The San Joaquin Villas located in Firebaugh, a rural community in Fresno County, was California Community Builders’ first development project aimed at expanding homeownership to low-income communities. We believe that homeownership should be accessible to everyone, thus we embarked on the journey of building affordable, energy efficient homes.
The houses we have built are located on a 1.7 acre lot of land with various amenities and enhanced landscaping. The cottage-style detached units are two- story, three bedroom and with two full bathrooms. Each unit has a shaded front porch, which opens on to a courtyard-style walkway that connects the homes visually. Each home has a patio in the rear and an attached garage for one car with a driveway. Units include quality engineered wood and carpet flooring, granite countertops in both the kitchen and bathrooms, custom cabinets, energy efficient appliances, central air conditioning, vaulted living room ceilings and substantial storage.
Our original goal was to build 21 for sale townhomes for first time low-income buyers (less than 30% of area median income). However, due to the national mortgage foreclosure crisis aka The Great Recession, in 2008, CCB was only able to secure a construction loan for 10 homes instead of the 21 homes originally agreed with a bank. Ten townhomes were completed and sold in 2010 at $150,000 each. During construction, we faced many challenges that raised costs, such as paying prevailing wages due a requirement of a modest state housing grant received after construction commenced.
Firebaugh is a small town in Fresno County with a population of 8,296. Over 90% of the population identifies as Latino. The median household income was $28,555, with over 34% of the population living below the poverty line. The unemployment rate of the city is quite high as well, estimating about 28%. Overall, 55% of the population are renters and the other 45% are homeowners. The major employers of Firebaugh are Toma-Tek, Inc., a tomato packaging company; (Tri) Westside Produce, a fruit producer; and Cartel Transport, an agriculture transportation company. Nearby Firebaugh, there are several community colleges and universities, with the biggest ones being Fresno State University and UC Merced.
Recognizing the need for homeownership housing for low-income families during a major housing crisis, the City of Firebaugh greeted California Community Builders with open arms. Beginning with the City Manager’s “can do” attitude and follow up assistance, CCB committed to building townhomes if the City Council would approve a zoning amendment to build more homes. Members of the city council, after visiting a similarly designed townhome development, approved the zoning amendment and a “partnership” was formed. Shortly after the 21-townhome development was approved, CCB secured a construction loan to build the 23 townhomes but several months later, as the nation-wide mortgage crisis worsened, the bank changed the agreement to only finance 10 townhomes.
All ten home-buyers had 2 or more children ranging from toddlers to teenagers. Nine of the original ten home-buyers remain as owners. California Community Builders secured several sources of down-payment assistance and very low interest mortgage financing that all required homeownership counseling. The rare opportunity for a low-income family to buy a newly constructed townhome attracted more than 30 potential home-buyers who attended counseling sessions during the work week in the evening. All of the home-buyers received up to $35,000 in downpayment assistance. Owning a home has provided these families with an opportunity to secure economic stability, build wealth, and send their children to college.
Our Shift to Policy Advocacy
California Community Builders provided homeownership to 10 families and demonstrated that a nonprofit organization is capable of addressing affordability and homeownership/equity. The journey to build homeownership opportunities also shed light on numerous challenges facing affordable housing builders and market rate developers to build housing. The requirement to pay prevailing wages, once a project receives state funding, increased the cost of the development, an expense not anticipated. Complying with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and other energy related regulations were encountered soon after the Firebaugh project and motivated CCB to reform if not eliminate the growing regulations that impede housing production, including affordable rental housing and homeownership. CCB launched The 200, an advocacy project to close the racial wealth gap through homeownership and create a path out of poverty.