Placer partners on Auburn affordable apartments

By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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Gus Thomson/Auburn Journal

Trees now shade a 3-acre property in North Auburn that could be developed as an affordable housing complex.  


A stretch of undeveloped land with a raw water canal flowing along the side is being targeted by one of California’s leading affordable housing builders for a 79-unit development.

Mercy Housing of California has been given the go-ahead by Placer County to develop a plan to build on property on the east side of 1st Street in North Auburn, between Bell Road and D Avenue. The land is located in the county owned Placer County Government Center.

Stephan Daues, of Mercy Housing, said that approval of a two-year option agreement allows the nonprofit to complete design work on the 3-acre parcel, conduct community outreach and be ready to build once the county completes its master plan for the government center.

Mercy’s goal is to have the new units built and ready for occupancy by 2021. Plans are for three, three-story apartment buildings and seven two-story attached townhouses.

The development would be located across First Street from the site of the Bell Garden apartments, a complex of county owned, affordable housing apartments torn down in 2013.

Veronica Blake, of the Placer Community Foundation, described the move by the county on a potential partnership as a step in the right direction on a commitment made in 2001 to rebuild Bell Garden housing.

A county estimate is that 64 units were torn down at Bell Garden, which were originally barracks housing military hospital staff during World War II. The buildings were inherited by the county when it took over the DeWitt Mental Hospital from the state in the early 1970s.

Herb Whitaker, chief attorney for Legal Services of Northern California, said the number of Bell Garden units lost was 96 and the Mercy plan would only replace some of the affordable units.

But Whitaker said that with Mercy’s successful track record of developing low-income housing in the Sacramento area over 40 years, he would have no qualms recommending them for a project at the government center.

Mercy has an established footprint in the Auburn area. Mercy’s McCauley Meadows affordable apartment complex on Auburn Folsom Road was opened in 2013. It has 140 properties throughout California.

The Board of Supervisors voted to approve the option at its June 26 meeting. It has committed no county funds to the project but the proposal includes a contribution by Placer County toward the project valued at $2.1 million in the form of a long-term, low-cost lease and development impact fee waivers and credits. The county’s contribution of land is potentially valued at $1.5 million.

“We’re really excited about this,” Supervisor Jim Holmes said. “We want to get this thing going as soon as possible.”