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Veterans' affordable-housing project pulled

Minor traffic surge on Poway streets was the deal-breaker

On November 16, after two years of negotiation with Habitat for Humanity, the City of Poway rejected an affordable-housing project for veterans.

Now what? The city still needs 504 affordable-housing units to meet state mandates. Residents who fought the proposal still look out on an asphalt lot zoned for low-income, high-density housing; and veterans on a waiting list to buy one of the townhomes are out of luck.

“It is tough to build low-income housing," San Diego Habitat for Humanity president Lori Pfeiler said at the November 16 council meeting. "No one ever wants to have low-income housing next to their homes."

While the city cut its losses at over $100,000, the nonprofit had pitched in nearly $600,000; the most they had ever spent before getting final approval.

“We are extremely disappointed,” she says now in the wake of the decision. “We addressed every community and council concern we had control over.”

Mayor Steve Vaus opposed it for the cost to the city: $820,000, almost a third of the budget for affordable housing, but yielding only 4 percent of the needed units. “That would severely impair our ability to meet state-mandated housing obligations,” he said. The housing element identifies other city lots for affordable housing, and Vaus is optimistic that the “better location” neighbors called for can be found.

Deputy mayor Jim Cunningham argued that Habitat for Humanity’s proposal is the best the city has ever seen.

“I dare anyone to find me a lower-cost project,” said Cunningham, who helped push it forward two years ago, when Sacramento-based CalVet partnered with Habitat and the city faced a critical funding gap for low-income housing. “There will be no affordable-housing project in our city that will cost less out of pocket to our city than this one. None.”

In fact, Habitat would fund the entire project if the city agreed to revert to the original plan, which had six more units. The city was set to donate the lot, worth over a million dollars, but neighbors consider the empty parcel more valuable as a buffer against denser development. Many disliked the idea of having 28 new low-income townhomes across the street from single-family homes. Some complained that the costs kept changing.

“The city’s contribution did not change until this past July,” Pfeiler says. “That is when they asked us to lower the density,” which meant the cost per unit would increase. “We asked the city to make up $300,000 of the $500,000 additional deficit.”

Revenues earned will help build the next Habitat project. Vaus says CalVet was originally going to provide 100 percent of the funding for the proposed project — then they backed out. The topic was also raised at the meeting, when others wondered why CalVet withdrew; no one seemed to know why.

“Now the city is on the hook. The city has to assume a lot more risk in the project,” said councilmember, Barry Leonard. “I don’t feel we have the right developer here, and I won't support this project.”

Pfeiler says that CalVet was just one funding source. “They would only provide about a third of the funds for each home. Total.”

But the money would have been disbursed at an early stage, yielding a good cash flow to get started, she says. What caused the rift?

“CalVet backed out because I would not sign their contract. The agreement gave a third party the authority to approve the entire project, even before the city, and they could request any number of changes without having to fund them," she says. “And they only wanted a 10-year affordability restriction, compared to the city’s need for a 45-year restriction.” Habitat was always responsible for assuring the project could be completed and funds were available, she says.

For many residents, though, traffic was the deal-breaker — and that’s one issue Pfeiler says Habitat has no control over.

In fact, 80 percent of the concerns focused on traffic and safety, Cunningham said, and it’s not a new problem. Now, traffic on Twin Peaks Road has become a major “talking point” — he hopes it will, at least, lead to one solution in this “great community discussion.”

A traffic study conducted by Habitat and discussed by the city found that, with 22 new units, less than 17 trips would be added to the streets in morning peak hours, and 21 in the evening peak hours. While neighbors still see that as too many more cars, it was not considered a significant impact. Mayor Vaus says they aren’t giving up on creating homes for veterans in Poway.

“I have spoken with another organization that works closely with CalVet on affordable housing,” he says. “I expect to meet with them very soon to discuss suitable locations in the city and Poway’s strong desire to support our vets with such a project.”

Habitat is also looking to new locations. “There are still a lot of families that we can help,” Pfeiler says. “We have let our veterans know they can apply for other homes we are building in Logan Heights and El Cajon." But both projects are still a year from completion. “It isn’t much to offer. Twenty-two families will not have the opportunity to purchase a home.”

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On November 16, after two years of negotiation with Habitat for Humanity, the City of Poway rejected an affordable-housing project for veterans.

Now what? The city still needs 504 affordable-housing units to meet state mandates. Residents who fought the proposal still look out on an asphalt lot zoned for low-income, high-density housing; and veterans on a waiting list to buy one of the townhomes are out of luck.

“It is tough to build low-income housing," San Diego Habitat for Humanity president Lori Pfeiler said at the November 16 council meeting. "No one ever wants to have low-income housing next to their homes."

While the city cut its losses at over $100,000, the nonprofit had pitched in nearly $600,000; the most they had ever spent before getting final approval.

“We are extremely disappointed,” she says now in the wake of the decision. “We addressed every community and council concern we had control over.”

Mayor Steve Vaus opposed it for the cost to the city: $820,000, almost a third of the budget for affordable housing, but yielding only 4 percent of the needed units. “That would severely impair our ability to meet state-mandated housing obligations,” he said. The housing element identifies other city lots for affordable housing, and Vaus is optimistic that the “better location” neighbors called for can be found.

Deputy mayor Jim Cunningham argued that Habitat for Humanity’s proposal is the best the city has ever seen.

“I dare anyone to find me a lower-cost project,” said Cunningham, who helped push it forward two years ago, when Sacramento-based CalVet partnered with Habitat and the city faced a critical funding gap for low-income housing. “There will be no affordable-housing project in our city that will cost less out of pocket to our city than this one. None.”

