A New Model Takes Shape At Journey’s End
Summary: Responding to an affordable housing crisis in Sonoma County, exacerbated by the October 2017 fires, a new partnership and resilience fund is taking shape, led by local partners and Enterprise Community Partners (LINK)
While not designed for use in Opportunity Zones, the new Journey’s End financing model could pave the way for scaling OZ housing investments in Sonoma and other communities across the state.
In early 2017, housing affordability had reached a crisis point in Sonoma County: low-income renters were spending an close to 70% of their income on rent and utilities, the rental vacancy rate was approximately 1%, and residential rental rates and sales prices had reached all time highs. State and federal investment in affordable housing production and preservation had decreased by 87% since 2008, and the County faced a severe affordable housing gap to meet the needs of its lowest income renters. Then, on the evening of October 8, 2017, the wildfires that swept through Napa and Sonoma Counties destroyed 5,297 homes in the span of just a few days. In the aftermath of the fires, Sonoma County needs 30,000 new housing units within five years in order to achieve an equitable jobs-housing balance according to the Sonoma County Community Development Commission.
One affordable housing project that typifies both the devastation caused by the fires and the collaborative approach required in order to prevent long-term displacement and to increase resiliency and housing security for the future is the site known as Journey’s End, located in Santa Rosa, California. A mobile home park with 160 households (primarily low income seniors), Journey’s End was largely destroyed by the wildfires that swept through the site: after the fire, only 44 units remained and the property’s sewage, water, and electrical infrastructure had been destroyed. The buildings that were not lost to the fire were red tagged, and much of the site has been razed.
Local non-profit affordable housing developer Burbank Housing immediately got to work and connected with the owners of Journey’s End to partner on a redevelopment plan that would ensure the site would continue to serve low income households – particularly seniors – in the future. Local philanthropic organizations stepped up with grant funds to support the acquisition of the site, and a redevelopment plan took shape, one that will include a greater number of units and that serves a range of incomes. Enterprise has worked with Burbank to aggregate grants, public funds, and private capital to knit together the dollars necessary to catalyze the project. A full half of the total cost of predevelopment will be covered through a grant from a non-profit philanthropic organization, with the balance paid for through a low interest loan from the state Transit Oriented Affordable Housing (dubbed the “TOAH2” fund) and capital from Enterprise’s Loan Fund combined with traditional bank capital.
The New BRIC Fund
With its work on Journey’s End as a model, and to help build new affordable housing quickly, Enterprise Community Partners a leading national affordable housing organization that has worked for over 30 years to build, preserve and protect affordable housing and connect communities to opportunity-has partnered with the County, philanthropic donors, and traditional finance institutions to launch the Building Resilient and Inclusive Communities fund, known as the BRIC. The BRIC will speed the production of affordable housing in transit-accessible areas through grants, loans, and long-term capital investments. The BRIC will fund affordable housing projects, as well as the “land banking” of sites to remove them from the speculative market and ensure that valuable land is earmarked for affordable housing in the future.
Scaling Up Resilience and OZs
Investing in resilience in at-risk communities is one of the most cost-effective ways to protect residents and property while strengthening their ability to weather climate-related disasters in the future.
The BRIC partnership in Sonoma County serves as a model for combining public and private sources of capital to ensure that affordable housing projects have timely access to necessary capital – an approach that can be replicated within Opportunity Zones to maximize the impacts of the long term, patient capital investments incentivized by the program.
Resilient communities are those that can survive and thrive in the face of stressors and shocks. Low income communities around the country already face a variety of stressors that limit their ability to thrive now. Chronic disinvestment and lack of services, crumbling infrastructure and aging building stock, lack of access to capital or participation in decisions that directly affect them leave communities with limited resources to prepare, adapt and recover from shocks. Minimizing the impacts of natural disasters to low-income communities requires a collaborative approach across a range of partners and variety of disciplines. By encouraging private long-term capital investment in low income communities, Opportunity Zones are building resiliency and broadening the pool of stakeholders in critical housing developments. In the wake of the 2017 wildfires in Sonoma County, Enterprise has seen first hand the power of active collaboration between the public, private, and philanthropic sectors.