The controversial Northstar affordable housing project in Hanford is already the subject of a potential lawsuit after a tumultuous town hall took place in the Civic Auditorium February 16 to discuss the development.
A closed session item concerning Whole Person Care Program funds, which is the behavioral health piece that the county has committed to Northstar Courts, was on the Kings County Board of Supervisors’ special meeting agenda on Thursday, February 24.
Jessica Hoff Berzac, a principal with UPholdings, the co-developer of the project, said Wednesday she didn’t know what the lawsuit was about.
Meanwhile, Supervisor Joe Neves said that he would consider another location for the project. But Hoff Berzac said the location cannot be changed because of state and federal financial commitments.
If the location for the 72-unit project were changed, it could trigger additional potential lawsuits.
Approximately 100 people attended the special meeting and supervisors heard an hour and a half of public comments, mostly against, the Northstar development of 72 affordable apartments. Twenty-two units of the project at 664 and 668 Northstar Courts will serve vulnerable populations.
The public’s opposition to the project revolved around the location and suspicion over why no one in the community was able to participate in the decisions surrounding the project.
The 2.76-acre site behind Hanford’s Crossings Shopping Center at 11th and Fargo was sold to Upholdings Northstar, a California Limited Partnership, on January 28, 2022 for $625,000 according to county property records.
The seller was Robert T. Junell, successor trustee of the Robert L. Janis T. Junell Revocable Trust. Junell is a retired dentist in Hanford.
The timing of the sale is interesting in that it occurred just a few weeks before there was widespread publicity about the project.
Around 700 people showed up to a special city council meeting on February 16 and many speakers lashed out at the city, county and the developers.
During the raucous three-hour meeting punctuated by shouts and boos against the development, people said they hadn’t been made aware of the project until it was a done deal and that the city and county were hiding it from the public. People said the development didn’t belong in that location, they were afraid of increased crime from the tenants, and the project would create parking problems.
The low income housing project has been on the Kings County BOS agendas since 2019 but under different names, making it difficult for the public to comment.
Aspects related to the project were on at least two of the BOS meetings although the meeting on August 6, 2019 didn’t specifically identify the project. There is reference to an application for $500,000 for “No Place Like Home” from the state Department of Housing and Community Development, according to the agenda. This was essentially a reservation that if the county got the loan from the state, it would accept it.
Then, on December 22, 2020 there is reference in the Kings County BOS agenda to an $8 million allocation for a “No Place Like Home” allocation. This was essentially participation in a competition to get the money from the state. Once again, there was no reference to Northstar.
In July 2021 Upholdings and Self-Help Enterprises, the co-developer, got a $4.73 million loan from the state in addition to the $500,000 loan referenced at the August 6, 2019 meeting, said Hoff Berzac. The project also got $5.2 million loan from the state to house farm workers in 32 units of the project, said Hoff Berzac.
In all, the project got $22 million in loans from government sources, she said. The remaining portion was financed through private financing and the developers. The construction cost is $24 million but the total cost of the project is $35 million, Hoff Berzac said.
“There is no way to get them (supervisors) to buy it back, it’s done,” she said.
She disputed that the project was hidden from the public. There were countless public meetings at the county’s Homeless Task Force and the location was zoned for multi-family housing.
The Neighborhood Mixed Use zoning designation is compatible with the city’s 2035 General Plan Update which included a citizens’ advisory committee. However, members of the committee have repeatedly stated that certain topics during their deliberations were discouraged, including the rezoning from low density residential to public facilities of the Hidden Valley Park extension.
The controversy over Northstar occurs as the state tries to make more affordable housing available through a state law that allows for higher densities in residential neighborhoods. Generally, the state’s housing production—-including in Central Valley cities—is woefully inadequate to meeting demand thus pushing up prices, increasing homelessness and forcing people to move out of state to find an affordable place to live..
Each city also has state targets for construction of affordable housing that they are supposed to meet.
Hanford has rebuffed other efforts to help its homeless.
In recent years the city had money to construct a service center on Sixth Street downtown to help the homeless with social services. This was turned down by the city council after numerous downtown merchants opposed it saying the presence of the center would hurt their businesses.
Upholdings has built affordable housing in Clovis and Porterville. But the situation in Hanford is unique, Hoff Berzac said.
“I’ve not experienced this level of not in my backyard in probably a decade,” she said.
She called the community’s reaction “stigmatizing” and “hurtful.” Meanwhile she said she has received many phone calls from people who want to get on the list to move into the new development.