Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine “Community Interest” December 2007.
Affordable Housing: It’s Not What You Think
The housing market in Napa County is broken, says non-profit Housing California. Wages are not keeping pace with housing costs and the variety of affordable home choices is small.
As a result, key contributors to our local economy cannot even afford to rent homes. In 2006, A Napa County resident needed an income of $44,480 to afford a two-bedroom apartment—significantly more than tax preparers, preschool teachers and dispatchers earned, on average.
“According to the federal government, rent for a home or mortgage on a house is considered affordable if it costs no more than 30% of a person’s income,” says Kathleen Dreessen, Executive Director of Napa Valley Community Housing (NVCH), a private non-profit that develops, refurbishes and manages affordable workforce housing in Napa County. “But many people in our workforce earn little over the minimum wage. They end up spending 50% to 60% of their income on housing and often live in substandard and overcrowded conditions.”
This was the case with Cammy and John (names have been changed), who had to share a two-bedroom apartment with their six children. Arden, a single mother of three, could only afford a damp, cold apartment infested with cockroaches.
Both families eventually moved into NVCH properties and describe the changes as positive.
“It’s more comfortable and quiet here,” says Cammy. “Our children are healthier. They are able to study better for school.”
“Living in an affordable Napa Valley Community Housing apartment made the future brighter for my children,” says Arden. “The apartments are safe and attractive, the environment relaxing.”
NVCH was formed in 1996 through a merger of two smaller housing organizations, Housing Association for Napa Development, and Napa Valley Family homes.
“We have 30 years successful experience in building affordable workforce housing,” says Dreessen. “Our organization manages 440 rental units at 15 properties. We also have several properties in predevelopment stages.”
Dreessen states that one reason city planners welcome workforce housing built by NVCH is that the property is also managed by NVCH.
“We have on-site managers, which means the tenant rules are followed and the properties are well maintained. We have strict tenant rules, such as no car washing, no working on cars and no pets. Our sites have laundry facilities and community rooms.”
Over 1200 residents live in properties managed by Napa Valley Community Housing and 400 of these residents are children. Over 90% of the households have at least one working adult. NVCH has also developed affordable housing for seniors, people with special needs and farm workers.
One of the agency’s goals is to support residents in improving their lives to the point where they are able to afford market-rate rental housing or home ownership. NVCH staff makes a priority of linking residents to local education, health and job training services. This is done either by directing individual residents or families to appropriate programs within the community or by bringing services or educational opportunities to the apartment sites themselves, where many families can benefit at once. Through education, access to services and participation in positive activities, residents gain control over their lives and make changes in their circumstances that allow them to move out of poverty.
“The most successful part of what we do is our Family Empowerment Program,” says Dreessen. “Our Resident Services team connects families with physical and mental health services as well as training them to be leaders. We’ve had many individuals transform themselves from shy and retiring to leaders of tenant associations. In this way, they can solve conflicts and participate in solutions in their communities. One group at Napa Park Homes recently took on a recycling effort. Supervised by parents, children go door to door and collect recycling. They have earned over $100 in their fledgling enterprise, which they used to sponsor a pizza celebration.”
In one neighborhood where NVCH owns and manages two apartment complexes, drugs and gang activity used to be widespread. NVCH acquired the properties and staff worked to eliminate those problems. When a neighborhood house went on the market, NVCH purchased and refurbished the house into a neighborhood community center. Bilingual and bicultural leadership classes create a strong leadership component in the neighborhood. Classes, workshops and social activities contribute to the empowerment of the residents who live there.
“It’s about improving our tenants’ quality of life,” says Dreessen. “There is a misconception about our tenants. They are not living off the government, but are hard working, tax paying residents. Every year, we have about two-dozen residents pass their U.S. citizenship tests. Our properties aren’t the sort of ‘projects’ you see on television in urban settings. NVCH homes are attractive, well-built and well designed with many upscale elements.”
An 11-member Board of Directors, made up of successful business and community leaders, oversees NVCH. Staff consists of 33 full time and two part time employees.
What are NVCH’s funding sources?
“NVCH is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that relies on a variety of funding sources,” says Dreessen. “We receive contributions from private individuals, businesses and foundations. We acquire loans from banks and from federal and state deferred loan programs to purchase land, cover new building development costs and apartment renovation expenses. Some properties also get investor dollars through a special tax credit program.”
Development projects range in cost from about $1 million for an apartment acquisition and rehabilitation to about $17 million for the construction of a new 100-unit family apartment complex. Because of the scarcity and cost of land in Napa, it is becoming more difficult for the agency to purchase property.
The organization accepts donations in any amount. All donations are deductible to the extent allowed by law. Gifts help demonstrate a broad base of support and will increase the agency’s ability to attract additional funding from foundations and private businesses. NVCH receives no government dollars for its agency operations.
“Each contribution to NVCH demonstrates the donor’s understanding of the need for affordable housing and their commitment to helping NVCH fill the need with quality projects and programs. NVCH accepts gifts of stock, gifts in kind, planned giving gifts, checks and cash. We hope community members and businesses see the need for quality workforce housing and support our efforts.”
Contributions can be mailed to Napa Valley Community Housing at Five Financial Plaza, Suite 200, Napa CA 94558, or credit card payments can be made directly to their website, http://www.nvch.org, under “Donations.” For additional information, visit the website or phone (707) 253-6140.