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Redevelopment of Oak Park Public Housing Revitalizes Paso Robles

View looking north on Pine Street in the current Oak Park Public Housing project.
View looking north on Pine Street in the current Oak Park Public Housing project. Image courtesy of The Paul Davis Partnership: Architects and Planners.
Located in the heart of central California’s wine country, surrounded by mountains and rolling hills and peppered with hot springs, the city of Paso Robles is home to about 30,000 residents. The northwestern portion of the city includes its historic downtown and Uptown neighborhoods with older infrastructure and buildings. In 2011, Paso Robles adopted its Uptown/Town Centre Specific Plan, which envisions the transformation of these neighborhoods with compact, pedestrian friendly mixed-use development. An important part of this vision is the redevelopment of the aged Oak Park Public Housing complex, which will replace 148 existing units and add 154 units for a total of 302 new affordable housing units. The additional units will fill a critical need for Paso Robles, where 24 percent of the city’s 10,491 total households are either extremely low-income or very low-income.1 Recent projections by the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments estimate that the city will need approximately 256 additional units to meet its low-income housing goals.2 The city council approved the redevelopment project in June 2010; funding is in place for the first phase and construction will begin this fall.

Oak Park History

Built in 1941 by the former U.S. Public Housing Administration (PHA), Oak Park was designed as wartime housing; an insular military barracks for Camp Roberts Army personnel. The Paso Robles Housing Authority (PRHA) received the project from PHA in 1953 and has since operated Oak Park as low-income housing for Paso Robles residents. The project contains 25 acres on a rectangular piece of land at the northernmost edge of town. Its eastern border is the old Southern Pacific Railroad line, which lies immediately west of the Salinas River. The project’s 148 units are contained in 68 buildings designed around a central north-south road, Pine Street, which terminates in cul-de-sacs on both ends. As the housing at Oak Park deteriorated over time, PRHA started a planning process to reenvision the community. "They’re very archaic," PHRA executive director Armando Corella said about the units. "In some locations the structure has rotted and they’re just not rentable anymore." In 2009 and 2010, six units were removed from service due to plumbing problems, and the cost to update the units was too high. "We realized," said Corella, "if we didn’t do something, [Paso Robles] would lose [its] public housing."

Planning Process Enables Redevelopment

Oak Park’s design grew out of the planning process for the Uptown/Town Centre Specific Plan, which promotes “walkability, grid-pattern streets, alternative transportation models, [and] energy saving measures that will help reduce housing construction and operation costs.” The city of Paso Robles Planning Commission made Oak Park’s redevelopment a priority to speed the construction of much-needed affordable housing. To get the project approved, PRHA needed to obtain a general plan amendment that designated Oak Park’s boundaries as a planned development and a density bonus to increase the number of units from the allowable 12 units per acre.

Redevelopment Will Integrate Oak Park with Existing Community

Rendering of a redeveloped Pine Street.
 Rendering of a redeveloped Pine Street. Image courtesy of Jim Burrows, Firma Landscape Architects.
To lead Oak Park’s redevelopment, PRHA partnered with Monterey County Housing Authority Development Corporation and Paul Davis Partnership Architects and Planners. PRHA plans to demolish and replace the existing units, add additional units, incorporate more recreational and open spaces (including a soccer field made with synthetic turf and a new community center), and integrate the project with the surrounding community by removing the Pine Street cul-de-sacs and adding east-west connector roads. The redevelopment has 10 building designs with 4 to 6 color variations and numerous sustainable design features, including permeable concrete, Energy Star appliances, and solar panels, which help make it a net-zero energy project. “The idea,” Corella said, “is that someone won’t come in from the outside and recognize it as low-income housing. It will integrate with the rest of the community.” Current projections estimate that the redevelopment will be completed within 5 years at a total cost of $95 million.

Next Steps: Phase One

The project’s developers drew from several local, state, and federal sources to finance the first phase, including $1,765,991 in project-based vouchers through the Housing Choice Vouchers Program, $936,549 through the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, and $15,544,638 in state and federal tax credits. So far, PRHA has relocated 12 families offsite and 16 families within Oak Park. Priority to stay within the community was given to families with children and elderly households.

In July 2012, PRHA retained ROEM Builders as general contractor for phase one, which will involve the demolition of 40 housing units and the construction of 13 three-story multifamily residential buildings, plus a maintenance building, on a 5.52-acre section of Oak Park. Phase one will total 80 units, including 8 one-bedroom, 44 two-bedroom, 26 three-bedroom, and 2 four-bedroom units. Seventy percent of the new units will be reserved for households with incomes up to 50 percent of AMI, and the remaining 30 percent will be reserved for households with incomes up to 60 percent of AMI.

"Four years ago, people didn’t want to live here," Corella said. But now, with redevelopment underway, Corella believes that a ripple effect is imminent: "The rest of the [Uptown] community is kind of blighted…the redevelopment will be the newest thing in this part of town. Over time we hope that everything else will upgrade accordingly."