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$123 million Santa Rosa homeless services and housing project up for key votes

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Santa Rosa meetings on Caritas Village

Planning Commission

4 p.m. Thursday

City Council chambers

100 Santa Rosa Ave.

City Council

4 p.m. Tuesday

City Council chambers

An ambitious proposal to redevelop an entire downtown Santa Rosa block into shelter space and affordable apartments for hundreds of homeless people and low-income renters is coming up for city decisions this week and the next.

The Caritas Village project, a joint effort of Santa Rosa’s main homeless services provider and its most prominent affordable housing developer, would transform the block bordered by Morgan, Sixth, Seventh and A streets northwest of the Santa Rosa Plaza mall. The resulting low-income apartments, homeless services and shelter space each would among the largest of their kind in Sonoma County.

The roughly $123 million project by Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa and Burbank Housing is scheduled for public hearings with an unusually quick turnaround, coming before the Planning Commission on Thursday and the City Council on Tuesday. The redevelopment still would need to fully secure funding and receive additional approval from other city panels, with construction tentatively scheduled to begin in early 2021.

Approval of Caritas Village would further cement Catholic Charities as the dominant homeless services provider in Sonoma County while providing a sought-after influx of affordable housing for an area with a severe absence of such units.

Supporters describe the project as an unprecedented one-stop shop with unique potential to help the local homeless population.

“They can come to one place and get all the care they need,” said Jennielynn Holmes, chief programs officer for Catholic Charities. “And the quicker we get them access to that care, the quicker we resolve their homelessness.”

Coupling unconditional housing aid with health and social services has been implemented in other places in Sonoma County, including the former Palms Inn on Santa Rosa Avenue, which is home to more than 100 formerly homeless people, many of them military veterans. A similar model of supportive housing is envisioned at the Gold Coin Motel on Mendocino Avenue, a project of St. Vincent de Paul of Sonoma County.

But nothing exists on the scale of Caritas Village.

It would offer services at a cutting edge drop-in facility, replacing Catholic Charities’ current setup in a repurposed two-bedroom home. Besides shelter and transitional housing for up to 210 people — a combined capacity that rivals Samuel L. Jones Hall, the largest homeless shelter in the county — the new $43 million service hub, Caritas Center, would include a doctor’s office and a minor medical care program specifically for homeless people after their discharge from local hospitals.

The existing facilities, including Catholic Charities’ shelter for families and offices in the century-old General Hospital building, would be demolished along with several other homes and structures on the property.

A massive $26 million community capital campaign for Caritas Center already has raised more than $21 million, according to Catholic Charities. Tax credits, public funds and other sources are eyed for the remaining chunk $17  million of the project.

The $80 million housing development will be built separately in two buildings costing about $40 million each, said Mark Krug, business development manager for Burbank Housing.

Burbank Housing has secured about $13 million and is looking optimistically at part of $1 billion in federal tax credits and about $37 million in disaster relief grants that will be made available as a result of the October 2017 firestorm, according to Krug.

Santa Rosa meetings on Caritas Village

Planning Commission

4 p.m. Thursday

City Council chambers

100 Santa Rosa Ave.

City Council

4 p.m. Tuesday

City Council chambers

Of the 64 first-phase units, 30 are intended for homeless people who make below 20% of the area median income, Krug said. Some will be restricted to people with incomes below 50% and 60% of area median income, and one unit per each apartment complex would be for on-site managers.

“It’s really reaching down to the people who have very, very low incomes, maybe only disability income,” Krug said, adding that the project also aligns with city goals to build housing near bus and train stations. He also noted that developers have to meet specific deadlines to avoid missing out on tax credits, so “we’ve been pushing the city to expedite this process because we don’t want to lose out.”

The region is grappling with twin crises over homelessness and affordable housing, but the project has elicited concerns from some neighbors over potential shortages of street parking, increased traffic congestion and public safety.

Some residents have also objected to demolition of several buildings dating back a century, including the old hospital, several homes and a small quadplex.

“We brag about Burbank, Peanuts, food and wine. Do we know how all that evolved? Are we clear about moving forward and building on our successes?” wrote Renee Riggs, a Santa Rosa transplant from Dallas, in an email to city staff. “Saving and caring for our history, our heritage is critical to our future.”

Others are more supportive, arguing that the project’s local impact is unavoidable in any serious effort to address a significant crisis.

But parking is already a chronic problem in the area, exemplified by neighbors’ recent push to have the city impose daytime parking restrictions with special exemptions for residents. The call for a residential parking permit system was motivated in part by concerns about spillover from the nearby Catholic Charities facilities.

Those concerns may be valid and well meaning, Seventh Street resident Alison Dykstra wrote to the city, “BUT, we are in the midst of both a housing and homeless crisis right here in Santa Rosa.

“This is a good project that will positively impact the St. Rose and surrounding neighborhoods and I wish for its success,” Dykstra wrote.

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

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