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Quartz Ridge affordable housing costs, need questioned

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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At $19.3 million – or more than $300,000-per-apartment – the cost of a 64-unit government-subsidized, affordable-housing project in Bowman is being questioned by some residents. So is the need. Dale Smith, a community activist and opponent of the project at the Silver Bend Way site, said Quartz Ridge Family Apartments costs, including potential tax-credits totaling $14.1 million and $3.2 million in loans from the Placer County Redevelopment Agency, are questionable. “Where does that money come from?” Smith asked. “Right out of the pockets of the citizens. You can buy a pretty good-sized house for $300,000 and they’re going to heap people on top of each other.” In fact, there are many houses on the market for less than $200,000 in the Auburn area. Smith said that with federal tax credits part of the funding formula, it won’t only be Placer County residents who will be paying. With many millions of dollars already spent on what Smith describes as a “deplorable” project, Smith said he questions the spending of many millions more. George Horan, who owns and rents a duplex and three fouplexes in Auburn, said that the new development is coming at a time when the rental market is very distressed. “There are no jobs,” Horan said. The Airport Industrial Park is empty and the only jobs are low-paying service jobs along the I-80 and Highway 49 corridor. It will not only flood an already flooded market (but will also) damage the value of local investments in affordable housing that is already here.” Jim LoBue, Placer County Redevelopment Agency deputy director, said that Quartz Ridge developer USA Properties is using the near-$20 million expenditure to “front-load” the costs associated with managing the development. That includes upkeep on landscaping and amenities like a swimming pool and activity room over a 55-year span when rents will be artificially lowered to provide affordable housing to lower-income residents. And USA Properties – which already owns and operates the 60-unit Auburn Court Apartments in North Auburn – has been regularly gauging the market to see if there will be a continuing demand, LoBue said. “This is a long-time investment,” LoBue said. “It’s not just to satisfy a snapshot in time for demand. Most people recognize the area is at the bottom of the housing market and expectations are it will go up and down but generally up. No one wants to build something and have it vacant.” The project – now called Quartz Ridge after initially using the name Miner’s Ridge Family Apartments – will consists of 64 units available to rent for individuals or families with incomes at or below 80 percent of the area’s median income. Horan has called the project a “lose-lose” for the county and Auburn because it adds more low-cost housing to what he considers an already saturated market. A Redevelopment Agency survey last month indicates that some affordable housing projects are having no problem finding tenants and even have waiting lists – while others are less able to retain tenants. Auburn Court Apartments, which USA Properties built, listed one vacant unit and 17 households on a waiting list. At Terracina Oaks, there were three vacancies in 54 units, with 28 on the waiting list. Colonial Village Auburn had six vacancies and four on the wait list, while Snowcap View had 13 vacant units out of 80, with two people on the waiting list. Rents are advertised at one affordable housing development – the 7-year-old Palm Terrace Apartments on Red Hawk Lane – at $903 a month for two bedrooms and one bath to $1,147 for a four-bedroom, two-bath unit. Palm Terrace is located in the city of Auburn and not part of the county tally. LoBue said that the Placer County Housing Authority has a waiting list of 500 households for affordable housing. USA Properties received an OK last month to a financing and land-sale plan on the much-debated, much-delayed affordable housing project in Bowman. The project has faced opposition from neighbors and nearby residents with environmental concerns about the site since it was first proposed in 2001. Grassroots group Residents Against Inconsistent Development stopped an initial affordable housing proposal going forward but when the first developer pulled out of a seniors-only plan, the county bought the Silver Bend Way property and renewed efforts to build on the site. USA Properties was chosen by the county from four applicants. The 30-year-old company is responsible for the development of more than 9,000 low-cost units in Nevada and California. Smith said the costs for the Quartz Ridge development should go higher after he does a public records search and adds on other expenditures it has entailed, including legal costs. “When all of those figures are put into the hopper, the (USA Properties estimated)amount per door is terribly inaccurate and much lower than the real costs, but it is my intention to find out all of those costs and bring it forward to the public,” Smith said..