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Quality, Innovation, and Revitalization Characterize New Housing Developments For Homeless In Anaheim

The city’s model for creating affordable housing benefits the homeless and the greater community.

Workers put the final touches on the El Verano apartments on East Lincoln Ave. in Anaheim. The project will yield 54 apartment units targeted for formerly homeless persons and low-income seniors. (HomelessPerspective.com - Tim Houchen)

By: Tim Houchen
November 22, 2020 —

On Wednesday, staff members from the City of Anaheim Housing Authority and Community Development Department presented an overview of affordable housing in the city to members of the Anaheim Housing and Community Development Commission. The report was a snapshot of the current inventory of affordable housing in the city and provides insights for a number of projects either current or set for completion by 2024.

There were two projects noted in particular during the overview presentation that are targeted at meeting the housing needs of the homeless population in Anaheim. One project is complete as of this month and is now accepting applications to lease apartments there. The other project will be complete sometime in the spring of 2021.

Both apartment complexes are examples of a model that has been established in Anaheim over time. Anaheim’s model for creating high-quality affordable housing is the product of a hard-working and dedicated staff of professionals who incorporate innovative solutions, often times across multiple departments within the city. Over time, Anaheim’s city leaders have built strong relationships between affordable housing developers, nonprofits and other community partners all vested in making Anaheim a better place to live.

This is an artists rendering of the Buena Esperanza motel conversion project on La Palma Ave. in Anaheim that will provide 69 units of permanent supportive housing for persons experiencing homelessness.

When everything comes together, and for Anaheim it has been coming together well, then big things happen. Affordable housing serves impoverished, isolated and marginalized populations. You can give a home to someone experiencing homelessness, but what benefit is there for the community to provide that housing?

Albert Ramirez is a Project Manager for the City of Anaheim and had this to say regarding these and other projects, “The City of Anaheim is committed to developing high quality affordable housing for all populations, including those facing homelessness. These projects highlight that commitment as they bring together high quality design, robust resident services and innovative partnerships.” 

A man works on a scaffold at the Buena Esperanza motel conversion project on Sat. 11/21 (HomelessPerspective.com Photo by Tim Houchen)

The City of Anaheim has found a way to benefit lower income populations and persons experiencing homelessness while at the same time they are revitalizing entire neighborhoods, from one block to the next. If you are not aware or have not seen this happening around you, I’ll have examples for you after telling you about two current projects in Anaheim that cater to the need for housing for homeless persons.

Buena Esperanza is located at 2691 W. La Palma Ave. in Anaheim. This is the site of the former Econolodge Motel and will provide 69 studio apartment units of permanent supportive housing and on-site services for veterans, persons experiencing homelessness, and homeless persons with mental illness. When complete in Spring 2021, it will be Jamboree Housing Corporation’s ninth affordable housing development with the City of Anaheim, a partnership that has added more than 600 affordable homes to Anaheim’s housing stock since 2008. Jamboree is headquartered in Irvine and is considered a leading developer of affordable housing in Orange County and throughout California.

This photo taken at the Buena Esperanza motel conversion project in Anaheim shows the refurbishing of the existing motel room units from the former Econolodge Motel and the new construction of a community building that will be location where supportive services and case management will be provided on-site. 11/21/2020
(HomelessPerspective.com Photo by Tim Houchen)

The motel conversion project, sometimes referred to as an “adaptive reuse project.” reduces the amount of time it normally takes for construction of similar types of facilities by refurbishing a portion of the existing structures. The two-story structure is currently being transformed into a Spanish-style design with updated exterior landscaping, new resident interior/exterior amenities, furnished outdoor courtyards, public art, and residential-quality façade elements that will help transform the commercial motel into an attractive residential apartment building.

Jamboree and the City of Anaheim have prioritized quality design for all past affordable housing developments to create a safe, attractive and healthy living environment for future residents – and to ensure the property becomes an asset to the surrounding community.

As homelessness continues to rise in Orange County and throughout California, motel conversions have shown promise as a swift way to build more supportive housing units at a lower cost. However, motels are rarely zoned to allow permanent housing of any kind – as was the case with Buena Esperanza.

Addressing the issue in 2019, the City of Anaheim Planning Department, Community & Economic Development staff, and City Council collaborated with Jamboree to move forward a Zoning Code Amendment that would allow for the conversion via a Conditional Use Permit process, the first ordinance of its kind in Orange County.

Joseph Gonzalez 32 yrs. is seen in this photo taken near the work entrance to the Buena Esperanza permanent supportive housing motel conversion project in Anaheim. Joseph said that he had been homeless on and off for two years and two months consecutively. He mentioned that it would be much easier for him to find work if he had a place to sleep, bathe and wash his clothes. 11/21/2020 (HomelessPerspective.com Photo by Tim Houchen)

The motel conversion process has now been adopted into a citywide Motel Conversion Ordinance, providing a more streamlined approval process that serves as a model for how to address the homelessness crisis in other municipalities throughout Orange County and across the State of California.

