Deacon Jim Vargas is a clearly excited tour guide. The president and CEO of Father Joe’s Villages is showing a reporter the living units and amenities inside the monumental accomplishment that is the Saint Teresa of Calcutta Villa.
Any brand-new affordable housing project coming online in downtown San Diego is truly a very big deal. With 407 units, this is Father Joe’s Villages‘ largest housing project ever, and one of the biggest in the region.
A ribbon-cutting is scheduled for February 10, 2022. A Who’s Who of local Homelessness Influencers is expected to attend the event.
Homelessness is polarizing issue around the country. It’s a hot-button issue in San Diego, ranked fifth in the nation in number of homeless people, behind New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle, and San Jose/Santa Clara.
The downtown San Diego high-rise is widely recognized as a uniquely positive development in the long-running, poorly organized macro-effort by local politicians to gain leverage against the rising tide of regional homelessness.
This 14-story high rise will house 500-plus residents. The inventory includes studios, 25 one-bedroom and 25 two-bedroom apartments, and 80 units set aside for veterans.
The $145-million, LEED Gold-certified building has community rooms, a fitness room, children’s play areas, dog runs and community gardens.
“This building offers a sense of community and a sense of hope,” Vargas says.
I ask Vargas to pose next to a statue of Saint Teresa in the lobby of the building. After all, he’s a deacon in the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego (serving the community of Mary, Star of the Sea in La Jolla).
Vargas shares that he possesses a treasured relic—a cross that Mother Teresa (as she was widely known before being sainted) used to wear on her sari. The cross was a gift from a friend of a friend.
Coincidence. Karma. Whatever the connection, Father Joe’s Villages worked with Terrence and Barbara Caster and family (founders of A-1 Self Storage) to choose the building’s name. Saint Teresa of Calcutta was picked to honor her kindness, selflessness and care for people experiencing poverty.
[COVER PHOTO: Deacon Jim Vargas poses with a statue of Saint Theresa in the new affordable housing high-rise in East Village.]
Turning The Key Initiative
Saint Teresa of Calcutta Villa at 1 14th Street in East Village.
The Saint Teresa of Calcutta Villa is one part of Father Joe’s Villages’ long-term “Turning the Key” initiative. That 2016-launched plan includes adding 2,000 units of affordable housing to the region.
Vargas explains that when the necessary housing is available its far easier and effective to get people off the streets.
Sure, that could be a line from a Hotels.com “Captain Obvious” commercial. Unfortunately, the reality is that the number of affordable housing units has been in decline for much of the last decade.
“Much, much more affordable housing is needed,” Vargas says. “We picked 2,000, which we thought was an audacious goal. It’s hard to build affordable housing in this town. There’s a lot of red tape, bureaucracy, permitting and regulatory requirements.”
A project like The Saint Teresa of Calcutta Villa takes loads of time (more than five years), money and tenacity, Vargas says.
Keep in mind that 2,000-units is Father Joe’s Villages’ goal. Not the city’s.
“The 2,000 units is a significant portion of what San Diego needs,” Vargas says. “But this town certainly needs a lot more than 2,000.”
The ecosystem of homelessness here in San Diego has been clogged for many years, he adds.
Vargas acknowledges there is an ongoing need for both short-term congregant shelters and long-term affordable housing.
“Of course, there’s never enough shelter beds—so that’s one thing that has been keeping people on the streets,” Vargas says. “With a building like [Saint Teresa of Calcutta Villa] you’re able to take people out of the shelters and put them into these homes. And then, you can take more people off the streets and get them into shelters.”
A Self-Sustaining Plan
The interior of a two-bedroom unit at Saint Teresa of Calcutta Villa.
If its business plan is successful, Saint Teresa of Calcutta Villa will generate enough rental revenue to cover all expenses related to ongoing building operations and provide supportive services for its inclusionary housing residents.
Rental Revenue. The units of the building generate rental revenue.
Supportive Services. Revenue will be reinvested in the program and services that help people get housed.
Housing Placement. Programs and services will help people move into permanent housing.
Along with the Caster family and other benefactors, the project was funded in part by HOME-Investment Partnerships Grant funds provided to the City of San Diego by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), administered by the San Diego Housing Commission.
Father Joe’s Villages also used its own resources and private donations to build Saint Teresa of Calcutta Villa. Other funders for this project include:
Chelsea Investment Corporation, Raymond James Financial, Citi Bank, County of San Diego, California Department of Housing and Community Development, US Bank, Union Bank.
Individuals and families must qualify by income to become residents of the building.
Studio apartments range from $470 to 682.
One-bedroom and two-bedroom units (of up to 825 square feet) range from $1136 to $1,364. SDSun
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