Building on a legacy

CHIP marks 45 years of affordable housing—and growth

Kris Zappettini (left), Andy Holcombe and Jill Quezada are among many whose roots with CHIP go back decades.

Kris Zappettini (left), Andy Holcombe and Jill Quezada are among many whose roots with CHIP go back decades.

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

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When Kris Zappettini returned to Chico with a doctorate from Virginia Tech, little did she know that time spent in an aerobics class also would prove significant to launching her career in affordable housing.

Zappettini, a San Francisco native who’d received bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Chico State, studied multiple aspects of housing: environmental issues, interior design for elderly and disabled residents, historic preservation. Looking for employment, she found CHIP: the Community Housing Improvement Program, which two years earlier—in 1991—had changed its name from Chico Housing Improvement Program to reflect its broader regional reach.

When Zappettini walked into the office, she recognized the executive director at the time, Elizabeth Moore, as one of her former aerobics students. Moore didn’t have a job to offer but did need help on an extensive federal grant application. Zappettini agreed to assist.

“For no pay,” Jill Quezada, CHIP’s director of homeownership, noted with a chuckle.

CHIP got the grant, to fund “self-help housing”—dwellings for low-income residents who work together on the construction. That led to a part-time job for Zappettini, as a rural/urban self-help specialist, in 1994.

She’s been with CHIP ever since, this year assuming the position of interim executive director after the departure of Dave Ferrier, who’d held the post for 25 of his 35 years with the organization. Zappettini agreed to lead CHIP until the board hires a permanent successor; she’s not applying.

Even apart from the leadership change, this is a momentous year for CHIP.

The nonprofit—founded by Chico State students, who formed a partnership with the city and the university—is commemorating its 45th anniversary with a series of events marking its accomplishments. The latest was last Tuesday (June 12), coinciding with National Homeownership Month, when CHIP broke ground on a 23-home project in Corning. Meanwhile, Quezada said, a 38-home development is nearing completion in Orland, where CHIP also has a parcel prepped for 33 homes; building continues in Cottonwood (32 houses) and Oroville (eight). Planning is underway for a Chico rental complex, next to CHIP’s Murphy Commons, across from Marsh Junior High.

“City-centric to now multiple counties, I think, is an excellent example of the impact we’ve had—and the continued need,” Zappettini said during a recent interview.

Including all its services—housing, property management, education and support—CHIP’s footprint covers seven counties. The organization has built over 2,000 housing units.

“CHIP has a great staff and a system in place to continue building those houses,” said Dave Burkland, a former Chico city manager who chairs CHIP’s board. He referred to construction of houses as “the most significant thing” CHIP does, evidenced by “the number of people who are in safe, decent housing in Orland, Gridley, Red Bluff, Corning, Cottonwood, Oroville”—and, of course, Chico.

Burkland worked at CHIP for nine years starting in 1983, the week after Ferrier joined as assistant director. Burkland was a contractor; because the organization used his license in credentialing for its work, he simultaneously served as a board member from his first day as an employee. Before leaving for a job in the city’s housing department, he’d earned the nickname “Dr. Rehab.”

CHIP initially focused on rehabilitating low-income housing in south Chico. By the late 1970s, the board looked to build new housing, which it did in the early ’80s in Oroville (11 self-help houses) and east Chico (66-unit co-op Turning Point Commons and 33-unit rental property La Vista Verde).

“Over time … we became more of a developer than just a neighborhood nonprofit,” said Ferrier, who four months ago became housing director for the Rural Community Assistance Corp., a financing nonprofit. He’s moving to Portland but plans to return for CHIP’s Rock the House fundraiser Nov. 16 at the Sierra Nevada Big Room.

In transitioning from CHIP’s grassroots origins, Ferrier continued, “the board had to make a conscious decision to grow in a way that [meant] we weren’t the same, small, close-knit organization—and, yet, we were able to have a much greater impact.”

Around the time of this shift, in 1978, a recent law school graduate named Andy Holcombe arrived at a town he’d never heard of as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer. He intended to go into the Peace Corps—destination: Senegal—but accepted an assignment to Butte County Legal Services (now Legal Services of Northern California) to work on housing issues. Ten VISTA volunteers came to Chico that year; eight went to CHIP, while he worked with CHIP.

“And essentially never left,” Holcombe added.

A housing rights attorney, he served two terms on the Chico City Council (2004-12), including two years as mayor, and joined CHIP’s board in 2015. He said the 45th anniversary presents an opportunity to raise awareness about a group that occasionally meets resistance.

“Our self-help housing developments are a success that benefit not only our clients but [also] a community,” Holcombe said. “Yet there are cities and small towns that aren’t as welcoming as others. Frankly, I don’t get it, because it’s economic development.

“[The anniversary] is an opportunity for us to push that message at a time when it’s needed, because I think our work is getting harder with the costs, more regulations, less funding.”

Added Zappettini: “We want to become a household name…. People in Chico may not know that we’re serving Glenn County and Colusa County and Yuba County, but we are—and we’re pretty darn proud of it.”