By Noel Smith
Beginning in late 2013, 40 new one, two and three bedroom apartments will welcome their new tenants in the middle of Aptos. There are many requirements these new tenants need to meet in order to be able to move into the project called “Aptos Blue” but the primary requirement is that they must meet the low, very low, and extremely low-income affordability levels, as set by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for low-income families or individuals with no mixing of income levels.
Aptos is a relatively quiet part of the county that has few high density housing sites and none before now devoted exclusively to low-income families. The thought of 40 low-income families concentrated in one complex in the middle of Aptos leaves many in the community perplexed. “We’ve been told by MidPen that preference will be given to those who already work and/or live in Aptos but that is no guarantee,” said a resident of Aptos Courtside, a townhome development with 29 residences that borders Aptos Blue on the northeast side.
“Most of us that live here are retired,” said one Aptos Courtside resident, “This was our sanctuary but now with three story apartment buildings taking over the area it gives a very different feeling. If they had at least designated that development for low income senior housing, that would have made more sense.”
Several of the neighbors that have voiced concerns are both former and active members of law enforcement and social service organizations. Their trepidation is that in their experience, low income and higher crime rates often go together. One of these neighbors commented that even though the new residents are supposed to be tightly screened, it leaves an opening for friends and family members who are not residents to come into the community in large numbers. “Our security system has been turned on for the first time since I moved here,” stated one resident.
At one time transient camping along Aptos Creek that borders Aptos Courtside and Aptos Blue started to become a problem but with the Sheriff Department’s help was quashed. “I’d hate for that to again become a gathering place for partying and camping,” another resident remarked.
The neighbors growing concern turned into alarm when they found out in January of 2013 that five of the forty low-income apartments had been allocated to the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency for MHSA (Mental Health Services Act) tenants. Unknown to most of the surrounding neighbors, this MHSA allocation had been in place since October of 2011.
The original description of the type of MHSA tenant that would be eligible for these five units left the impression that these people could be severally mentally ill. The County Health Services Agency revised the application description in March of 2013 to allay their fears but the first criteria still leaves cause for concern because it is open-ended as to what mental problems the MHSA tenant may have. (To assist a qualified individual who has a diagnosis of psychiatric disability including depression or anxiety disorders with permanent supportive housing to avoid homelessness.)
Beth Fraker, Director of Marketing and Communications for MidPen Housing, said, “The five MHSA clients will be in 2 studios and 3 one-bedroom units. There are a total of 4 studios and 4 one-bedroom units so the units with MHSA clients may move around as they move in and out.”
The Aptos Blue development didn’t happen overnight and the County Planning Department and the County Health Services Agency insists that they met all the legal requirements for notifying the residents, having community meetings and providing opportunities and periods for public comment.
However an “unaffiliated community based citizens group” is investigating whether the county followed the requirements of CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) in “morphing” the original project into what it actually approved, a 40-unit low-income housing development. According to a representative of this group, “Transparency, public notice and appropriate environmental review are at the center of this investigation.”
On November 25, 2008, the county selected the 5.5-acre property behind the Community Foundation on Soquel Drive and in front of the 30-unit Aptos Courtside Town homes at the end of Aptos Rancho Road for rezoning as higher density residential development. This was to meet the State imposed requirement and deadline for meeting the 30 acres of high-density housing called for by the County’s General Plan.
According to Julie Conway of the County Planning Department, a County requirement for the developer at the time, Bill Brooks, was that 40 percent (16 units) of the planned 40 condos were to be classified as low income in order for the Planned Unit Development (PUD) to be accepted.
Conway pointed out that the housing crisis caused the development to be put on hold by the developer until in 2010, MidPen Housing bought the property. The non-profit developer MidPen builds only low-income (affordable) housing and then manages the properties and acts as the landlord. Therefore, when MidPen acquired the property in Aptos, that is when it became 100 percent low-income apartments.
Public hearings were held both in 2008, according to Conway, when the original PUD was presented and then again in December of 2010 when MidPen made some physical changes reducing the size of the residential units because of the change from condos to apartments. The change from 40 percent to 100 percent low-income housing was also presented at that time. The County gave its approval of the changes in May of 2011.
Financing for the project comes from several sources, including Santa Cruz County, the California Department of Housing and Community Development, and CalHFA — Mental Health Services Act that mandated the five units of MHSA housing. Former Supervisor Ellen Pirie declared in the announcement for the groundbreaking in November of 2012 that, “Aptos Blue brings much-needed affordable work force housing to our county.”
A brochure put out by MidPen Housing provides the following description of some of the on-site features and amenities provided at Aptos Blue:
- Community room and computer lab in the renovated Historic Castro House
- Tot lot • Laundry facilities • Community gardens • 101 parking spaces
- After school tutoring • Nutrition program • Computer training
- Financial and Home buyers’ education
- Connection to community resources
So where does that leave the community’s concerns about having a 40-unit high density, low, very low, and extremely low-income development that also will have five MHSA tenants in the middle of Aptos? “It’s a done deal!” said Kevin Painchaud of Aptos Courtside, “We’re just so frustrated that this project has gone through with no community outreach at all. You’d think that a project this size would require some sort of public notice to begin development. Aptos Blue affects the entire community.”
“We just have to wait and see if all the assurances we’ve gotten from the county, from MidPen and from the County Health Services Agency are true; that we have nothing to worry about.”
Another concerned Aptos person said, “I’m not worried about the first one or two years, everybody is going to be very careful at first. But five or six years down the road; that’s when things will start to get bad. That’s when the gangs will move in and the Mental Health Services people will become complacent and select the wrong people. It takes time to build a bad situation. I’m sure Cabrini-Green looked like heaven to everybody on the day it first opened.”
The Aptos Times will continue to follow this developing situation. We encourage your comments on our website and via email.