Irvine adds two more affordable housing properties
A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the affordable housing neighborhoods Luminaira and Espaira was held Oct. 27, drawing representatives of the coalition of housing advocates, developers, nonprofits, designers, and landowners that made the much-needed units possible. The event, however, is about more than the 166 families who will benefit. The opening of the two properties is a watershed moment that addresses the broader housing crisis in Orange County and beyond. Both market-rate housing as well as affordable housing are scarce.
The need for affordable housing in Irvine is acute. The median income in the area is $85,000, and affordable monthly rent at that income is $2,125 per month, according to a National Low Income Housing Coalition (nlihc.org) report. Someone making 30 percent of the median income can only afford $638 monthly rent in Orange County. In Irvine, nearly half of the total households are renters. Of that, 3,000 units or 13 percent are affordable, according to city statistics.
One of the speakers at the ceremony was a resident of the community, Wijdan Abbas, who described the moment she was notified that she, her husband and four young sons would be moving into the family’s new Irvine apartment. “I was honestly happier to receive this congratulations call than I was for my college admission."
Abbas, a stay-at-home mother who came to the U.S. 13 years ago, told the audience that the community “was a dream come true” for she and her husband, Mehdi, a linguist working with the U.S. Marine Corps. “This meant my boys would continue to go to their schools, be with their friends, and best of all receive the excellent education provided by the Irvine school district.”
She explained that her family had lived in Irvine previously, enough time to “fall in love with the city, its people, schools, and organizations. However everything had its price and after seven years we were not able to continue living in this wonderful city without a miracle, affordable housing.”
“I am proud to be part of your community,” she concluded, “and look forward to all the memories we will have in our spacious and beautiful new home.”
Irvine Mayor Don Wagner told those gathered for the ribbon cutting: “This project allows for us to strengthen our community by bringing into it folks who might otherwise not have the opportunity to be here, to build their lives, to build their families, put their kids through our wonderful school system, and help enrich the fabric of this community.”
The two communities are developed by FivePoint, Related California and Riverside Charitable and sit on 5.35 acres of the Great Park Neighborhoods. The new affordable apartments join Solaira at Pavilion Park, a nearby affordable housing community for adults age 55 and older, also part of the Great Park Neighborhoods.
The affordable developments are designed not to be separated from the market-rate housing next door; not aesthetically, geographically or socially.
“It's high-quality housing for families,” said Bill Witte, chairman and CEO of Related California. “It doesn't read as affordable housing.”
The communities include pools, playgrounds, a barbeque and picnic pavilion, and dog run. There’s a 4,000-square-foot leasing and social services center that includes a kitchen, media room, computer center, mailroom and play area. Onsite services will include after school programs and educational classes.
The two- and three-bedroom apartments at the 82-unit Luminaira are all leased, while those at 84-unit Espaira will be occupied at the end of the year. Residents must earn less than 50 percent of the median income in Orange County to qualify for the units. Rents range from $657 to $1,029 per month.
The kids who live at Luminaira and Espaira attend Beacon Park School for grades K-8 and Portola High School, neighborhood schools that opened in 2016.
“On the first day of school this year we provided backpacks for over a hundred children that are currently living here, as they walked across the street to go to school,” said Lynn Joachim, FivePoint executive vice president. “We're going to watch them walk across the street and go to the great Sports Park that opened its first phase this summer and perhaps to walk across the street to their first job when we open our first retail center. And we’ll continue to watch them become leaders and members of our community.”
“That's our job, once the families are settled, to work on the education component,” said Allen Baldwin, who served as executive director of the Orange County Community Housing Corp. for 35 years. “To make sure all the kids get to college and complete college, so they can stand at this microphone later on and talk about what they've built and what they've developed.”
Other speakers at the event included emcee Steve Churm, chief communications officer for FivePoint; Liane Takano, Related’s Senior VP in charge of the affordable housing projects; Ken Robertson of Riverside Charitable Corporation; and Craig Gillette, president of LifeSTEPS, the social services provider for the residents.
The speakers described the dedication and vision of numerous individuals, nonprofits and businesses over almost two decades.
“Yesterday, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Orange County Community Housing Corp., a voice of affordable housing in Orange County,” Bill Witte said. “And 20 years ago, they and a consortium of nonprofits who are here today, had a vision when the El Toro base was declared surplus to include affordable housing as part of a vibrant, mixed income community.”
The coalition joined forces as El Toro Housing Initiative Collaboration (or ETHIC) Housing Trust.
“We started in 1995, working with all the shelters and other nonprofits in Orange County to try to keep this as visible as possible, so the mission wouldn't be lost, to have these 166 units,” Baldwin said. “And we've got 'em, thanks to everybody involved.”
The affordable communities will not be the last built at Great Park Neighborhoods. Plans for the master-planned, mixed-use community being built by FivePoint adjacent to the Orange County Great Park include a total of 1,056 affordable units.
“We, the entirely community of Irvine, are thoroughly enriched by the efforts that you've made, the hard work and the investments that you've put in,” Mayor Wagner said to the audience at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Sincerely, on behalf of the whole city, thank you so very much.”