At a Glance
Construction and management of affordable housing
The basic mission of any housing authority is simple: to provide decent, safe, affordable housing for low-income residents. Such a mission fails to fully consider the residents themselves, though, for without creating opportunities for individual betterment, the provision of shelter is merely a stopgap against homelessness. The Housing Authority of the City of San Buenaventura (HACSB) understands this, so despite dwindling funding and aging properties, it’s constantly reassessing its approach and implementing creative strategies to further its tenants’ potential. “We look at how [our organization] improves the quality of life for our residents,” CEO Denise Wise says. “We are not just investing in bricks and mortar, but people.”
The HACSB’s resident-driven initiatives begin at the management level. Currently the nonprofit administers 1,349 Section 8 vouchers and oversees 718 units in its housing stock, forgoing the use of third-party property managers for both practical and social reasons. “From the fiscal perspective, [it] does save us some money,” Wise says. “However, the more important benefit is that we keep a connection with our residents.”
Capitalizing on this connection, the HACSB offers an array of services to support its tenants further, from GED testing and ESL classes to more niche-focused programs such as community gardening groups and a community youth council to help combat gangs. The organization has even put together an open-air market in order to encourage tenants toward microenterprise, and it has formed “green teams”: small construction crews made up of residents who perform routine property maintenance under the guidance of skilled craftspeople who know the sustainable construction trade.
Wise adds that the HACSB also considers how new projects and programs will benefit the community as a whole. “Our goal is fostering responsible development practices,” she says. “We want to be a positive influence in our work and good neighbors in our community.” For example, the HACSB was recently awarded an $80,000 planning grant to research adding a health clinic to one of its properties—a clinic that would serve not only the residents but the entire neighborhood. “We surveyed tenants and area residents and found significant gaps in care, especially dental, vision, and behavioral healthcare,” Wise says. “Hopefully, the planning grant will develop into an implementation grant so that we can fill these gaps.”
Next on the agenda for the Housing Authority is leasing its newest development, Encanto Del Mar, comprising 38 units located in the downtown district on a piece of property that was under foreclosure. The development will have exterior stonework and other property features not typical to housing-authority developments. Another recently constructed 12-unit development, the Soho Apartments, also has nontraditional amenities, including a public courtyard featuring a mural painted by a local artist. “There is a stigma involving public housing, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” Wise says. “We want to break those stigmas by introducing property features such as dog parks, libraries, and community spaces to our developments.”
Wise says many of these new ideas come from tenants, whom the HACSB actively engages with when developing or rehabilitating its properties. She admits, however, that funding continues to be a challenge. “As funding continues to shrink, we have to look at ways to be more creative, more entrepreneurial,” Wise says.
Leveraging resources and working directly with residents and community groups are the initial steps in that reinvention process, but Wise has also considered shifting the HACSB to a public-private partnership model. However it continues to fund itself, her organization will keep working to put its residents first. “We continuously strive to create a stable funding base,” Wise says. “But our challenges shouldn’t stop us from always trying to improve opportunities.” ABQ