Santa Rosa gives final approval to 54-unit apartment complex for homeless and low-income residents

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More than 50 studio apartments for homeless people in Santa Rosa are awaiting a final piece of funding before workers break ground on the project at the southwest corner of College and Cleveland avenues.

Arcata-based developer, builder and property manager Danco Communities received approval last week from the city zoning administrator to proceed with construction, clearing the last government hurdle for the 54-unit development, which is set to rise on what is now a 1-acre gravel lot.

All of the units except one reserved for an apartment manager will be made available to low-income and formerly homeless people, about 1,800 of whom live in Santa Rosa, according to an annual count earlier this year overseen by the Sonoma County Community Development Commission.

The project is one of several that Danco Communities is pursuing in Northern California; a similar apartment complex in Eureka is set to open by Christmas Eve. The Santa Rosa project is backed by about $10.5 million from a state bond measure voters approved in November, said Chris Dart, the company’s president.

“The need has been there for years, but the funding hasn’t been there to back it up,” he said.

The project is the latest seeking to offer permanent shelter for homeless people in Santa Rosa. Last year, the city saw a former firehouse in the Junior College neighborhood converted into a seven-unit apartment complex for homeless veterans. The city is eyeing both the former Bennett Valley Senior Center and the Gold Coin Motel on Mendocino Avenue as future housing that could shelter more than 100 homeless people.

Since 2016, the Palms Inn, a former hotel in south Santa Rosa, has housed more than 100 formerly homeless people as part of a county project now seen as a model for addressing homelessness, especially among veterans.

The new project is slated for a site that was previously occupied by the former China Light restaurant, which had been closed for about a decade. The old restaurant, which featured prominent murals painted on the side of the building, and a nearby cabinet shop, were torn down earlier this year.

Dart said he’d learn whether the project, dubbed Santa Rosa Housing First, has secured the rest of the needed funding in September. Construction of the three-story complex, which also will include offices, therapy rooms and a 24/7 security office, will take about a year, he said.

Sonoma County and Reach for Home, a Healdsburg-based homeless services provider, will provide on-site case management and other services to residents living at the project. Colleen Carmichael, the nonprofit’s executive director, said he hoped to see more collaboration between developers and service providers to offer the support that such a vulnerable population needs.

“We believe that this is probably going to be the wave of the future,” Carmichael said.

The project will be located near Santa Rosa’s West End neighborhood, where residents are watching as numerous developments move forward, including: a 41-unit affordable housing project on the corner of West Third Street and Dutton Avenue; a 185-unit redevelopment of the historic DeTurk winery complex; and the recent disclosure that the owners of the BoDean asphalt plant plan to move to Windsor and transform their Santa Rosa site into new affordable housing.

The activity reflects something of a pro-housing sea change in recent years among residents, fueled in part by turnover in the neighborhood, said Deborah Crippen, a local veterinarian and the president of the West End Neighborhood Association. Though some will likely object to projects like Danco’s, “affordable housing isn’t a dirty word anymore,” she said, adding that she personally supported the idea of coupling studio apartments and services for homeless people on the site.

“We have so little housing for individuals, especially people who want to live alone,” Crippen said.

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

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