By Jonathan Ramirez
Construction of the controversial St. Michael’s Project, a 50 unit permanent supportive housing complex, was approved March 31 by the Riverside City Council despite heavy opposition.
The 6-1 vote is set to provide aid to the homelessness population in Riverside. Chuck Conder of Ward 4 voted against the project.
The apartment complex will be built on St. Michael’s Episcopal Church property in Ward 5. Twenty-four units will be set aside for homeless people with provided mental health services and 25 units for low income residents. One unit will be given to the complex manager, according to the Community Building Partners.
Those in favor of the project believe it to be a step toward solving the large scale problem of homelessness in Riverside.
“Empty lots, like we have at St. Michael’s, (are) worth developing for accessible housing and (are) so much needed here in Riverside,” said Norma Rede, a church volunteer. “This project will help families live better lives.”
The concern to provide a second chance to those living in the dark corners of Riverside has become the main language used to advocate for the project.
“When people are living on the edges of our society (and) need help, need stability, need safety, and are earnestly wanting to be productive members of our community, we have an obligation to provide a safe place where they can do that,” said Kelli Grace Kurtz, rector of Riverside’s All Saints Episcopal Church. “It excites me that people can find their way out of the edges of society and back to being productive members of our community. We have to do this.”
Although Kurtz said the project is well-vetted, neighbors who have opposed it since the project’s inception are concerned with its proximity and the lack of requirements needed to keep homeless individuals off the streets and in the workforce.
Rich Gardner, who ran for mayor of Riverside earlier this year, said that although housing homeless residents is a great idea, he is concerned that the project itself would not require those same individuals to seek employment or submit to a drug test in order to obtain permanent housing.
“My problem with a housing project that doesn’t require any kind of drug test or looking for employment is that it is right in front of a neighborhood and it is right across the street from a public park,” Gardner said. “Putting it into a neighborhood creates a lot of risk that doesn’t need to take place.”
Another resident, Errol Koschewitz, spoke strongly against the project’s proximity and the potential lack of supervision over its funding.
“I live off of Jackson (Street) by St. Michael’s Church,” Koschewitz said. “I do not agree with the homeless shelter being built there because there will be no accountability and no oversight on the funding there. It’s not going to be big enough for the facility they want to put on the parking lot. It’s gonna attract too much riff raff there. They’re just gonna get tons of money to do whatever they want with it.”
To maintain social distancing due to COVID-19, a “drive up public comment” system was set up for residents to either support or oppose the project. Residents were told to stay in their cars, drive up to the camera, turn off the engine and speak for three minutes. Comments were also submitted online.
Approved and going forward, the project is set to be built across from Hunt Park on the corner of Jackson Street and Hawthorne Avenue. It is meant to be permanent housing for those living there.