Saturday, August 28, 2004

New Benicia neighborhood offers affordable housing

Article Published: Saturday, August 28, 2004

GAIL CARR, left, and her new neighbor Kathy Biggers have been spending 22 hours a week for the last year in sweat equity, helping prepare their new houses in the Hearthstone Village development off Military West in Benicia. The new project will house 12 families. Photo: Mike Jory/Times-Herald

New Benicia neighborhood offers affordable housing

By GREG MOBERLY, Times-Herald staff writer

BENICIA - For the past year, Gail Carr toiled as a plumbing manager at her Pedrotti Ace Hardware job for 40 hours a week and then labored 22 hours a week on her future Hearthstone Village home.

But it will all be worth it when Carr and 11 other families move into the new affordable housing project at West Fifth Street and Military West in October.

Carr was just one of several future residents of the long-awaited affordable housing project briefly visiting their homes Friday afternoon.

"It's been a long year, but a wonderful experience," Carr said.

Francisco Avalos, a retiree moving in with his wife, said he was honored to be a part of the new neighborhood. He said he is glad that, unlike many neighborhoods he's lived in, he'll know everybody who'll live at Hearthstone because they've all worked together on their future homes.

The 12-unit development, nestled in a hilly area near Benicia High School, was one of the city's first affordable housing complexes designed to meet a 1995 legal settlement. The Winterhawk settlement simply forced the city to provide more affordable housing.

After several years of seeking financial assistance, the nonprofit Affordable Housing Affiliation is a little more than a month away from completing the housing project.

The nearly $3 million Hearthstone Village received $450,000 from the city, $60,000 from a state grant, $40,000 from Benicia churches, and $1.6 million from the California Housing Finance Agency.

Carr and Avalos said they can't wait to obtain their piece of the American Dream once again.

Much like Habitat for Humanity's requirement that future residents help build their own homes, future Hearthstone homeowners were required to labor 22 hours a week for 11 months.

"You should have seen us in hard hats and rain boots working on the foundation," Carr said.

Carr also said she helped put a roof on a garage, moved a lot of dirt and cut wood for decks.

Avalos said he did everything he could to help construct his new home. However, a shoulder injury which eventually forced him to retire as a detention service worker at the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office limited him, he said.

Carr last owned her own home 15 years ago, and will live by herself in her new home.

Avalos last owned his own home a decade ago.

"I wouldn't be able to (own my own home) without the (Affordable Housing Affiliation's) help," Carr said.

The new homes are mostly complete, but Affordable Housing Affiliation Director Bill McCune said workers are looking to clean up paint spots and any other blemishes. If the spots are missed, they will cost more to fix in the future, he said.

McCune said federal Section 8 housing subsidies help cut monthly mortgage payments by $750 to $850 a month.

Other affordable housing projects completed or near completion include Bay Ridge at Rose and Cambridge drives and Burgess Point, which can be seen from Interstate 780.

Pacific Bay Homes completed construction on the 50-unit Bay Ridge development in March. The housing units are fully occupied.

Burgess Point, a 56-unit affordable housing project near the City Cemetery, is nearing completion, city officials said.

- E-mail Greg Moberly at or call 553-6833.

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