[The Episcopal News] The Orchard View Gardens development at St. Joseph’s Church, Buena Park, has moved a step closer to providing much-needed affordable housing for at-risk seniors in north Orange County, according to the Rev. Cindy Voien, rector.
“People are excited and a little relieved,” Voien says, now that funding has been secured and permits are being sought to begin construction of the 66-unit apartment complex, generally expected to cost about $25 million and to break ground during the summer, with completion anticipated in 2024.
Orchard View Gardens is among a series of affordable housing initiatives spearheaded by Bishop John Harvey Taylor, who has pledged similar efforts to house at-risk seniors and others on at least 25 percent of the diocese’s 128 church campuses.
Two such projects currently are under construction: the Santa Angelina project at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Placentia, and senior housing at St. Michael’s Ministry Center in Riverside. The Buena Park project is the third. “There are 10 more on the drawing board,” Taylor has said, adding that he hopes to include another 20.
Episcopal Communities and Services (ECS), an institution of the diocese, is a partner in the project, linking congregations with National Community Renaissance, or National CORE, a leading nonprofit affordable housing developer, which manages more than 10,000 units nationally.
“This is a 14-month project with multiple funding sources,” says Sharon Pewtress, ECS vice president of Strategic Growth and Business Development. “We’re really excited that we are able to move forward and, that in a little over a year and a half from now we’ll be able to provide housing for 65 seniors and an apartment manager.”
Securing funding is a complicated and sometimes lengthy process, said Pewtress, adding her excitement at the prospect of developing future projects on additional church campuses.
“It’s like a milestone, with the diocese being able to get these up and going. It’s created a lot of momentum with other churches to create similar projects; being able to see these three come together makes it more of a reality.”
National CORE helps secure the funding, leases the space from the church, oversees construction and manages the facility, and once completed, provides services aimed at improving community life for seniors, said Alexa Washburn, senior vice president for Planning and Acquisitions for the nonprofit.
The 30-year-old agency enters into ground leases but the churches maintain ownership of the land in a mutually beneficial, shared mission, she said.
Funding sources for the project at St. Joseph’s include the city of Buena Park and Orange County through their housing trusts, which provided long-term low-interest loans, to be repaid through earnings derived from managing the facility.
The need for affordable housing is acute, Washburn said. “In Orange County, the cost of living is the number-one issue facing seniors,” she said. Roughly one-fourth of Buena Park’s 83,000 residents are people aged 55 and older, with a median income of about $53,000 yearly, compared to an overall median income of about $130,000, she said.
“The senior population is our fastest-growing homeless population in the county. It’s a shame. We all should be ashamed that this is how our seniors are struggling. Projects like partnering with St. Joseph’s can be a solution to this housing crisis.”
The Orchard View Gardens complex will include one- and two-bedroom apartments, with monthly rents ranging from about $750 to $1,500, including utilities, she said. As with similar projects, it will include a community center with services focused on health and wellness.
“I like to stress that why these partnerships are so successful, between National CORE and the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, is because of our mission alignment,” Washburn said. “It’s a win-win for all parties because we are working toward the same goal; to serve the most vulnerable populations.”
The projects also promise to help revitalize communities, generate jobs, offer churches sustainability, and create state-of-the-art living alternatives for vulnerable seniors. Washburn noted that the median annual income has jumped in just the past year while the housing shortage continues.
According to a January 2023 report by the Orange County Register, California tenants suffered the sixth-biggest rent-cost inflation between 2016 and 2021 – up 27%, resulting in 3.2 million California tenant households being “financially burdened,” which is defined as 30% or more of income going to housing costs.
“This is a pastoral accomplishment as well as a fiscal accomplishment,” Voien told Episcopal News. “We think of it as ministry; we expect to have a relationship with the building and residents.