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At least 100 homeless people are on track to get apartments in Santa Ana along with employment help and other services, after the City Council awarded federal funds to two proposed housing developments.

In doing so, council members called attention to a worsening housing shortage, and urged other Orange County cities to help expand the affordable housing supply.

“There is a crisis in Orange County and others need to step up,” said Councilwoman Michele Martinez. “At [some] point in time, others are gonna have to step up to help our veterans, our homeless, and also those that are in a crunch.”

The first project the council voted to support, Santa Ana Veteran’s Village, will be a 75-unit housing and service center for homeless veterans, developed by Jamboree Housing Corp. on vacant land at 3312 W. First Street, according to a city staff report.

Services will include case management, employment help, mental health services, Veterans Affairs assistance, and free legal help, and will be overseen by the group Step Up on Second Inc., according to the city.

The anticipated cost for acquiring the land and building the project is $26.4 million, or $352,000 per apartment. All 75 apartments will be funded by federal vouchers obtained by the city.

The second project, Aqua Housing, will have 58 units for chronically homeless people, along with support services provided by Mercy House Living Centers.

The total project cost for Aqua Housing is an estimated $23.6 million, or about $407,000 per apartment.

It’s scheduled to be built by Community Development Partners at a motel at 317 E. 17th Street that currently houses short-term residents. They will be provided relocation assistance, according to city staff. Of the 58 new apartments, 25 are to be financed by federal vouchers obtained by the city.

City Council members voted unanimously last week to approve a total of 100 federal vouchers for the two projects. The vouchers were obtained by city staff through a competitive process called the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program, known as HUD-VASH.

(Click here to read the city staff report that describes both projects.)

The move comes as local cities and communities across Orange County look to house chronically homeless people by building housing for them with support services designed to help turn their lives around and ultimately save taxpayer money.

Research from UC Irvine estimates a total savings of $42 million per year if every chronically homeless person is provided permanent supportive housing.

Santa Ana has been a leader in developing this type of housing in Orange County. City officials obtained federal funding for a 71-unit permanent supportive housing project in a former motel. The Guest House project, which was also developed by Mercy House and Community Development Partners, is now known as The Orchard.

Advocates say city and county officials can largely solve homelessness by teaming up to provide housing and support services.

Housing approaches range from converting used shipping containers, such as the Potter’s Lane project in Midway City, into small pre-fabricated homes and renovating unused apartment buildings and motels.

The issue also ties into the broader housing crisis in Orange County, which is preventing many families and young professionals from being able to live affordably.

At last week’s meeting, Santa Ana council members said it’s time for cities across the region to do their part to add more housing, and talked about adopting a fast-tracked development process, known as “by right,” that’s being advocated by San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

Affordable housing “is not just about helping poor people,” Martinez said.

“This is [also] about working class folks – young teachers, young nurses – that can’t afford to live here in Orange County.”

Mayor Miguel Pulido, however, cautioned against a citywide “by-right” development policy, instead focusing on speeding up development by increasing the number of city employees who review plans.

 Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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