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Santa Rosa to work with Oakland developer to replace senior center with affordable housing

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Santa Rosa plans to work with an Oakland developer that envisions dozens of new affordable homes, including housing for formerly homeless people, at a site that previously hosted the Bennett Valley Senior Center and South Park Elementary School.

The City Council on Tuesday picked Freebird Development Co. to develop the site on Bennett Valley Road near Rutledge Avenue, including the former senior center and three small adjacent lots, into a proposed 46-unit housing project for low-income renters. The move doesn’t bind Santa Rosa’s hands, but it paves the way for Freebird to finalize its $26.5 million proposal and build the project by June 2023.

A one-page proposal for Freebird’s project calls for a range of unit sizes from studios to three-bedrooms on the property, which is a little smaller than 2 acres combined. All but one of the units would be restricted for low- income renters, ranging from extremely poor tenants making less than 20% of the area median income to low-income households earning up to 60% of the area median income — $64,800 for a family of four in Santa Rosa.

About half would be intended for formerly homeless people. Freebird would partner with other organizations to provide services to those residents, according to the proposal.

The proposed funding, which has not been secured yet, includes about $11.7 million in tax credits, $10.2 million in state funds and $4.6 million from a future request to the Housing Authority, according to the proposal.

Freebird’s proposal was recommended by a four-person panel of two City Council members and two commissioners of the Housing Authority. They picked it over the only other proposal that was turned in, from Satellite Affordable Housing Associates, which proposed a similar project solely of one-bedroom units, according to city documents.

“What I really liked about this one was just the flexibility with who it will be serving and the variety of the units,” said Mayor Tom Schwedhelm, a member of the panel.

The decision was unanimous, but Councilwomen Victoria Fleming voiced concerns about the half-and-half plan to combine affordable units and housing for formerly homeless people.

“It’s tough for me to see that this is a good idea, to split them,” Fleming said. She added that she was in favor of more affordable housing but preferred this project be solely housing with services for homeless people.

A message left with a Freebird representative Tuesday afternoon was not returned.

The deal with the developer is the latest in a series of happenings for the site, which served as the Bennett Valley Senior Center until the council decided to shut it down in late 2018. That decision followed a consultant’s report that found the property in poor condition and recommended the city remove it from its portfolio.

Earlier this year, the council considered reviving the property as a homeless center with dozens of shelter beds to house transient people during major roof work on Sam Jones Hall, the city-owned shelter that is the largest in Sonoma County. That plan fell through after a group of county leaders, including two members of the Santa Rosa City Council, decided not to fully meet the city’s funding request to carry it out.

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

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