A place to call home

City, nonprofit housing developer working on 101-unit, low-income complex for seniors

Kris Zappettini, of the Community Housing Improvement Program, is working on developing the nonprofit’s first senior affordable housing project, Creekside Place.

Kris Zappettini, of the Community Housing Improvement Program, is working on developing the nonprofit’s first senior affordable housing project, Creekside Place.

Photo by Ashiah Scharaga

Right now, the area east of Little Chico Creek between Humboldt Road and the Chico Bike Path is mostly empty fields, save for a small community garden. But starting in 2021, the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP) will begin constructing Creekside Place, its largest affordable housing project in Chico.

The project, a collaboration among the city of Chico, Butte County Behavioral Health and CHIP, will specifically serve low-income seniors, with a portion of the units reserved for those with mental illness who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Project leaders emphasized the dire need for affordable housing in general post-Camp Fire, and how having a safe, stable home is imperative, particularly for the aging population.

Last week, the Chico City Council approved a lease for the city-owned land. When it’s completed (by 2024, it’s estimated), the site will have two three-story buildings with 101 units, 15 of them reserved for those with mental illness (one will be for a resident manager). Eligible seniors include those considered to be extremely or very-low income, earning between 30 percent and 50 percent of the median income for Butte County, or no more than $14,000 to $23,300 for a single adult.

Seniors are a particularly vulnerable population, Kris Zappettini, CHIP’s vice president and director of rental housing, told the CN&R. Creekside Place will serve those on fixed incomes who might otherwise “make inappropriate housing choices in order to be able to live,” such as residing in substandard or overcrowded places, she said, or make other sacrifices, such as choosing among power, medical care and/or food to pay the bills.

Throughout the planning process, CHIP has focused on providing a safe, comfortable place for its future senior residents, Zappettini told the CN&R.

“We’re looking for a very well-balanced community—where [residents] say, ‘I feel safe, I feel that it’s well-maintained, I feel that the leadership, the property management is looking out for our best interests’—and they like coming home.”

There will be a community center, a computer lab and laundry facilities. And outdoors, residents can enjoy a pet park, community garden and seating areas for relaxation. Creekside Place also will have on-site services. A CHIP service coordinator will be tasked with assessing the residents’ needs and interests to plan recreational, educational and social events.

This has been successful at CHIP’s three other complexes in Chico, Zappettini said, the oldest of which is a 76-unit complex on East Lassen Avenue, which was completed in 1992. For example, coordinators have planned cancer prevention demonstrations, holiday gatherings, arts and crafts activities and dance classes. They also are there to make referrals and provide assistance with services such as food stamps or health insurance.

When it comes to the Behavioral Health aspect of Creekside Place, department case managers and nursing and peer support staff will be on-site to serve those in the 15 reserved units, as well as any other Behavioral Health clients who may live there. They will provide “a whole array of mental health services,” including therapy and substance use recovery, as well as referrals to physical health care, said Don Taylor, the housing and homeless administrator for Butte County. (He began working on this project in his former capacity as Behavioral Health assistant director of Clinical Services.)

The emotional trauma that stems from being homeless “really weighs heavily on people,” he told the CN&R, not to mention exacerbates acute and chronic physical health issues.

“You can increase anxiety, you can, of course, increase depression the longer you’re on the street,” he said. “So if we can alleviate some of those mental health symptoms by providing housing, that’s part of the treatment plan.”

It has taken a lot of legwork just to get to this point, including a general plan amendment and rezone for the property to be used for affordable housing (originally it was intended for a community park). And Creekside Place, a $47 million project, still isn’t fully funded. Many applications for funding will be submitted in 2020 to amass what’s needed to bring it to fruition, said Marie Demers, the housing manager for the city of Chico. So far, the partners have secured over $4 million from local, state and federal sources.

Zappettini said affordable housing projects, like Creekside Place, face many barriers along the way to development, including securing land, highly competitive and restrictive funding and increasing construction costs, especially with the tremendous need to rebuild post-Camp Fire and a shortage of qualified construction workers to meet the demand. These barriers can mean that some projects take five to seven years from inception to completion.

“One of our frustrations is we can’t solve for ‘X’ overnight just to—boom—have housing,” Zappettini said. “We do our best to accelerate it as quickly as possible.”

That’s where partnerships, like the one behind Creekside Place, which involve multiple agencies pooling resources and expertise, are crucial, Zappettini said.

“Once you see people moving in and then you get to hear their stories, it validates why you do all that work, and that’s the cool thing,” she said. “’Cause there’s no reason to do all this … without knowing that you’re really touching people’s lives and creating shelter and stabilization, and they’re going to personalize it to be the home that they want.”