If there was an Academy Award for the best supporting role of a transportation agency in the affordable housing genre, it just might go to the Tulare County Association of Governments (TCAG).
As a council of governments, TCAG is always looking for ways to incorporate transportation investments to support projects that are consistent with regional goals. So they were more than ready to offer their expertise on the Palm Terrace project, a remarkable 50 unit affordable housing complex built by the local affordable housing developer, Self Help Enterprises. The project is in Lindsay, a small town of 13,000. Many of the residents are agricultural workers. The median household income of $30,000 is about one-third of the county median. Residents often live in over-crowded conditions and substandard housing.
Palm Terrace features one-, two- and three-bedroom units, with a community building, playground, garden, and open space for residents. And it is located within walking distance of shopping, schools, and fresh food–even a Starbucks. The community building includes a computer lab for adults and children and an onsite resident services program that will include job training, health and wellness services, financial training, homebuyer education, and a variety of youth after school activities. Its energy efficiency features include solar PV, water conservation, and a greywater recycling system. The solar panel system will offset the power used in the common area, residential loads, and community center, making it a grid neutral zero net energy project.
And it’s a deal. Monthly rents, ranging from $310 to $720, are based on unit size and income.
TCAG’s role in this venture is to make sure that the transportation options serve the new residents well. At the outset, they facilitated discussions with transit providers and officials in the City of Lindsay. They prepared exhibits and maps of planning improvements to help facilitate discussions for funding applications and advised how the project correlated with the active transportation plan and sustainable communities strategy. And then there is the funding, through the Congestion Management Air Quality program, Low Carbon Transit Operation Program, and their own Measure R funds, TCAG is able to find funding to invest in the supporting transportation infrastructure.
But the Palm Terrace project faced a unique challenge. It was located on Hermosa Street, which is a major east-west thoroughfare in Lindsay that connects to the old town area to Highway 65, was less than a half a mile to the west. The main shopping area–that includes that Starbucks–was also just a couple of hundred yards away. Making matters worse, Hermosa Street narrowed from four to two lanes right at the corner of the Palm Terrace development, increasing the uncertainty associated with the abutting intersection. Everyone knew that all the kids who would live in Palm Terrace would have to cross this street to get to the elementary school across the street.
TCAG, working with the City and Self Help Enterprises, developed the idea of building a roundabout with pedestrian bulb-outs to make it safer to cross. New lane striping and a bike lane would ease the narrowing from four to two lanes. These improvements are to calm the traffic and improve the safety of the students and everyone else who uses the intersection. (See rendering below).
The development also is also one of the sites for the innovative Mio Car, an electric vehicle car-sharing service. In addition, Palm Terrace will include a vanpool program in partnership with the California Vanpool Authority, (a joint powers authority in which TCAG is a member) that will transport residents to and from work.
The comprehensive integration between transportation infrastructure and housing needs to elevate the project to receive a $4.4 million Affordable Housing Sustainable Communities grant from the Strategic Growth Council. For the application, TCAG was helpful in assisting with calculations to quantify the GHG emissions and running numbers through CalEEMod, SGC’s greenhouse gas quantification model. The project has also received funding from the Multifamily Housing Program (Housing and Community Development Department, private equity raised through the federal low-income housing tax credit program, and Affordable Housing Program (AHP) funds through the San Francisco Federal Home Loan Bank, sponsored by Wells Fargo Bank.
And Palm Terrace is not the only example of this collaboration. There are currently five other developments either completed or in planning, where TCAG has come to the table to help integrate the development with the larger transportation system. Sometimes its merely working with everyone to adjust a transit route. But in the case of Visalia and Farmersville, two developments currently in the planning phase, TCAG is making improvements to nearby transit centers (which eventually will be located, someday, on the cross-country rail corridor) bikeways, and pedestrian walkways that will provide full accessibility to regional resources for the residents. (Those projects have their own unique features that are worthy of their own write-ups, which we will do as they get built).
TCAG would be the first to recognize the leading efforts of Self Help Enterprises in making these projects work. “We are fortunate to have an organization like Self Help Enterprises that is committed to providing all Tulare County residents with a quality home,” said Ted Smalley. “It’s great that we can support projects like these.”
But the proof of value comes from the residents. “The best part of living here is that my kids have their own room, girls in one and boys in another,” said Arlin Cisneros, new Palm Terrace tenant. “My kids love going out to the playground and I love being able to do laundry in my own home.” As a single working mother, Arlin has struggled to find an affordable place large enough for her children. Now that she has settled into her new Palm Terrace apartment, she can focus on furthering her education and finding a stable job that can continue to provide for her family.