Cornerstone of the future? Sacramento orgs and agencies team up for a new experimental housing model

Photograph by Avel Chuklanov

Nonprofits work with SMUD for large, affordable and sustainable housing project in the south city

By Ken Magri

In an effort to accommodate 400 local residents in need, a first-of-its-kind affordable housing project broke ground last March in unincorporated South Sacramento. Four agencies are teaming up for the first time to build Cornerstone, a state-of-the-art mixed-housing community for low-income individuals and families.

The project will combine 18 single-family homes, built by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Sacramento, with 108 multifamily apartment units built by Mutual Housing California (MHC). This new community is going up on a 2.25 acre-long rectangular lot, located at 44th Street and Highway 99, in the Nicholas Park neighborhood of unincorporated Sacramento County.

“The Cornerstone project is a game changer for South Sacramento,” said Sacramento County Supervisor Patrick Kennedy. “In one high-quality project you will see housing opportunities for low-income residents, permanent supportive housing for previously unhoused neighbors, and low-income home ownership opportunities through Habitat for Humanity,” he told SN&R. “It’s a win/win/win.”

The vacant land for Cornerstone was provided by the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency (SHRA), which has also put up $10 million for home loans for residents. The Sacramento Municipal Utilities District (SMUD) is also getting involved by making the community all-electric, including charging capabilities for electric vehicles. Through SMUD’s contributions, amounting to $250,000, each home will be all-electric, solar-powered, energy efficient and EV-ready.

Additional funding for the project includes support from the County of Sacramento, other government sources and a variety of individual and corporate donors. Habitat for Humanity has currently raised 60% of the funds needed for its part of the Cornerstone project, and is continuing to seek sponsorships for the remaining 40%.

Introducing a new mixed-housing concept

Cornerstone’s mixed-housing partnership concept is a new one in Habitat for Humanity’s 36-year history. The international organization dedicated to housing low-income families was founded in 1976 by Georgia farmer and biblical scholar Clarence Jordan. Over the decades, it has been popularized by the volunteer efforts of former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter. The couple continue to donate their own labor on Habitat for Humanity building projects.

In 2020, the Sacramento affiliate celebrated its 35th anniversary, and its 100th home renovation. Habitat for Humanity of Greater Sacramento has served over 10,000 individuals through home builds, repairs and community projects.

Some of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Sacramento’s past projects include Womenbuild in South Sacramento last March, where hundreds of local women volunteered to help build 13 houses for other women in need. Last May, the organization also began a program to renovate illegal cannabis grow houses seized in arrests, and make them available to families in need.

The affordably-priced 18 single-family homes at Cornerstone will be three or four–bedroom, and two–bath units. The sizes range between 1,100 and 1,300 square feet. Each lot also has a single-car garage and driveway, with small front and back yards.

SMUD will equip each of the 18 homes with their own EV infrastructure and charging hardware. The chargers are hardwired directly into the electrical panel.

“Through solar installations, EV charging infrastructure, electrification and weatherization upgrades, SMUD customers and Habitat recipients can harness the benefits and savings of innovative energy solutions and take on an active role in SMUD’s vision of a clean energy future,” said Erik Krause, SMUD director of customer experience delivery.

To qualify for the opportunity to purchase a Cornerstone house, applicants must be U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents at the time of application, and must be first-time home-buyers. After that, three sets of criteria must also be met.

The first is a need for adequate shelter due to substandard living conditions, overcrowding, or high and unsustainable rent prices. Secondly, applicants must be willing to act as a true partner with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Sacramento. This includes attending meetings, completing workshops and contributing 500 hours of sweat equity toward building their home and the homes of other partner families.

Finally, comes the ability to make monthly payments. Mortgages are fixed payment, 30-year loans at 0% interest. Applicant income needs to fall within a 30-80% of area median income range based on household size, according to Habitat for Humanity guidelines.

Applications for the first 10 houses closed in June.

“We received over 300 complete applications for the opportunity to purchase one of 10 available homes in the first phase of homes being constructed at Cornerstone,” said Leah Miller, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Sacramento. “This is a record number of completed applications.”

Meeting the needs of a neighborhood

Cornerstone’s 118 rental units are being built by Mutual Housing California, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving housing opportunities for lower-income families. More than 3,200 Californians, nearly half of them children, live in a Mutual Housing California community, according to the organization. Since 1988, it has built, renovated and maintained affordable apartment units across the state, including an upcoming 242-unit affordable project on R Street in Sacramento, in cooperation with the Capitol Area Development Authority.

The three-story step-up apartment units at Cornerstone will be built on its wide main street, and will occupy one side while the 18 houses sit on the other. The apartments include off-street parking, grassy lawns and playgrounds between each structure. Two laundry rooms, a “tot room” and a multipurpose community room will also be built.

The 83 unassigned parking spaces include slots for handicapped, compact vehicles and motorcycles. Eventually, 21 electric vehicle charging stations will be added.

“We approached Habitat for Humanity to combine our expertise and mission alignment in order to develop a creative solution to meet both the affordable housing needs of Sacramento County and the needs of this existing neighborhood,” said Roberto Jimenez, CEO of Mutual Housing California.

In addition to the affordable rental units, the apartment blocks will include 16 permanent support housing units, which are federally subsidized through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Permanent supportive housing is an evidence-based housing program that combines on-going rental assistance with supportive services such as health and mental health care for chronically homeless households.

“A solid foundation is the essential first step to building the promising futures that Cornerstone will provide the families that will be living here,” said La Shelle Dozier, SHRA’s executive director.

Could more partnership mixed-housing projects be built in the future? “The vision for this project is to push the envelope on collaboration in the affordable housing industry, and to the benefit of families who will be coming out of poverty and entering into greater stability,” said MHC’s Jimenez.

This story is a part of the Solving Sacramento collaborative. In 2022 we are focusing on finding solutions to the affordable housing problem in the Sacramento metro region. Solving Sacramento is a project of the Local Media Foundation with support from the Solutions Journalism Network. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, the Sacramento Business Journal, the Sacramento News & Review, and the Sacramento Observer.

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1 Comment on "Cornerstone of the future? Sacramento orgs and agencies team up for a new experimental housing model"

  1. i would like to live in the new apartments ur making on 44 th ave

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