In fact, Habitat would fund the entire project if the city agreed to revert to the original plan, which had six more units. The city was set to donate the lot, worth over a million dollars, but neighbors consider the empty parcel more valuable as a buffer against denser development. Many disliked the idea of having 28 new low-income townhomes across the street from single-family homes. Some complained that the costs kept changing.

“The city’s contribution did not change until this past July,” Pfeiler says. “That is when they asked us to lower the density,” which meant the cost per unit would increase. “We asked the city to make up $300,000 of the $500,000 additional deficit.”

Revenues earned will help build the next Habitat project. Vaus says CalVet was originally going to provide 100 percent of the funding for the proposed project — then they backed out. The topic was also raised at the meeting, when others wondered why CalVet withdrew; no one seemed to know why.

“Now the city is on the hook. The city has to assume a lot more risk in the project,” said councilmember, Barry Leonard. “I don’t feel we have the right developer here, and I won't support this project.”

Pfeiler says that CalVet was just one funding source. “They would only provide about a third of the funds for each home. Total.”

But the money would have been disbursed at an early stage, yielding a good cash flow to get started, she says. What caused the rift?

“CalVet backed out because I would not sign their contract. The agreement gave a third party the authority to approve the entire project, even before the city, and they could request any number of changes without having to fund them," she says. “And they only wanted a 10-year affordability restriction, compared to the city’s need for a 45-year restriction.” Habitat was always responsible for assuring the project could be completed and funds were available, she says.

For many residents, though, traffic was the deal-breaker — and that’s one issue Pfeiler says Habitat has no control over.

In fact, 80 percent of the concerns focused on traffic and safety, Cunningham said, and it’s not a new problem. Now, traffic on Twin Peaks Road has become a major “talking point” — he hopes it will, at least, lead to one solution in this “great community discussion.”

A traffic study conducted by Habitat and discussed by the city found that, with 22 new units, less than 17 trips would be added to the streets in morning peak hours, and 21 in the evening peak hours. While neighbors still see that as too many more cars, it was not considered a significant impact. Mayor Vaus says they aren’t giving up on creating homes for veterans in Poway.

“I have spoken with another organization that works closely with CalVet on affordable housing,” he says. “I expect to meet with them very soon to discuss suitable locations in the city and Poway’s strong desire to support our vets with such a project.”

Habitat is also looking to new locations. “There are still a lot of families that we can help,” Pfeiler says. “We have let our veterans know they can apply for other homes we are building in Logan Heights and El Cajon." But both projects are still a year from completion. “It isn’t much to offer. Twenty-two families will not have the opportunity to purchase a home.”

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8

Affordable housing is a joke. There is a news story about a new single family"affordable" housing project in El Cajon that sells for the mid to high $500's. The Peoples Republic of Poway is the home of the NIMBY's. In San Diego County low income is anyone working by the hour. Even a family where both people work and work at "good" hourly jobs will have problems affording an average single family home. San Diego's high cost of housing built Temecula and now it is building Tijuana. Even homes in gang infested areas are not affordable. I know several people who have "good" hourly jobs that live in or qualify for HUD housing. Even if you can qualify for a loan and can afford the payment there is still the cost of property taxes which is about 1 1/4% of the price will add over $500 a month to the payment. One person loses their job or has a reduction in hours they can no longer afford their "affordable" home. Slums are created by several families moving into a home designed for one family.

Nov. 26, 2016

Stories like this require links to sources where readers can follow up and find more information. No reputable news source would leave out such links. Where is CalVet? Where is the link to Habitat or the City of Poway? Sheila, you needed these links to research this article- why don't you want us to have the same links?

Journalism has taken a beating in this century over low quality reporting and bias, but even so most journalists provide links. You are not alone Sheila; there is only one Reader reporter who often provides links. Perhaps it is a management problem.

Nov. 26, 2016

Actually, you are incorrect. More than "one Reader reporter" provides links. There are many of us who do that.

Nov. 26, 2016

What Dave said. Many of us provide links.

Nov. 27, 2016

Forgive me guys, I should have said 'only one Reader reporter among the current articles'. I checked them all. It's worth noting that among the links I found, most were to other Reader articles. This is to be expected but some 'news' sites have a policy of never linking to outside sources. This doesn't appear to be so at the Reader. I appreciate all the journalists here. You are clearly finding stories that others overlook (or avoid discussing). And where stories get messed up I understand that there is editing beyond your control. But really, links are important in this century.

Nov. 27, 2016

Poway isn't about inclusion and affordability. For those who live there, it is about exclusion and showing off one's affluence. So, is anyone really surprised by this action? Oh, the city will finally and grudgingly knuckle under to those state mandates, but will try to finagle its way into counting some highly un-affordable housing, and will delay, delay, delay.

Then there's the comment about "Poway’s strong desire to support our vets with such a project." That bit of lip service came from the sorta-famous singing mayor. Does he mean that? If he meant it, all this dodging about the cost and the traffic impact would have not stood in the way. No, Stevie has become just what he wasn't supposed to become, another mealy-mouth. He cares nothing about veterans except getting their votes. So, I hope the voters in Poway who are veterans remember this when election time rolls around in two years.

Nov. 26, 2016

It didn't take two years for some Poway veterans to react. Within the past couple days, as reported in the U-T of all places, about 100 veterans held a rally at one of the parks to call for reconsideration. I don't live in Poway, but if I knew they were rallying, I'd have joined the gathering.

This all sounds very much like the fuss that ensued about some veteran transition housing in or near Old Town a few years ago. All the excuses the NIMBY's made that time sounded just about as valid as those used by the Powegians, as in not very valid at all.

Nov. 28, 2016

Old town would have been the perfect place for veteran housing. Has VVSD on Pacific Hwy but needs a lot more in center of town.

Nov. 28, 2016

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