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Senior veterans affordable housing project proposed for Petaluma


A Petaluma-based affordable housing developer is seeking to build a 55-unit complex for low-income seniors and senior veterans on a west side riverfront parcel, a project with the potential to provide relief for an aging population increasingly priced out of a tight housing market.

Proposed by Petaluma nonprofit PEP Housing, the project would be developed on a 1.3-acre parcel originally purchased by the city’s former redevelopment agency for senior housing, according to City Councilman Mike Healy. After the 2011 dissolution of redevelopment agencies, which kept portions of property tax generated in the city to use for development, the status of the parcel was uncertain, Healy said.

Now, after a recent revelation about the city’s ability to use the 951 Petaluma Blvd. South property, Healy said officials are faced with a looming August deadline to sell the land and remit the profits to the state, or to commit to using it for affordable housing.

“Time is starting to become a factor here,” Healy said, adding that selling the property would be a “lost opportunity.”

The property is home to PEP Housing’s offices, which would be relocated to make way for 54 one-bedroom units, a two-bedroom manager’s unit, 40 parking spots, a community room with a kitchen, a dog run as well as a wellness center for healthcare and social services, according to Director of Housing Development Jim Langford. Though plans are still under development, the income limit for residents could be as much as 50 percent of area median income, with the minimum age for residents set at 55, Langford and Dominic Roybal, PEP’s director of property management and compliance said.

Tentative plans include 25 units set aside for senior veterans, though Langford said PEP is working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to determine the feasibility of filling the units entirely with senior veterans.

About 640 people are on the wait list for PEP’s 14 Sonoma County properties, equating to an average wait time of three to four years, Roybal said.

“I think there’s a need for all affordable housing right now,” Langford said. “With us, our mission is seniors, and if we can fill that mission, I think we’d be doing the neighborhood a justice.”

The Petaluma City Council hashed out the proposal at a March 6 closed session, where Healy said discussion emerged about instead using the site for workforce housing. The item was continued to a March 20 closed session.

Healy said the parcel, which extends in a narrow trajectory, would be better suited for senior housing, which has smaller units and requires less parking. He said he’ll advocate that the city pursue other locations for workforce housing.

City Councilwoman Kathy Miller said the council sought details about demand for senior, veteran and workforce housing to develop a clearer picture about overall need. No other proposals have been submitted for housing developments on the parcel, she said.

“There’s a need for all of it,” she said. “The direction I’m inclined to go is wherever the need is the greatest.”

PEP’s Executive Director Mary Stompe said the agency is asking the city to either sell the land to the agency for $1 or establish a long-term loan agreement with no immediate costs to either party. If the city agrees to allow PEP to move forward, the agency will seek county, state and federal funding for the estimated $20 million project, which could take three to five years to build pending approvals from the city’s planning commission, Langford said.

The property abuts the McNear Landing neighborhood, with at least a dozen of the 185 homes sharing a fence line with the parcel, according to McNear Landing Homeowners Association President Sheri Chlebowski. For McNear Landing residents, potential issues with development include obstruction of views, increased noise and parking snarls, and the board of directors plans to reach out to residents to gauge how to move forward, Chlebowski said.

“In my opinion, I think PEP Housing would be the best bet for us,” she said.

Stompe said the project would help get seniors who might otherwise be forced to live in their cars or in substandard housing conditions connected with a permanent home and services to securely age in place.

“This would be a really great housing site,” she said. “It’s got the natural resources and the river there and that’s why it was acquired so many years ago. We’re ready to move forward.”