Volunteers from Home Depot finish the front yard of a home in partnership with the Coachella Valley Housing Coalition in Coachella, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015.
This happens to communities all over the state as they urbanize. Cathedral City, La Quinta and Indio were all eligible for USDA home loans once, according to the Coachella Valley Housing Coalition. But the cities grew, and now they’re out of the USDA’s purview.
“It is extremely frustrating, because this is a program that’s been so successful in the city,” said Nadia Villagran, CVHC’s director of operations and communications. “Unfortunately (the city) and we will deal with the consequences of this unfortunate rural definition.”
One of the Housing Coalition’s leading funding sources for decades has been the USDA’s Mutual Self-Help Housing program, in which families receive low-interest loans to buy new homes but do most of the construction themselves.
CVHC has helped more than 1,400 low-income families across Southern California finance homes this way.
Families in the program can continue building in Thermal, Mecca, Oasis and North Shore with USDA loans, along with Desert Hot Springs.
But in the eastern valley, most families prefer Coachella to unincorporated communities, Villagran said. The city has the grocery stores, parks, restaurants and often-repaired roads — basic amenities most homeowners want and unincorporated communities tend to lack.
“Coachella’s efforts to make the city more livable are the reason why it’s now less affordable for these low-income families, and not by any other definition than a rudimentary population number that doesn’t take into account California’s rural reality,” Villagran said.
The homes have made a big difference to the city, too.
The Housing Coalition has “been one of the primary homebuilders in Coachella for the last three or four years. In the last year, they were the only builder,” said Luis Lopez, the city’s development services director. “USDA mortgages going away… that does present a concern for the affordable housing market in Coachella.”
Lopez said several market-rate housing projects are in early stages of development, but the community needs a balance of new affordable and market-rate homes. CVHC plans to keep fighting the change in the USDA designation. The organization has lobbied Congress to modify the parameters or make exceptions for cities like Coachella. In the meantime, the nonprofit will continue building apartments in the city, along with a handful of self-help houses with mortgage assistance from Fannie Mae or the state of California.
The group has 103 homes left to build — the 21 nearly completed houses in Bellissima, plus 82 planned in the two Tierra Bonita subdivisions.
For families like Sofia and Andres Saenz, owning those homes will be life-changing. Help from volunteers last week cut what’s normally an 11-month building process by at least a month, the couple said.
Sofia Saenz, who teared up at the prospect of moving in this fall, said the volunteers saved them weeks of work. “It brings so much joy to my heart to see them out here,” she said.
Around 440 employees from Home Depot’s garden departments helped paint and landscape homes. Around 100 more helped build homes for veterans in Palm Desert.
Volunteers came to the desert from all over the country for a three-day Home Depot Foundation business and fundraising convention, which culminates in a charity golf tournament.
The Home Depot Foundation purchased all the materials used — from the paint and plants its volunteers installed to the shovels and ladders they used — and will donate them to CVHC and its families.