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010518 Sierra Madre Cotages

A vacant lot behind Bethel Lutheran Church at 624 E. Camino Colegio, near the city's downtown core, will soon be home to 39 affordable, senior apartment units. 

Citing an extreme housing shortage in the city of Santa Maria, city leaders recently voted to redirect $150,000 in federal grant funds to help address the need.

Those funds will be directed toward a Peoples’ Self-Help Housing project that will create 39 affordable, senior apartment units in the city.

Dubbed the Sierra Madre Cottages, the apartments will be built on a 2.6-acre vacant lot behind Bethel Lutheran Church at 624 E. Camino Colegio near the downtown core.

The development will have 36 one-bed units and four two-bed units and will include on-site parking, a community center with laundry facilities and a garden for residents.

The project will target low-income seniors 62 and older whose incomes do not exceed 60 percent of the area's median income, according to Peoples’ Self-Help Housing officials, who are currently working through the city's planning and development process.

Since 2010, the city of Santa Maria has helped more than 730 families secure housing as part of the Tenant-based Rental Assistance Program, which helps families in need pay security deposits and fees to have access to rental units.

In recent years, however, the number of families seeking help from the rental assistance program has sharply dropped off, which city leaders attribute to a lack of available housing in Santa Maria.

"In recent years, one of the challenges the city has encountered is the lack of affordable rental housing," explained Rosie Narez, Santa Maria community programs manager, who added the overall vacancy rate was pegged at 3.9 percent in August 2016. 

So far in fiscal year 2017-18, only 16 families have sought rental assistance, according to city records, with the city expending just $6,7000 in Tenant-based Rental Assistance Program funds. 

During the same time period in 2012, there were 174 families who had received help through the city's grant-backed rental assistance program.

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The funds come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and, like many HUD grant programs, have a spending deadline date. If that deadline is not met, the funds will return to the government.

Since the number of available housing units has diminished, causing a fall in assistance requests, Narez predicted that the city would not make its September 2019 spending deadline, which prompted city leaders to redirect some grant funds to the Peoples’ Self-Help Housing project.

The city has about $231,000 left in its Tenant-based Rental Assistance Program. Due to the current rate of rental assistance applications being submitted, city officials project they will only need about $81,000 to meet the anticipated need, leaving about $150,000 unspent.

It was that $150,000 that was redirected by the Santa Maria City Council to Peoples’ Self-Help Housing for the Sierra Madre Cottages project.

While building permit plans have been submitted for the cottages, the city has yet to issue a permit, according to Chuen Ng, Santa Maria Community Development Department director.

Once the developer requests the permit, work can get underway. Construction on the project is slated to begin in October.

Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.

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City Government Reporter