Yusra Farzan
In 2019, Yesica Valle escaped an abusive relationship with her three children. Without a home, she turned to shelters or her friends’ and family’s garages around Orange County to live.

“I don’t make enough money to afford regular rent prices with my one income,” Valle said. “They want you to make three times the (rent) amount, and then because I have three kids, they wouldn’t let me be in a one-bedroom apartment.”

Valle now lives in the Salerno Apartments, an affordable housing community in Irvine after seeking help from Families Forward, a nonprofit organization that connects unhoused families with housing resources. She has lived in the apartment community since April 2021.

“I don’t think there’s words enough to explain my gratitude and my thankfulness and the peace that my kids and I now have,” Valle said about living in affordable housing.

Undeveloped land on the southwest corner of Great Park Boulevard and Sand Canyon Avenue in Irvine, CA, on Wednesday, December 21, 2022. The city council approved the dedication of a four acre site at Sand Canyon and Great Park Boulevard and tasked the Irvine Community Land Trust with developing the land for affordable housing. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Undeveloped land on the southwest corner of Great Park Boulevard and Sand Canyon Avenue in Irvine, CA, on Wednesday, December 21, 2022. The city council approved the dedication of a four acre site at Sand Canyon and Great Park Boulevard and tasked the Irvine Community Land Trust with developing the land for affordable housing. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

The main entrance to the Alegre apartment complex off Visions in Irvine. The complex was the first permanent affordable housing complex built by the Irvine Community Land Trust. The Irvine City Council recently approved the dedication of a four-acre site at Sand Canyon and Great Park Boulevard and tasked the Irvine Community Land Trust with developing the land for affordable housing. (Matt Masin/Staff photographer)

Salerno Apartments, an 80-unit affordable rent project, opened in March 2021. The Irvine City Council recently approved the dedication of a four-acre site at Sand Canyon and Great Park Boulevard and tasked the Irvine Community Land Trust with developing the land for affordable housing. (Courtesy: Irvine Community Land Trust)

Undeveloped land on the southwest corner of Great Park Boulevard and Sand Canyon Avenue in Irvine, CA, on Wednesday, December 21, 2022. The city council approved the dedication of a four acre site at Sand Canyon and Great Park Boulevard and tasked the Irvine Community Land Trust with developing the land for affordable housing. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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Irvine City Councilmember Tammy Kim, who has earmarked affordable housing as a top priority , joined her fellow council members last month in unanimously approving the dedication of a four-acre plot of Irvine Company land for affordable housing.

The site at Sand Canyon and Great Park Boulevard will be transferred to the Irvine Community Land Trust — which has operated independently of the city since 2017, albeit with Kim on its board — to oversee the development of the land.

Details for this project are still in the works, according to Kim, as the city is still in the process of transferring the land. The trust is still working to configure what type of property and how many units will be available on the site as well as to set a timeline for the project.

“There (are) a lot of things we have to determine, including things such as building construction costs, mortgage interest rates, inflation, cost of living,” Kim said.

Under the city’s 2006 Development Agreement with Irvine Company, the real estate developer is required to dedicate and convey 17 acres of land for affordable housing by Dec. 31. To date, it has conveyed approximately 10 of the 17 acres, in addition to the recently-approved four-acre spot. The 10 acres have been developed into Alegre Apartments , Sage Park and Salerno Apartments. A total of 252 units of varying sizes have been built.

The deadline for the conveyance of the outstanding three acres was extended to June 30, 2023.

Madelynn Hirneise, Families Forward’s CEO, connects families — “the hidden population, the hidden homeless here in Orange County” — with coveted affordable housing units and has worked closely with the Irvine Community Land Trust for nearly two decades. Some families sleep in O’Neill Regional Park, telling their kids they’re camping, she said; others squat in apartment units or sleep in a vehicle when they know there is no street sweeping.

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And because they are not always on the streets, families can be overlooked in the homeless count, Hirneise said.

In addition to homelessness, there is a critical need to address those at risk of becoming unhoused, according to community leaders.

In Irvine, said Cesar Covarrubias, the executive director of the local nonprofit Kennedy Commission, the daytime population is three to five times larger than the nighttime population because people cannot afford to live in the city and therefore commute to work.

Kim, too, has recognized a “big gap in supportive housing” for those on the brink of homelessness. In some instances, she said, people make too much money to qualify for very low-income housing, but are only a paycheck away from eviction.

The Regional Housing Needs Allocation is a California state-required process to ensure cities and counties plan for enough housing for all income levels. In the last RHNA cycle (2014-20), Irvine was required to plan for 2,239 moderate-income housing units; 2,034 low-income housing units; and 2,817 very low-income housing units.

An analysis by the Kennedy Commission, which focuses on housing, showed that the city has exceeded its goals in some categories.

However, given that “there are more than 30,000 people living in Irvine living before the poverty line,” Irvine City Manager Oliver Chi told the Register, affordable housing continues to be a critical issue for the city.

A City Council subcommittee was formed to identify solutions, said Chi, at the low-income level as well as “workforce housing units.” In the next eight-year RHNA housing cycle, the city has planned for 60,000 housing units.

These developments are critical, Valle said, because sometimes the lack of affordable housing forces individuals to stay in unhappy, violent situations because they do not have the income to move out.

And when they do, they end up on the streets as she did.

“It caused me a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression,” Valle said, about the time she was unhoused with her children. “You don’t know where you are going to sleep next.”

Written By: Yusra Farzan | Source:

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