By Mike Dent, Nevada County Housing and Community Services Director
The Nevada County Board of Supervisors had foresight when they prioritized access to affordable housing in 2018. Since that time, the housing crisis in California has accelerated, as has the cost of development. California is currently the second most expensive place to live in the nation after Hawaii. The Board’s early action precipitated a wave of forward-thinking efforts and innovative solutions. Since 2018, there have been numerous projects initiated across Nevada County, representing a spectrum of housing types from supportive housing to general affordable housing. After years of effort, many of these projects are starting to come online, including Brunswick Commons in Grass Valley, Lone Oak Senior Apartments in Penn Valley, and Cashin’s Field in Nevada City. These projects have a tangible benefit, but it is still not enough, and more must be done across the spectrum.
The Ranch House project is a great example of an innovative project that addresses an important gap in the current array of housing services: supportive housing for people who are stable enough to live with relative independence but will thrive best in an independent unit, as opposed to living with roommates. To close this gap, this project would convert an existing program in a three-bedroom dwelling into six standalone units. To make this vision a reality, we successfully applied for No Place Like Home (NLPH) funding, becoming the first small-scale project funded in California under the NLPH program. When this project was hit by inflation and increasing construction costs that have impacted projects across the state, we applied for additional funding to make the project possible based on current construction cost estimates. Luckily, we were among the first five applicants awarded Community Care Expansion funding. This project is important, and the significant costs of closing this housing gap are being entirely funded by State grants, not local General Funds.
Projects like the Ranch House have a greater impact in our community compared to the actual number of housing units provided. The people who currently live at the Ranch House and those who will live there in the future are at high risk of homelessness due to their mental health issues. People experiencing homelessness are significantly more likely to have worsening mental health and substance use symptoms and are at high risk for being hospitalized and other poor outcomes.
Behavioral Health has an array of housing resources, with around 150 people housed through county support and services at any given moment. Yet despite available resources and supports, around 30 people (40% of the total) who receive intensive case management from Behavioral Health are either homeless or living in an emergency shelter because there simply aren’t enough housing units available.
When the Ranch House project went before the Planning Commission, neighbors, businesses, and other community members showed up to express concerns, and it became clear that we hadn’t done enough to support and educate the neighborhood. Since the Planning Commission meeting, we have met with neighbors, local businesses and others, created open lines of communication, and made changes to the project’s design to address their concerns and those of the Planning Commission.
Amidst the legitimate concerns of the commission and neighbors, there has been a profusion of misleading or inaccurate information presented at the commission and in local media in recent weeks. To set the record straight, below are some key facts regarding the Ranch House Project:
- The project will house six people, not twelve (as some claimed). This limit will be incorporated in the site management contract if the project is approved.
- Residents of the Ranch House receive twice daily visits.
- There is a transportation plan to ensure clients have safe access to transportation. A bus stop was originally intended but was determined to be infeasible and unsafe due to the high rate of speed on Highway 49 in the area.
- This project is compliant with CEQA, has been reviewed by a qualified expert, and has been determined not to impact the wetland.
- The project has never, and in the future, will not house people with a history of violence or sexual offenses. People with such backgrounds will always be excluded from this residence.
- There have been false claims that the County doesn’t follow its own rules. In fact, we have followed all the same processes and standards of a private developer, received the same level of review, and paid the same development fees as that same private developer would.
- The project is within the original site of the current single-family dwelling, not in the undeveloped portions of the parcel. The new building will house the same program as is currently housed at the site, but with an increased capacity and upgrades from a shared-living environment to an independent living environment for long-term clients.
- Inflation and construction costs have increased the cost of the project. However, the project is funded with State grants that cannot be used at another site or for another project. If the project does not move forward, the funds will have to be reverted back to the State and will be used by other jurisdictions.
Additional facts and information can be found here: www.NevadaCountyCA.gov/RanchHouse.