Nov 10, 2017

Cesar Chavez Foundation, Following the Vision of its Namesake, Accelerates Affordable Housing Construction

The number of available rental units at Albuquerque’s La Vida Nueva Apartments continues to decline as word gets out of ongoing improvements at the complex.

“We have 316 apartments altogether, but only about 50 right now are vacant,” reports Lupe Miranda, La Vida Nueva leasing agent.

Miranda adds that people are interested in moving into La Vida Nueva not just because the rents, starting at $455 a month for a studio, are more than competitive in the Albuquerque market, but also because all of the apartments are undergoing a general renovation.

“The work is going on right now, and has been for the last ten weeks,” says Mirando of what is expected to be a two-year property upgrade.

That work includes roof repairs and interior upgrades, including new flooring, counter tops, and cabinets.

Outside, the complex at 1200 Dickerson Drive SE, just one mile south of the main campus of the University of New Mexico, will be seeing the renovation of an existing community center as well as a play area for children.

By the time everything is done, it is expected that the renovation and upgrade work at La Vida Nueva will cost around $35 million.

The project, which is in part being financed by the U.S. Bank Community Development Corporation, is only the latest innovative effort undertaken by the complex’s owner, the Cesar Chavez Foundation, to increase both the affordable and livable housing stock regionally.

“We have about 40 plus properties like this right now in four states,” says Marc Grossman, communications direction of the Chavez Foundation.

“The La Vida project is a refinance, but we are continuously building new and affordable housing communities, both multi-family and senior,” says Grossman.

“We acquire existing run-down apartment complexes and gut and renovate them completely,” he adds. “But mostly we build things from scratch.’

The foundation was launched in 1966 by the legendary union and social justice activist Cesar Chavez, who after experiencing first-hand farm worker poverty became convinced that one sure route out of that poverty, particularly for the country’s growing Hispanic population, was stable and safe housing.

Today, the foundation has properties in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas, comprising a total of nearly 5,000 units in 46 individual communities.

Long a housing presence in both urban and rural enclaves of California, the Cesar Chavez Foundation has in recent years moved ambitiously into Texas, with well-received projects in Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.

“Even though what we are building is affordable, our housing is really market-rate quality and amenity-intensive,” says Grossman.

A sign of the foundation’s property management ethic was recently describe by the Fresno Bee, which noted that the non-profit in 2015 upped its interior apartment inspection schedule from once a year to every six months and finally every quarter.

“The foundation takes pride in building quality, affordable housing complexes and renovating them every 15 years to provide a high standard of living with on-site programs for residents,” the paper added.

Those programs include everything from after-school tutoring for disadvantaged youths to health and exercise offerings for senior residents of the foundation’s complexes.

Working with the Dallas-based Trammell Crow Company, the foundation also seems to have an instinctive feel for the always-changing needs and demands of the housing market.

It is involved in the North Hollywood Station, a Los Angeles transit center project with an emphasis on retail, office, and open space, that will see the foundation building 20 percent of the planned 1,400 homes.

But, accustomed to working smoothly with local officials, the federation two years ago walked away from re-submitting a bid to redevelop 7.6 acres of mostly vacant land in downtown Phoenix, after having been initially selected by the city for the project in response to a request for proposals.

Phoenix called for new bids after it was learned that city councilman Michael Nowakowski, who was also working for the foundation, failed to disclose that connection. Even though an independent investigation determined that the bid process was fair, the city decided nonetheless to launch a new process.

The Chavez Foundation, which had proposed a $112 million project with apartments and retail space, declined to be a part of the second process.

“We did not re-bid because we thought it was unfair, we had won it fair and square the first time,” says Grossman, who adds, “but that was a very rare situation for us.”

Headquartered in Keene, California, where Chavez lived and labored during his later years, the foundation’s housing offices are located in downtown Los Angeles, while its Radio Campesina education radio network is based in Phoenix.

As the affordable housing needs for growing segments of the nation’s population continues to increase, the foundation’s footprint can only expand.

“One of the biggest portfolios we have in affordable housing right now is in Texas,” notes Grossman. “And that is only going to grow.”


By Garry Boulard

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