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Creston Garden housing complex in Paso Robles to remain affordable

John Fowler, Peoples’ Self-Help Housing CEO, cuts the ribbon on the Creston Garden remodel project alongside other stakeholders and state, local and federal officials. The affordable housing complex is set to undergo $14 million in renovations.
John Fowler, Peoples’ Self-Help Housing CEO, cuts the ribbon on the Creston Garden remodel project alongside other stakeholders and state, local and federal officials. The affordable housing complex is set to undergo $14 million in renovations.

A rent hike is no longer on the horizon for a community of Paso Robles residents; officials and tenants recently celebrated the preservation of a partially subsidized affordable housing complex that’s home to about 240 people.

Peoples’ Self-Help Housing, a nonprofit organization serving San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, recently purchased Creston Garden, a 60-unit affordable housing complex on the 1200 block of Creston Road.

The complex was built in 1980 using U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development funds and was required to maintain affordable units while the previous owner, Ogo Apartments Paso Robles, was paying off its mortgage, said Sarah Marquart, a public affairs specialist for USDA Rural Development.

Ogo was looking to prepay the remainder of its loans, which would have enabled the company to rent the units at market rates, said Gideon Anders, senior attorney for the National Law Housing Project. But residents concerned about losing their homes sought help from California Rural Legal Assistance, which works with National Law Housing.

If a company wants to prepay the remainder of its loan and doesn’t want to remain in the USDA’s affordable housing program, the agency must determine whether the loss of housing will have an adverse effect on minority residents, Anders said. In Creston Garden’s case, minority residents would have been disproportionately affected, meaning Ogo was required to sell the property to a nonprofit or public agency.

Forty-eight of Creston Garden’s units are subsidized through the USDA’s rental assistance program, which means federal dollars help those residents pay their rent. The other 12 units aren’t subsidized by the USDA, but residents will receive rental assistance from Peoples’ Self-Help Housing, CEO John Fowler said.

All Creston Garden residents must earn 30 to 60 percent of the median income in San Luis Obispo County to qualify for housing. Residents contribute no more than 30 percent of their income to their rent.

For a family of four, 30 percent of the county’s median income is $24,250, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development. Fifty percent of the county’s median income for a family of four is $38,550.

The nonprofit closed escrow on Creston Garden in April. Peoples’ Self-Help Housing will spend the next year completely renovating the complex, replacing the roof and building a community center. Fowler said residents will get help relocating during the remodeling process.

Acquisition and renovation costs amount to about $20 million. The USDA kicked in about $6 million to allow Peoples’ Self-Help Housing to acquire Creston Garden. Renovations will be covered by the sale of $14 million in state low-income tax credits, which will give investors tax breaks for contributing to the project. Creston Garden must remain affordable for 55 years — a requirement of state low-income tax credits.

Maria Rios and Maria Galves, both Creston Garden residents, said they’re happy they’re able to stay in their apartments. Galves and her husband have lived in their apartment for eight years. Her husband is retired and she’s disabled. Rios has lived in her apartment, which she shares with her child and husband, a ranchworker, for two years.

“There’s not a lot of noise here,” Rios said of the complex’s environment.

Fowler said making sure developments like Creston Garden remain affordable for low-income residents is as important as building new affordable housing.

“Preservation is a huge deal,” Fowler said.

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