Awards of Excellence: Valencia Vista
The Housing Authority of the County of San Bernardino and the National Community Renaissance win a 2017 Award of Excellence in Affordable Housing for developing a transformative community development to uplift and revitalize a neighborhood and city. Nominated from among the NAHRO Award of Merit winners each year, the Awards of Excellence winners are chosen by national juries and honored at the annual National Conference and Exhibition in October. They represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development.
The city of San Bernardino, CA was in steady decline with high crime and poverty rates rising. As a consequence, there had been no multifamily housing development approved in more than a decade. Poverty and crime had increased in formerly middle-class areas such as the Baseline-and-Waterman neighborhood. Built in the 1940s and once a thriving residential and commercial district, the area had since fallen into disrepair. At its center stood the Waterman Gardens public housing project, slightly isolated from the woes of the surrounding area but still a clear sign of the need for change. There was thought that if the property could be uplifted, then the neighborhood would follow.
That’s where the Housing Authority of the County of San Bernardino, which owned the property, and the National Community Renaissance (National CORE), a nonprofit community builder with a strong reputation for community redevelopment, came in. First, they held more than 100 community events, meetings, and planning sessions, and conducted hours of research in order to gather input from stakeholders and build support for the project. Over time this became the Arrowhead Grove Neighborhood Revitalization project – the most robust public-private partnership in the city’s history.
Working with partners such as the City of San Bernardino, the Hope through Housing Foundation and the San Bernardino City Unified School District, National CORE and the Housing Authority developed phase one of the much-anticipated project: the 76-unit Valencia Vista housing community, which sets the tone for the rest of the revitalization project and plays an important role in the redevelopment of the Baseline-and-Waterman community as a whole.
Valencia Vista, which welcomed its first residents in 2016, is designed as an educational village with spaces for community gatherings such as an amphitheater and garden, computer lab and an outdoor interactive learning environment for children and adults alike. Heightening the educational experience, National CORE developed an emerging partnership with the San Bernardino City Unified School District that will create additional interactivity with the adjacent E. Neal Roberts School. The site also offers supportive services to help community members, especially families who need to manage their finances, seniors and those with special needs.
To build this state-of-the-art property, National CORE brought in the architecture firm Humphreys and Partners, who used their E-Urban design -- most commonly seen in market-rate projects -- to establish a high-end feel and maintain quality construction standards.
The creation of Valencia Vista is a unique project for National CORE. Through their partnership with the Housing Authority, they acquired multiple federal and local funding sources and made use of the HUD Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, which allows public housing agencies to convert units from their original sources of HUD financing to project-based Section 8 contracts. This was the first time National CORE used RAD money for offsite construction. Because it was vital that no residents of Waterman Gardens were displaced during the property transformation, the Valencia Vista property was built adjacent to the Waterman Gardens property, helping to facilitate a phased demolition that did not cause a major disruption for residents. In addition to maintaining various partnerships and funding sources, National CORE had to manage combining multiple layers of local and Federal subsidy through their RAD transaction and satisfy the requirements of all HUD sub-agencies involved in the process. For instance, when the HUD Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) branch was skeptical regarding part of the development plan, while HUD Office of Recapitalization (the office that handles RAD) and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) were supportive, it was vital that National CORE quickly remedy the issue. They worked with elected officials and legal counsel to facilitate approval, financial closing and commencement of the project’s construction. Valencia Vista also received a Platinum LEED certification.
Valencia Vista is only one part of a larger plan for the neighborhood. The broader Waterman-Baseline Neighborhood Specific Plan, approved by the City Council, puts into motion a dedication to an investment in a “complete community.” The plan aims to provide a diversity of housing options along with a park, shopping centers, quality jobs, millions of dollars of infrastructure improvements and a neighborhood serving a K-12 school. It will accommodate almost 3,000 more residential units and 1.2 million square feet of commercial uses. The Arrowhead Grove Neighborhood Revitalization project, including phase one’s construction of Valencia Vista, earned praise from San Bernardino Mayor Carey Davis who called the project as “a miracle” and “an important step forward for our community.” Valencia Vista is viewed as a template for an additional 300 to 400 housing units in the master plan area, suggesting continued support from the San Bernardino community and its partners. Valencia Vista is the first step towards realizing both the San Bernardino Housing Authority’s and National CORE’s goal of economic growth and community transformation.