[The Episcopal News] Los Angeles Bishop John Harvey Taylor on Aug. 16 joined about 100 Episcopalians and local, county, state and national officials at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Santa Angelina affordable senior housing community at Blessed Sacrament Church in Placentia.
“Foxes have dens, birds have nests and the church in Southern California has real estate,” said Taylor, paraphrasing Matthew 8:20, amid enthusiastic applause and cheers. Taylor and others noted the drastic need for affordable housing, particularly for seniors, and the diocesan commitment to partnering with Episcopal Community Services and others to help alleviate the crisis.
For diocesan congregations with available land, developments like the Santa Angelina project offer “a natural step to housing justice,” Taylor said. “We can see how this property is already being transformed and enlivened, thanks to the openness and the welcoming heart of the people of Blessed Sacrament.”
Santa Angelina is expected to be completed in 18 months and will encompass a senior center, and 65 affordable apartment homes; 21 will be available to seniors already experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of becoming homeless, according to Alexa Washburn, senior vice president of Planning and Acquisitions for Southern California-based National CORE, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit developers of affordable housing.
“The senior population is our fastest growing population of homeless here in the county of Orange”; nearly 50 percent, she said. “It brings a smile to my face when I think about the enriching environment that Blessed Sacrament Church is going to provide for our seniors, the opportunities that may exist for seniors to volunteer at the Children’s Learning Center.”
The development will also include a community garden, and other partners, such as the Hope through Housing Foundation and Orange County Mental Health Services, will offer onsite resources and services for residents.
“We rejoice in today and what it means for us, and for our senior community,” the Rev. Barrett Van Buren, Blessed Sacrament’s rector, told The Episcopal News.
“This is the day that Blessed Sacrament and the Placentia community embark even more on such a journey of outreach ministry together, to provide even more on our sacred grounds the necessary low-cost housing that has been long overdue.”
President and CEO James Rothrock of Episcopal Communities & Services said, “Santa Angelina is going to provide many, many seniors with the ability to age with dignity. We need many, many more days like today. The state of California has determined that we need more than a million new homes for low-income households over the next eight-year housing cycle.
“While 65 new homes may not seem like much, if our story is replicated throughout the state, anything is possible,” he added. Through National CORE, “we had a great development partner, but we needed great land, land near supportive services, and a mission. We approached this church … they had such open hearts about sharing this property and supporting the mission.”
Orange County Board of Supervisors Chair Doug Chaffee pledged continued county support for Santa Angelina after completion. He praised Blessed Sacrament and the diocese for the partnership, noting that services needed may include age-related, mental health and addiction issues. “We are so glad you’ve opened your hearts. This is a very important thing that I see any church doing.
“I understand from your bishop you’ve got more land,” he added amid laughter and hearty applause, vowing to be in touch with Taylor about possible future collaboration. “It’s important that we take care of people as they age and have health issues. We will step up at the plate at the county and continue on as this is built, because that’s part of our mission, too.”
Damien Arrula, Placentia city administrator, said the project was a creative and thoughtful approach for addressing homelessness, in a city with relatively low land availability.
Placentia Mayor Rhonda Shader called the new development: “A win-win-win. This project is a win all the way around.”
Some initial concern and resistance to the project was resolved, she said. “We feel so proud of this neighborhood because we all settled down and said, ‘what are we really concerned about?’ and we got to the table and were able to resolve those issues. The neighborhood is ready. I’m not sure they realize how much this will enhance and add to the value and quality of this area.”
Shader also promised ongoing local support. “There is a lot more work to be done. We will remain the engaged excellent partners you need during inspections and getting things moving forward to get those sweet, beautiful seniors moved in.”
Placentia’s district 5 city council member Ward Smith echoed some of the initial concerns, especially about the impact of construction on students at the church’s award-winning Children’s Learning Center. A group of youngsters emerged from the building, wearing yellow hard hats and reflective vests, prompting laughter and applause.
“I’ve heard they’ve had a blast,” ‘Smith said. “They’ve been peeking through the green fences as the trees came down and at the trucks.” He encouraged participants to continue to visit the site once construction begins Aug. 17.
“You can’t just come today,” he said. “You need to come back every few weeks, just drive by and start watching, as the sticks go up and you can start to see the actual construction taking place.”
Veronica Kelley, chief of the Orange County Health Care Agency’s Mental Health and Recovery Services, also a project partner, said the agency will offer onsite services. “The key to helping our communities remain successfully house is onsite supportive services. Today marks the start of state-supported living for seniors here in Placentia.”
U.S. Rep Young Kim (Republican-Orange County) also spoke briefly to the gathering, noting that the project offers three C’s: collaboration, cooperation, and compassion for individuals and communities, efforts that can “make a difference in our world, and it starts right here.”.
Hope through Housing President Greg Bradbard agreed: “This is about more than bricks and mortar; it is about us, coming alongside seniors to make sure they have a great quality of life on this property.”
A 1,500-square-foot community center will be a hub for events, support services and other programming, including workshops focused on nutrition, fitness, computer literacy, financial education, and food assistance as well as social activities, Bradbard said, “as we look to battle isolation, depression, and dementia and build community in this place.”
National CORE is also partnering with ECS for Seniors and St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Buena Park to develop Orchard View Gardens, a $22 million senior affordable housing community expected to break ground in late 2023.
“We rejoice in today and what it might mean for us, as well,” said the Rev. Cindy Voien, rector of St. Joseph’s, who attended the groundbreaking ceremony along with parishioner Pat Jebens.
“We wanted to support Blessed Sacrament,” Jebens told the News. “We’re hoping to get the last of our funding in place to get started on the Orchard Gardens too.”
A similar housing project – this one for at-risk families – at St. Michael’s Episcopal Ministry Center in Riverside is nearing completion. (See story here.)
In February 2022, National CORE and the Orange County Health Care Agency received $17,415,777 in funding from the California Housing Accelerator, launched in 2021 by the California Department of Housing and Community Development.
The CHA is meant to fast-track affordable housing developments that have been stalled by the cap on state tax credits and bonds. Prior to this funding, Santa Angelina had received No Place Like Home funding warded to both National CORE and Orange County through HCD.
Additional funding comes from the California Housing Finance Agency’s Special Needs Housing Program, the Orange County Housing Finance Trust, Century Housing, and Chase Bank.
National CORE, which will manage construction and administer the property, has established a Santa Angelina website. Those who are interested in housing at the new community may sign up for a mailing list to receive updates throughout construction and be notified when applications open. For other questions, email email@example.com.