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Napa housing vacancies scrape bottom

Groundbreaking ceremonies were held for the Stoddard West Apartments in south Napa in April. County housing funds are helping to build 50 new, affordable multi-family units for low-income families.

Napa County should soon see the results of $8.7 million it has lent in recent years to help build 190 new affordable housing units in local cities.

Money comes from fees paid by residential and commercial development in the unincorporated county. It goes into the county’s affordable housing fund.

The Napa County Board of Supervisors on Aug. 28 heard the annual county housing report. Supervisors talked about what’s been accomplished and what might come next in a county where the median home price tops $670,000.

“If housing is a real problem and we all say it is, I think we have to start looking at different tools and different ways of prioritizing housing,” Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said.

The county has made loans from its affordable housing fund to cover a portion of construction costs for six projects. Two St. Helena projects benefiting from county loans – eight-unit Brenkle Court and eight-unit Turley Flats – should open this year.

“The rest are in construction phase and we’re hoping to see completion in 2019 and have housing opportunities available to the community,” county Deputy Executive Officer Molly Rattigan said.

Those projects are 34-unit Redwood Grove, 20-unit Napa Courtyards and 50-unit Stoddard West in the city of Napa and 70-unit Valley View in American Canyon.

Other projects that might benefit from county affordable housing funds are in the preplanning and development phase. One is 140 units to be built at Napa Pipe in three phases, with MidPen Housing and Napa Valley Community Housing as the developers, a county report said.

Napa Pipe affordable housing will likely need the county to contribute at least $3.5 million, should it move forward, the report said.

Napa Pipe along the Napa River near the Napa Valley Commons business park gets attention for a planned Costco that is tentatively scheduled to open in 2021. But it is also to include 700 to 945 homes—including those 140 affordable units—as well as a park, a Napa Valley Vine Trail segment, offices, senior retirement center and a hotel.

Another possible project for county funds is at the former Sunrise Assisted Living of Napa Valley property at Valle Verde Drive in Napa. The existing building would be converted to 66 units to address homeless issues, with 24 units of more traditional affordable housing built nearby, Rattigan said.

The county affordable housing fund contains $3.6 million. Rattigan said it typically receives $2 million annually through developer fees.

“We’re always one project away from a really good revenue year and we’re always one project away from a really bad revenue year,” she said.

Supervisors also talked about efforts to create affordable housing by promoting the creation of second units at existing houses. But they want to be careful.

Supervisor Diane Dillon said one county-approved second unit has drawn criticism because it looks like a bright, red caboose. Neighbors are asking if an old airplane is next.

“I don’t know what we do with that,” Dillon said. “It would be to our detriment if that’s the path (that) encouraging second units took.”

Supervisors discussed farmworker housing, especially for families. They noted state law allows up to 12 units or 36 beds per parcel for farmworker housing in agricultural areas without a use permit.

“But recognize we are getting away from the concept of bringing all farmworker housing into an area where there’s transportation and services and the rest of it,” said Reverdy Johnson of the Napa County Housing Commission. “Because you are really talking about a dispersal of housing into the boondocks.”

Steve Moulds of the commission expressed concern about a possible development incursion into the agricultural preserve. He questioned whether this is the right place for family farmworker housing.

“If you talk to workers, they want to be located near downtown centers,” he said.

Pedroza said he’s heard that some Napa County seniors might be having trouble staying in their homes because of such issues as fixed incomes and property taxes. If that’s an issue, the county might try to address it.

At future meetings, county officials will continue to discuss the county’s role in helping with affordable housing.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.