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Watsonville Affordable Housing Project Scores $2M Loan

Affordable housing development planned for the heart of Freedom Boulevard

This empty lot will be turned into a 53-unit affordable housing project from Eden Housing. PHOTO: Tony Nuñez

A 53-unit affordable housing development planned for the heart of Freedom Boulevard received a $2 million loan thanks to the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership and Housing Trust Silicon Valley, the agencies announced Thursday evening.

The development will bring much-needed affordable housing for families earning 20-60% of the area median income, which, in Santa Cruz County, is roughly $78,000, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.

The project must still receive approval from the Watsonville Planning Commission and City Council. Watsonville Community Development Department Director Suzi Merriam on Friday said that Eden Housing has not yet submitted an application.

The City of Watsonville is expected to chip in some of its affordable housing funds to help the project move forward, pending approval from the commission and council. Merriam said it is still unclear how much the city will need to contribute.

Dignity Health and TECH Fund, the Housing Trust’s investment vehicle that enables greater Bay Area entities to invest in affordable housing, also contributed funds. TECH Fund investors include Cisco, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Google, The Grove Foundation, LinkedIn, NetApp, Pure Storage and the Sobrato Family Foundation.

“We applaud our partners at the City of Watsonville, Housing Trust Silicon Valley, and the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership for tackling the housing crisis with us by supporting this project,” said Linda Mandolini, president of Eden Housing. “We look forward to working with the community to create a welcoming home that instills pride in its residents.”

The homes will be a mix of one- to three-bedroom units with monthly rents ranging from $423-1,936, Eden Housing officials said in a press release. The development will also come equipped with a community center, computer room, offices, laundry, playground and recreational areas.

“Monterey Bay Economic Partnership and Eden Housing have a great plan and strong leadership to help move this new project forward. We’re proud of the ongoing collaboration with MBEP and are excited to see what’s next,” said Kevin Zwick, CEO of Housing Trust Silicon Valley, which, including this project, has helped fund 188 units over three developments. 

The news comes at a time in which Watsonville is juggling a housing crisis while also dealing with the repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic. The cost of living in the sleepy agriculture city far exceeds the median household income, which, according to Census figures, is roughly $54,000 a year. Worse, the countywide shelter-in-place order has caused unemployment rates in Watsonville to balloon to roughly 26%.

“The pandemic has shown us again how critical affordable housing is to our safety net infrastructure,” said Matt Huerta, MBEP housing program manager.

Merriam said there are currently two affordable housing projects in the city in various stages of development. The 72-unit project on Miles Lanes from MidPen Housing recently received the green light from the planning commission and is expected to go to the city council for approval in June. The city is also in the process of selling a parcel at 36 Airport Blvd. to Habitat for Humanity so that the nonprofit can build nine units. 

The 1482 Freedom Blvd. location was originally slated for a sleek, 24-condo development from Alexis Gevorgian with AMG and Associates, LLC. That project first gained approval in 2016 but never moved forward despite attaining a pair of time extensions to deal with encroachment concerns from the neighboring property—a longstanding Wendy’s restaurant.

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