SANTA ANA — Hoping to ease continued shortages in Orange County's affordable housing market, the Board of Supervisors this week will consider loans of nearly $3 million to help build 328 low-income units in Irvine and Fullerton.
The projects would help cut into a backlog of about 6,000 needy people who now wait an average of four years for vacancies in local government-assisted housing.
"These are very significant developments and will guarantee affordable housing for a very long period of time," said Rick Efker, the county's director of community development. "We're very glad to have the financing settled. But it seems that how ever hard you work on this problem is never enough to meet the need of the people."
County Housing Director Dhongchai (Bob) Pusavat said that the need for low-cost housing has become so great in recent months that "people are becoming desperate."
"I had one woman come up to me in the hall outside my office and say, 'Bob, either you get me in (housing) or you'll suffer the consequences.' It's sad to see people like that."
The Irvine and Fullerton facilities represent major advancements in the county's overall housing strategy, which has seen the development of 1,400 low-income units throughout the county in the past three years.
In virtually all cases, the county has joined with cities and private developers to help pay for the projects, some specifically designed for families, the elderly, physically disabled or single and married residents who cannot afford market-rate housing.
Both projects will be operated as hotel-style efficiencies to accommodate predominantly single or married couples who earn less than half of the county's median income or $18,450 for individuals. Units are expected to rent for less than $400 per month in both cities.
"This is not going to satisfy every need," said Supervisor Roger R. Stanton, who has promoted the development of affordable housing throughout the county. "This is a way for people to get in and begin to crawl their way up the ladder."
While the projects enjoy broad support among county officials, both proposals have been met with strong opposition along the way toward approval in their respective cities.
In Irvine, opponents of the so-called Irvine Inn were concerned that the city's industrial area was not a proper place for a residential hotel. The 2.4-acre site is located at Warner and Jamboree roads, next to the Tustin Marine Corps Air Station.
But housing advocates have argued that the site would serve as a home for people who work in Irvine, but cannot afford to live in the community.
The project was finally approved in January by the City Council after nearly a year of debate.
"I never said it was an ideal location," said Irvine Councilwoman Paula Werner, "but I believe it is a workable one. It's just one piece in the housing puzzle, and we have to get a variety of pieces together before we solve the problem."
Under the plan, the county would loan $2 million to developer Shawntana Management Corp. toward the total $9.7-million project cost.
Each of the rooms would be furnished and 275 square feet in size. They will include full baths, kitchenettes with a microwave, sink, garbage disposal, countertops and cabinet space. The property will also be designed with common areas for recreation, a landscaped courtyard and a swimming pool.
In Fullerton, the only serious dispute centered on selection of a developer for the $6.2-million project slated for construction at 224 E. Commonwealth Ave.
City Councilman Chris Norby favored Fullerton developer Tony Bushala for the project, but the council later voted to begin negotiations with Urban Communities/San Gabriel Partners of Costa Mesa.
In the proposed agreement, the county would lend $900,000 to the developer.
Each of the Fullerton rooms would come furnished with a bed, night stand, lamps, color television and air conditioning. Residents also would have access to a common gym, library and reading area, television and laundry rooms.
Only one other hotel-style project exists in Orange County. Costa Mesa Village opened about nine months ago, and Pusavat said all 96 rooms are occupied.
"These kinds of facilities are definitely in demand," Pusavat said. "This is the right time to do it."
Since 1992, the county has drawn its funding from a previously unavailable $15-million reserve account. Pusavat said the money was freed only after housing advocates battled with local government housing officials to change the county's conservative philosophy toward low-income housing development.
The Irvine and Fullerton projects, which will be considered by supervisors on Tuesday, would be among the last funded through the reserve account until it is replenished with loan repayments by the private developers.
"The bottom line is getting the product out there to help the people," Pusavat said. "I'm satisfied that we are doing that."