CEO Chris Johnson said.
Residents began moving in Aug. 21, while crews continued to put finishing touches on certain units and a community center. Johnson said the finalization process will take a few weeks, as the organization wants the units to be perfect when the veterans move in — and that the veterans themselves are ready.
Nation’s Finest is a regional nonprofit that serves the nation’s at-risk veteran population. It was started almost 50 years ago in Sonoma County by five Vietnam veterans. Originally named Flower of the Dragon, it was hailed as such a success that it received honors from President Gerald Ford.
Last year alone, Nation’s Finest served over 7,000 veterans in Northern California, Northern Arizona and Nevada. Nation’s Finest operates housing projects similar to Veterans Village in Santa Rosa, as well as Eureka, Chico and Redding.
Johnson praised the Windsor community for being supportive of the project, particularly the Windsor Rotary Club he said helped make the project successful.
“The organizations in Windsor have been extremely supportive, as have the neighbors. The community at large is rallying around the veterans,” Johnson said.
The project was partially funded by $500,000 in public funding collected from in-lieu fees associated with the town’s inclusionary housing ordinance.
Windsor’s inclusionary housing ordinance, originally adopted in 2004, requires that developers of projects over five units in size construct between 10-20% of units to be offered at affordable rates, depending on how affordable said units are. Instead of constructing the units on site, developers can opt to pay an in-lieu fee, which the town can use to help fund affordable projects like Veterans Village.
The town has collected $1.7 million from in-lieu fees associated with the ordinance, $1.6 million of which have been spent on three projects, including Veterans Village. The other two projects are in various stages of planning and securing funding.
Windsor Community Development Director Jessica Jones said, in addition to the public funding, city staff have been working hard throughout the development process to ensure project completion.
“The town has been working very closely with the developer to get this project completed and residents moved in,” Jones said. “Our building division staff has been working exceptionally hard, and our public works development team has been creative in coming up with ways to get the project to completion so they can get residents into much-needed housing in a timely manner.”
Earlier this year, the Windsor Town Council declared facilitating the provision of affordable housing as its top priority. Municipalities in California are required to get a certain number of new housing units at various income levels built every eight years — what’s called “meeting Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) numbers.”
According to Jones, as of the last counting in 2020, Windsor failed to meet its RHNA numbers for the eight-year cycle ending in 2023, with only 169 of the 271 required affordable units permitted, including Veterans Village. Windsor is looking at a 126% increase in its total RHNA numbers next cycle, with 994 units required by 2031 versus 440 during the current cycle.
Windsor has done the worst in meeting its numbers this current cycle when compared to other north and west county communities, according to SoCoNews reporting in February.
“The general understanding that there’s a lot of folks in Windsor and Sonoma County that are in need of housing at that lower income level, particularly our service workers, and that it is an important need in our community to provide that housing,” Jones said.
This opens the door for a ministerial development process, which means that developers can get certain projects approved with little input or control from the town. Town staff are currently developing objective design standards for ministerial projects, so that they will fit with Windsor’s character.
Jones said has a number of 100% affordable projects going through the approval process in the town currently, and staff and officials are working on a zoning ordinance update as a way to “encourage and facilitate the development of housing in Windsor.”
“We’ve got a lot in the works,” Jones said.
The inclusionary housing ordinance has faced criticism over its initial inability to facilitate the construction of affordable housing, as it was intended to do, with developers and others claiming it actually reduces the total development of critically needed housing in Windsor by increasing project costs. The ordinance underwent a series of amendments in 2009, with staff directed to consider options for further amendments and at the most recent council meeting Aug. 18 this year.