Anaheim’s citywide Motel Conversion Ordinance and the rezoning of the commercial property occupied by the motel and the transformation into the residential zoned property of permanent supportive housing for the homeless is an example of how jurisdictions create innovative solutions in order to meet the needs of populations that have been marginalized by poverty and homelessness.

Even more innovative solutions have ensured that the Buena Esperanza project be brought to completion in a timely manner and this project is one of only a few to date that have received loans financed by the Orange County Housing Trust Fund which was created for this purpose a couple of years ago.When Jamboree needed to secure a bridge loan in order to close escrow on the former motel.  Jamboree partnered with Providence St. Joseph Health – as part of its Community Benefit Fund – on a $9 million bridge loan for the project noting Jamboree’s importance as a community health partner.

Buena Esperanza is due to open in the Spring of 2021.

The next affordable housing project aimed at providing additional housing to meet the needs of Anaheim’s homeless population is El Verano located at 1248 E. Lincoln Ave. in Anaheim. El Verano is finishing its final phase of construction this month and the City of Anaheim has announced that lease applications are now being accepted for 54 available units that cater to low-income seniors experiencing homelessness.

The site is built adjacent to the award-winning Rockwood Apartments that opened in 2016 through Anaheim’s Homeless Assistance Pilot Program (HAPP) that serves 48 formerly homeless families. HAPP is an ongoing collaboration between the City of Anaheim, Anahiem Union School District and Illumination Foundation. Rockwood additionally provides 15 permanent supportive housing units for formerly homeless individuals under the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) that live with mental illness.

The Sandman Motel, which has a history of high service calls, and two nearby parcels will be purchased by the city of Anaheim for $3.5 million. The city will then lease the land to Innovative Housing Opportunities for the development of a $22.8 million senior affordable housing community. (Courtesy: City of Anaheim)

El Verano replaces the Sandman Motel, a former nuisance that was well-known as a place to purchase and ingest hardcore and illegal drugs. The motel was a frequent hotspot for drug overdoses along with many deaths contributed to drug overdose. The surrounding neighborhood and businesses along Lincoln Ave. including the Sandman Motel were dated, severely blighted and run-down.

The housing developer for El Verano is Innovative Housing Opportunities Inc. (IHO) based in Santa Ana. The City of Anaheim owns the property and Innovative will lease it for 65 years. IHO partnered in the development of Rockwood with Jamboree Housing Corporation. The two developers are instrumental in bringing this and many other quality affordable housing projects to Anaheim.

IHO has incorporated a high-quality interior and exterior design into the three-story Spanish-style structure at El Verano along with native landscaping and common exterior spaces that encourage social engagement and resident wellness. A community room provides access to services for residents that include case management, health classes, life skills training and other supportive programming.

At every turn, artwork is blended into a design that revitalizes the human spirit of El Verano’s residents and promotes a sense of greater value in the eyes of residents living in the surrounding neighborhoods.

The City of Anaheim and its partners are creating high quality affordable housing units and they are targeting areas of the city and populations impacted by poverty and homelessness. In the process of accomplishing this, an entire neighborhood is being revitalized as a result. Just ask any resident or business owner near the intersection of East St. and Lincoln Ave.

Residential construction is underway across the street from the El Verano housing project near East St. and Lincoln Ave. in Anaheim. The property was previously occupied by a restaurant that had been closed for several years. 11/21/2000
(HomelessPerspective.com Photo by Tim Houchen)

Directly across the street from the new El Verano housing project, residential construction is currently underway on a property that was previously occupied by a family restaurant that had closed and was left vacant for several years. The once-blighted property was the subject of numerous reports of criminal activity in the area since becoming vacant.

In most cases, when an announcement is made regarding the location of a new homeless shelter or even housing for the homeless, there is likely to be immediate pushback from the local residents and business owners. The most common fear is that property values will fall if these type of facilities are created nearby.

There are still a few businesses in dated commercial structures as you approach from the west towards East St. on Lincoln Ave. Maybe someone should ask the owners of these few remaining blighted properties about the effects, if any, Rockwood and El Verano have had on the value of their properties.

There are only a few dated commercial buildings remaining on the south side of Lincoln Ave. as you approach from the west towards East St. The replacement of these structures would complete the revitalization of the area. 11/21/2020
(HomelessPerspective.com Photo by Tim Houchen)
An auto repair business occupies the dated commercial structure located on the southeast corner of East St. and Lincoln Ave. in Anaheim. 11/21/2020
(HomelessPerspective.com Photo by Tim Houchen)

My guess is that owners will see an increase in property values and perhaps in the near future the dated commercial structures will be replaced by shiny and new places of business. Completing the revitalization of the neighborhood would reset the clocks of modernity for this area for another 50 years.

Anaheim has established a model for creating affordable housing for its underserved and unhoused populations. Through innovation, entire neighborhoods are being revitalized to the benefit of the underserved and the greater community making the model a win, win situation for Anaheim.

Now that there is a model for creating the opportunity for housing, It needs to be multiplied in order to realistically meet the needs of the unhoused populations in Anaheim and every where that homelessness exists.


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