Editorials

It’s time to stop demonizing transitional housing

The Pacific Christian Center in Arroyo Grande wanted to build 60 affordable housing units, including 10 apartments for graduates of a drug rehab program. Neighbors resisted. Now, the church plans to build senior housing instead.
The Pacific Christian Center in Arroyo Grande wanted to build 60 affordable housing units, including 10 apartments for graduates of a drug rehab program. Neighbors resisted. Now, the church plans to build senior housing instead. kleslie@thetribunenews.com

Sometimes, not-in-my-backyarders get it right.

NIMBYs have shined a light on projects that would suck up too much water, clog roads, decimate farmland and stick communities with bland — even ugly — architecture.

Thanks to their vigilance, we’ve seen proposed developments reworked and much improved in response to valid criticism.

There are other times, though, when worthy projects have been abandoned in the face of neighborhood opposition. Such was the case in Arroyo Grande, where the Pacific Christian Center had the ambitious goal of building a gym, a soccer field and 60 affordable apartment units on church property near Arroyo Grande High School.

Some of the apartments were designated as workforce/affordable housing; 10 were to be to transitional housing units. The church wanted to rent those to graduates of a faith-based drug rehabilitation program for women in Ventura.

Neighboring residents, though, heard “transitional” and sensed danger.

Raynee Daley, the superintendent of the Lucia Mar Unified School District — which has offices across the street from Pacific Christian — weighed in with “strong concerns about the site being used for transient and homeless individuals.”

“If any of the individuals being housed in this proposed development have (a) history of violence, sex offenses, issues with drug addiction, or unresolved mental health, the proposed location is too close to a school to be deemed safe,” she wrote in a letter to the city Planning Commission.

That wasn’t the only strike against the project.

There were concerns about water use, traffic and parking. Neighbors thought the three-story apartment “pods” were too tall.

On top of that, the project would have required a zoning change. While there are many single-family homes in the area, the church property is zoned for public facilities.

In other words, the project, for all its good intentions, would have been a hard sell no matter what. But with community support and encouragement — and maybe some compromising — the church just might have pulled it off.

Instead, it heard a chorus of “no way,” so it changed its plans.

It wants to move ahead with the gym and soccer field, but instead of building affordable housing, it plans to develop 97 assisted living units for seniors, which are allowed under community facilities zoning.

The project, which is in its early, pre-application stage, will still be an asset, but we also see it as a lost opportunity to add some much-needed workforce housing that would have benefited young households — possibly even employees of Arroyo Grande High School.

Even more disappointing is the demonization of transitional housing.

Transitional housing programs aren’t skid-row flophouses for alcoholics, drug fiends and murderers. They are typically programs that provide support and supervision for people working to get back on track after financial setbacks, abusive relationships, substance abuse and other issues.

To suggest that high school students must be shielded from people with troubled pasts — in this case, a group of young women enrolled in a church-affiliated program — is absurd.

We can’t put high school students in a bubble.

What we can and should do is try to provide students with future opportunities for jobs and decent, affordable housing.

That’s only going to happen if we seek out and encourage projects like Pacific Christian Center’s — whether it’s in our own backyard or many miles away.

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