As many as 36 individuals in eight families experiencing homelessness are likely to have a home for the holidays, thanks to a new affordable housing project that opened in Costa Mesa this week.
Built on a half-acre property on Pomona Street, “The Bungalows” features six renovated living spaces and two new accessory dwelling units (ADUs), built through a partnership of nonprofit organizations and building industry professionals.
Irvine-based Families Forward, which provides unhoused residents with assistance and resources designed to eventually get them into permanent homes, purchased the property at 2039 Pomona Ave. for $2.5 million in February 2021 and set about transforming the site into a small community of residences.
“We’re here to help families secure safe and stable housing,” Madelynn Hirneise, chief executive of Families Forward, said Thursday in a dedication ceremony. “With the critical shortage of housing, this may seem like a drop in the bucket. But I’m here to tell you, every drop counts.”
To get “The Bungalows” built, Families Forward partnered with HomeAid Orange County, a Tustin nonprofit that coordinates with building professionals willing to offer materials discounts, labor and in-kind donations to reduce the costs of building projects for those at risk of homelessness.
Under the lead of a “builder captain” (in this case Irvine’s W.L. Butler Construction), a team of roofers, electrical workers, interior designers and manufacturers collaborated to rehabilitate the ’50s-era structures, constructing two new dwellings and a small community gathering space.
“The only way to build a future without homelessness is to build houses, and the only way we can provide homes for our unhoused is to do what we do,” said HomeAid Orange County Executive Director Gina Cunningham.
The combined efforts of the companies, organizations, individuals and elected officials who either worked on the site or helped make it happen through donations and funding, were celebrated at Thursday’s dedication event, which included tours of the new homes.
Units include two-bedroom configurations, ADUs with lofts where children might sleep as well as a three-bedroom unit that can house up to seven and features two garages.
Occupants are selected through an application process, with preference given to those with residential, professional or educational ties to Costa Mesa currently experiencing homelessness, living in a shelter or in temporary accommodations.
A total of 83 families signed up for spaces in “The Bungalows” in the first 24 hours, according to Hirneise. Most of those chosen were families with a single head of household, primarily women.
“These units are for our most vulnerable families, helping them get access to the resources when they need it most,” she said.
Erika Lopez, who was able to move into another Families Forward property on Costa Mesa’s 21st Street in 2018, said the opportunity to live in a stable environment changed the trajectory of her and her sons’ lives.
Speaking Thursday, she shared how she was experiencing homelessness and domestic violence when she sought assistance from Irvine nonprofit Human Options. Through that organization, she learned of Families Forward and moved into stable housing.
“It wasn’t easy, but with the resources Families Forward gives us, it makes it a lot easier if you really want it,” she said. “Now, [my sons] are very proud of their mama. Money cannot buy the joy of seeing in their faces what you can do with a little bit of help.”
Under the living arrangement, residents of “The Bungalows” will pay an affordable monthly rent, ranging from about $1,150 to $1,350 per month, while receiving ongoing assistance, education and services designed to help them regain financial self-sufficiency.
For example, one incentive program offers rent reductions for residents who meet certain financial benchmarks that allows them to “bank” those savings or reduce debt, while another includes savings matches.
Hirneise said while most families in affordable housing programs live on a site for about six years, she hopes to cut that time in half as families transition from “The Bungalows” into permanent housing, making room for new occupants.
With in-kind donations reducing costs by more than $500,000, the total cost of the project pencils out to around $4 million — about 40% higher than what was initially budgeted.
To help bridge the gap, the Costa Mesa City Council in November granted $975,000 in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to Families Forward to complete the work.
Mayor John Stephens on Thursday called the collective effort of housing 36 residents “Herculean” but said more needs to be done.
“We have 30 people waiting right now to get into our homeless shelter. We have people who are underhoused … who are living in difficult circumstances. How are we going to solve that problem?” he posed. “This is a start. This is what we need to be doing together.”