Santa Clarita City Council members approved a first-of-its-kind housing project with a unanimous vote Tuesday at City Hall.
The Habitat for Heroes project is a unique program that offers homes at below-market cost to veterans returning from their service.
“One of the reasons that we’re doing this is to address the high number of foreclosures that veterans have had over the years,” said Donna Deutchman, CEO of the Habitat for Humanity of San Fernando/Santa Clarita valleys.
“Veterans have returned home without some of the skills that others their age have acquired during their service. We need to help them utilize the extraordinary skills that they have learned,” she said.
The project, which includes 87 homes next door to Bowman High School, received unanimous approval from the city’s Planning Commission in February -- with one condition.
Planning commissioner Chuck Heffernan asked for soil testing on the site, and the tests showed zero levels of contamination.
City Council members will vote Tuesday on approval for a first-of-its-kind housing program aimed at helping Santa Clarita Valley veterans.
A city staff recommendation calls for an approval of the housing tract that would be built for veterans returning from service.
The housing program passed soil tests with flying colors, clearing the way for a vote by City Council members.
The Santa Clarita Planning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the SCV Habitat for Heroes project, a community of 11 one-story houses and 76 duplex units to be built on Center Pointe Parkway next to Bowman High School.
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The broadly supported development project will go to the City Council for final approval. But first, the soil will be tested because the property abuts the Whittaker-Bermite site, where munitions were manufactured there from the 1930s to the 1980s – leaving contaminants behind in some areas.
The Habitat for Humanity people will have to dig some holes in the ground first – but at a cost of less than $5,000, that’s not a big deal when you’re talking about building 87 affordable homes for returning military veterans and their families.
Habitat for Humanity of SFV/SCV officials reported that there was absolutely no soil contamination, which bodes well for the project.
Commissioner Chuck Heffernan called for the soils test after Lynne Plambeck and Cam Noltemeyer of SCOPE (Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment) noted that the only environmental work done on the property was a review of paperwork.
The review, called a Phase-1 environmental study, showed there was no history of contamination on the Habitat property. Had the Phase-1 study showed any possibility of contamination, a Phase-2 study – actual digging and testing – would have been done.
B.J. Atkins, the environmental scientist who performed the Phase-1 study (and coincidentally, a fellow Newhall County Water Board member with Plambeck) said six, 3-foot-deep holes could be dug and the soils tested for less than $5,000 – even though he didn’t think it necessary.
“Ten years from now when somebody asks the question,” said Commissioner Tim Burkhart, “it’ll be the best $5,000 ever spent.”
Atkins said he’d complete the work before the project goes to the City Council. In the unlikely event any contaminants showed up, they would be properly removed.
More than a year in the making, the SCV Habitat for Heroes project is one of two veterans housing projects being pursued simultaneously by Habitat for Humanity of SFV/SCV. A second project in Sylmar has already been green-lighted by the city of Los Angeles, Habitat CEO Donna Deutchman said.
Deutchman’s group, which has been building affordable homes – not just for veterans – since 1990, recently completed a 61-unit housing project in Pacoima.
Carl Goldman of KHTS radio, who organized a large advisory group for the Santa Clarita project, recently visited the Pacoima development.
Noting that it’s a gated community in the middle of “one of the roughest, toughest barrios,” Goldman likened it to “Dorothy leaving Kansas and entering Oz.”
“It’s become the neighborhood village (like) we used to see in America 100 years ago,” Goldman said.\
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More than just housing, Deutchman described an “enriched neighborhood environment” with an array of services brought together by Habitat for Humanity – educational, health and social services that are designed to help the ex-military residents attain self-sufficiency.
Thirty percent of young veterans are unemployed and 25 percent of unemployed Americans are vets, she said.
Numbering more than 10,000 today, Santa Clarita has “an inordinate amount of veterans,” Deutchman said, making it a sensible place for a veterans housing project.
And more are on the way. J.D. Kennedy, commander of American Legion Post 507, noted that about 10,000 active vets are returning from tours in the Middle East.
“Our servicemen and -women deserve the best welcome home possible,” he said.
Many of them will need “self-sufficiency skills,” Deutchman said. “Many have not gotten a college degree, (and) many have young families.”
Even if the housing project hasn’t yet received its final approval, eight veterans have already been pre-approved to move in, Deutchman said.
To qualify, she said, a veteran must have been honorably discharged, have reasonably good credit, a household income between $45,000 and $83,000, and they can’t show up on the Megan’s Law list of sex offenders.
And when they sign on the dotted line, they agree to put in 500 hours’ worth of sweat equity and take the enrichment classes.
That was one of the major selling points of the project for planning commissioner Diane Trautman.
"What I found exciting was all of the support services being offered," she said. "They're really building a village here. This is very well thought out."
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