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  • Writer's pictureALAS

City of HMB lays plans for affordable farmworker housing

Updated: Feb 9, 2023

Mercy Housing, ALAS make proposal

Author: August Howell

Published: July 27, 2022

City leaders are hearing a proposal to put 40 housing units on land the city owns at 555 Kelly Ave. The housing would be restricted to farmworkers and their families.

Thumb through the priorities of city officials for the past several years and you’ll find affordable, low-income housing remains top of the list, even though little obvious progress has been made.

Now, after the Half Moon Bay City Council renewed efforts to examine the feasibility of housing on city-owned property earlier this year, a proposed project has come up to build a 40-room complex on a long-vacant property on Kelly Avenue. City planners determined that the parcel on Kelly Avenue, which currently includes a 6,200-square-foot, single-family home next to the Ted Adcock Community Center, would be the quickest option for any housing development. The city purchased the 555 Kelly Ave. building in 2017.

On Feb. 15, the city put out a request for qualifications to solicit development from any nonprofits or housing agencies looking to work on the site and closed applications on May 23. It received one joint proposal from Mercy Housing and Ayudando Latinos a Soñar, which proposed a 40-unit building and resource center exclusively meant to house local farmworkers.

The proposed development includes 40 affordable units composed of single and studio rooms primarily meant for working Coastside farmworkers. Designs also call for a 2,050-square-foot resource center, which would be staffed and managed by ALAS. The building would be four stories tall with parking, community space and the Farmworker Resource Center on the ground floor. ALAS staff hope that the center can host workshops, English classes, legal aid, internet access, a case manager office and a community kitchen. Other potential amenities include parking, laundry room, bike storage and an outside courtyard. Mercy would be the property developer and manager. To build the property as proposed, Mercy would have to expand into the Ted Adcock Community Center parking lot to expand the development area to 20,000 square feet.

Last week the City Council viewed the proposal and signaled approval for the overall concept, recommending staff move forward with negotiations and a pre-development loan contract with Mercy. It’s the start of a long process, as all the permitting, planning and construction could take up to two years.

To fund this, planners are proposing a mix of tax credits, housing grants from the California Department of Housing and Community Development, San Mateo County and Half Moon Bay’s Affordable Housing Fund, which has a balance of $2.16 million. Because ALAS and Mercy expect the residents to have few financial resources, the project will likely require rental subsidies for all of the units. Mercy is planning to ask the county for some of this subsidy for this project.

Several people at the City Council meeting last week spoke in favor of the proposal. One woman, speaking in Spanish, called the lack of low-income housing an “emergency” and pleaded with the city and county to support the project. Others questioned why housing should be restricted to just farmworkers given the high cost of living and scarcity of low-income housing in San Mateo County.

“Sure, this is not enough,” said ALAS board member Lilli Rey. “There are many groups that are deserving (of housing). But this is a start and sends a message to a thousand farmworkers who have worked tirelessly for decades and decades.”

ALAS Executive Director Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga said her nonprofit serves 1,000 farmworkers on the coast with a focus on social services, education and mental health resources. She noted that one out of three farmworker families are below the federal poverty line and have consistent medical, internet and food security issues. She sees this project as a way to not just alleviate immediate needs, but elevate families in the long run.

“What we see is a daily struggle to provide habitable, equitable housing that is humane and embraces all the work they do,” she said.

The average farmworker earns around $20,000 per year, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development, placing them in the acutely low or extremely low state income categories in San Mateo County. The state defines low income as a single-person household earning between $17,450 to $39,150 per year, between 16 percent and 30 percent of San Mateo County’s Area Median Income. Its acutely low category, up to 15 percent of the county’s AMI, tops out at $17,450 per year.

The Kelly Avenue building sits within the Workforce Housing Overlay zone of the city’s Local Coastal Land Use Plan, which was updated last year. Because farmworkers are considered a special housing needs group with limited income, the city is required to address their needs through the Housing Element Update that will be enacted next year and will apply to 2031. The policy is meant to support the development of low and extremely low income housing for those working in Coastal Act priority industries, including agriculture.

“It’s a measure of the health and compassion of a community like ours to provide this kind of security and housing for folks who have provided so much for so long,” Councilman Robert Brownstone said.

Mercy is one of the largest nonprofit owners of affordable housing in the country, with more than 23,000 apartments, most of which are for low and very low income residents, said Tim Dunn, an associate director with Mercy. Staff said the nonprofit made an exception to its policy of not building housing with less than around 60 to 80 units. It did this primarily because of its past work with building the Senior Coastsiders center in Half Moon Bay and a desire to collaborate with ALAS.

“The time is now, the need is there, and we have great partners,” Mayor Debbie Ruddock said. “And we have resources to contribute. I don’t see why we wouldn’t do this.

Source: Half Moon Bay Review


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