By Erik Galicia
The development of apartments meant to aid homeless people and low-income families took a step forward March 2 as the Riverside City Council approved bonds of up to $15 million for the project.
The St. Michael’s Project, a 50-unit permanent supportive housing building set for construction on St. Michael’s Episcopal Church property in Ward 5, was approved by the city in March 2020. Revenue bonds were approved for the project in February 2020. However, issuing the bonds was delayed past the deadline due to COVID-19 and required a second approval.
Heidi Shrader, Riverside debt and treasury manager, said the bonds would be of no cost to the city and its residents.
“The developer will be responsible for paying back the debt,” she said. “The city will not be on the hook for the debt at all.”
The California Statewide Communities Development Authority, a state agency that provides local governments resources for funding community-based public benefit projects, will issue the bonds. Repayment is mandated to come solely from St. Michael’s Project revenue, but residents argued taxpayers would ultimately pick up the tab.
The project’s proximity to parks, critics told the City Council, would create a danger to children. The complex will be located just steps away from Hunt Park at the intersection of Jackson Street and Hawthorne Avenue, which has increasingly attracted homeless people in recent years. Don Lorenzi Park is also located just north of the church.
Area resident Aurora Chavez said the project would increase the crime level in the surrounding neighborhood.
“The kids are not going to be safe over here because, heaven knows, we will find more needles in our parks,” she said.
But Andy Melendrez, Ward 2 city councilman, said the project would not resemble a homeless shelter, as was perceived by some residents. The complex is planned to set aside units for chronically homeless people and struggling families. It will also offer amenities, a community garden and mental health services provided by Mercy House Living Centers and the Riverside University Health System.
“The individuals that are going to be living there are individuals that have gone through a process and have displayed the level of responsibility to take care of themselves and their families in an apartment unit,” Melendrez said.
The councilman also pointed to other Mercy House supportive housing projects that have successfully maintained and built good relationships with surrounding communities.
Still, some Riverside residents have opposed the St. Michael’s Project for years, arguing it does not fit the character of the Ward 5 neighborhood.
Ward 1 resident Jason Hunter said the city shoehorned the project into a residential area, in effect changing its quality of life and daily operations, against the wishes of the Ward 5 neighborhood.
“I find that very troubling,” he said. “If they can do it there, they can do it anywhere in the city. These decisions of running over the local community and the community at large, to a lesser extent, they do have consequences. I hope the council believes they’re spending their political capital wisely.”
Only Charles Conder, Ward 4 councilman, dissented in the 6-1 approval.