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New low-income complex underway, finally
avena bella pic1
City of Turlock officials join EAH Housing of San Rafael in breaking ground on the new 80-unit low-income housing development named Avena Bella, which will be constructed on 4.3 acres at 500 W. Linwood Ave., near Cunningham Elementary School.

Turlock broke ground on a long-anticipated low-income housing development Wednesday – a development which almost didn’t happen.

Avena Bella, a $19 million, 80-unit low-income housing development, will be constructed on 4.3 acres at 500 W. Linwood Ave., near Cunningham Elementary School. EAH Housing of San Rafael will operate the development; the group currently manages low-income housing in 45 communities, serving 20,000 residents.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for Turlock,” said Mayor John Lazar. “It’s going to be an economic engine for our community as we move out of this recession.”

The project will bring both construction jobs and affordable housing units to those who need them, Lazar said.

All units are reserved for those earning below 50 percent of the area median income, adjusted by family size. A one bedroom apartment for an individual earning 30 percent of the AMI will be available as inexpensively as $260 per month.

EAH expects to begin taking applications for the units in January or February 2013. Credit and background checks will be required.


Financing a challenge

The City of Turlock financed the development with about $5 million of redevelopment agency dollars –combined with federal Affordable Housing Program funds and state tax credits – just months before redevelopment agencies were shuttered statewide by the State Supreme Court and legislators.

“We dodged the loss of redevelopment by one whisker,” said Mary Murtaugh, president and CEO of EAH Housing. “If it (Avena Bella) had been delayed even three or four months, it wouldn’t have happened.”

Turlock has owned the parcel since 2003, but previous efforts to develop low-income housing there were fruitless. This time, development succeeded because of Turlock’s never-say-no attitude, according to Turlock Housing Program Manager Maryn Pitt.

“That’s just being stubborn, but sometimes that works,” Pitt said.

Among the city’s efforts: Council voted to phase the project and commit more redevelopment  funding to the first phase, ensuring Avena Bella qualified for state funding before redevelopment disappeared. That second phase, of 60 additional units, could follow in three to four years, depending on available funding.

According to Felix AuYeung, senior project manager with EAH Housing, the project has been among the smoothest in EAH’s history thanks to the City of Turlock’s hard work.

“The only hitch would have been the rain for the groundbreaking, but it’s not raining,” AuYeung said.


A green, upscale development

Less than four years after its December 2009 inception, EAH Housing projects all construction on Avena Bella to be completed by summer 2013. Families will move in before the start of the school year.

“We’re certainly honored to join the City of Turlock and our development partners to break ground on such an environmentally friendly and affordable housing complex,” said Judy Binsacca, chair of the EAH Board of Directors.

Avena Bella will be green down to the roofing materials, exterior paint and cleaning products used by janitors. Avena Bella is projected to be the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum certified housing project in the county.

Avena Bella will be attractive, too, AuYeung said, and built to last with high-quality construction materials.

“We want it to look like it belongs in a neighborhood. We don’t want people to walk by and say that it looks like low-income housing,” AuYeung said.

The amenities set the development apart, AuYeung said. A community center, pool, computer lab, and play structures will be available to residents – as will a part-time employee dedicated to helping children with homework. Solar power will provide energy for the common areas, allowing EAH to offer the amenities at low rents.

The positives of the development couple with a perfect location, EAH Housing said, within walking distance of Cunningham Elementary, public transportation, and nearby shopping.

It all adds up to an ideal development, all involved say – and one which can’t open soon enough.

“I can hardly wait to be standing there when all the families get their keys next summer,” Pitt said.