City OKs Habitat project

CITY HALL — Habitat for Humanity's seventh Glendale project — a $3.7-million, five-unit affordable-housing complex near the Ventura (134) Freeway — will break ground next year after it received city approval Tuesday.

The City Council voted 4 to 0 on Tuesday to provide the property at 624-630 Geneva Street — which the city bought in 2006 for $2.5 million — to the nonprofit to build five three-bedroom units and a community garden.

"I think this is going to be a terrific asset to the city," said Councilman John Drayman. "It's time we get rolling on this."

The City Council in April extended an initial agreement with San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity to allow the nonprofit to raise the additional funds required to break ground on the project, which will have estimated construction costs of about $1.2 million.

While Mayor Ara Najarian ultimately voted in favor of the agreement, he said he was concerned by the high per-unit cost, which was mainly fueled by buying the land at the height of the real estate market.

"The economics of this project …really make it hard for me to go forward," he said. "I will begrudgingly accept there are unusual circumstances."

Beyond providing affordable housing, City Manager Jim Starbird said the development also decreased density in the area, pointing out that a 15-unit market-rate affordable-housing project was initially proposed for the land, but it generated concern from neighbors.

"This development will be more in line with what's in the neighborhood," he said.

Still, Najarian urged city officials to consider buying and rehabilitating existing units, which he said could further stretch the city's limited housing funds.

City officials are drafting a report on the issue, which is scheduled to come to the dais in the coming months.

"I hope we will have a thorough discussion on that and keep our minds open as we discuss alternatives to providing affordable housing," Najarian said.

The Geneva Street project is slated to break ground by March, officials said, and will have a construction period of up to 15 months.

Habitat for Humanity officials will now immediately begin a multi-language marketing campaign for potential applicants who would be first-time, low-income homeowners. Applications will be due Dec. 3.

The five applicants selected for homeownership will become partners in the project and be required to donate 500 hours of labor — called "sweat equity" — toward its completion, a hallmark of all Habitat for Humanity projects.

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