The controversial Northstar affordable housing project in Hanford is already the subject of a potential lawsuit after a tumultuous town hall took place at the Civic Auditorium on February 16 to discuss the development.
A closed-door item regarding funds for the Whole Person Care program, which is the behavioral health component the county has committed to Northstar Courts, was on the agenda for the special meeting of the County Board of Supervisors in Kings on Thursday, February 24.
Jessica Hoff Berzac, a principal at UPholdings, the project’s co-developer, said Wednesday she didn’t know what the lawsuit was about.
Meanwhile, supervisor Joe Neves said he would consider an alternate location for the project. But Hoff Berzac said the location cannot be changed due to state and federal financial commitments.
If the location of the 72-unit project were changed, it could trigger other potential lawsuits.
About 100 people attended the special meeting and supervisors heard an hour and a half of public comment, mostly against, the Northstar development of 72 affordable apartments. Twenty-two project units at 664 and 668 Northstar Courts will serve vulnerable populations.
Public opposition to the project revolved around the location and suspicions as to why no one in the community was able to participate in decisions surrounding the project.
The 2.76 acre site behind Hanford’s Crossings shopping center at 11and 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 because it happened just weeks before the project was widely publicized.
About 700 people showed up for a special city council meeting on Feb. 16, and many speakers raged at the city, county and developers.
During the raucous three-hour meeting punctuated by shouts and boos against the development, people said they weren’t told about the project until it was wrapped up and the city and the county were hiding it from the public. People said the development did not belong there, that they feared increased crime from tenants and that the project would create parking problems.
The low-income housing project has been on the Kings County BOS agenda since 2019, but under different names, making it difficult for the public to comment.
Project-related aspects featured on at least two of the BOS meetings, although the August 6, 2019 meeting did not specifically identify the project. According to the agenda, reference is made to a $500,000 request for “No Place Like Home” from the state Department of Housing and Community Development. It was essentially a reservation that if the county got the loan from the state, it would take it.
Then, on December 22, 2020, the Kings County BOS Diary refers to an $8 million allocation for a “No Place Like Home” allowance. It was basically about participating in a competition to get money from the state. Again, there was no reference to Northstar.
In July 2021, Upholdings and Self-Help Enterprises, the co-developer, secured a $4.73 million loan from the state in addition to the $500,000 loan referenced at the August 6, 2019 meeting, a said Hoff Berzac. The project also secured a $5.2 million loan from the state to house farm workers in 32 project units, Hoff Berzac said.
In total, the project secured $22 million in loans from government sources, she said. The remaining part was funded by private funding and developers. The construction cost is $24 million, but the total project cost is $35 million, Hoff Berzac said.
“There’s no way to get them (supervisors) to redeem it, it’s done,” she said.
She disputed that the project was hidden from the public. There have been countless public meetings within the county’s homeless task force and the location has been zoned for multi-family housing.
The neighborhood’s mixed-use zoning designation is consistent with the city’s 2035 General Plan Update, which included a Citizen Advisory Committee. However, committee members repeatedly said that certain topics during their deliberations were discouraged, including rezoning from low-density residences to public facilities in the Hidden Valley Park Extension.
The controversy over Northstar comes as the state tries to make available housing more affordable through a state law that allows higher densities in residential neighborhoods. Typically, the state’s housing production, including in Central Valley towns, is woefully insufficient to meet demand, driving up prices, increasing homelessness and forcing people to leave the state to find affordable housing.
Each city also has state goals for building affordable housing that they are expected to meet.
Hanford has rebuffed other efforts to help his homeless.
For the past few years, the city has had money to build a service center on Sixth Street downtown to help homeless people with social services. This was refused by the city council after many town center shopkeepers objected, saying the presence of the center would harm their businesses.
Upholdings has built affordable housing in Clovis and Porterville. But the situation at Hanford is unique, Hoff Berzac said.
“I haven’t had this level of absence in my backyard in probably a decade,” she said.
She called the community’s reaction “stigmatizing” and “hurtful”. In the meantime, she said she received many phone calls from people wanting to get on the list to move into the new development.