Thursday marked the grand opening of Mountain View Village, the first affordable housing complex in Lamont in the last decade, officials said. Within two weeks, tenants will begin moving into the 40-unit apartment complex at 11316 Main St. in Lamont, and it couldn’t come soon enough, residents say.
“The buzz has been around town,” said Jose Gonzalez, the president of the Lamont Chamber of Commerce. “I get comments every day, ‘When is that going to open?’”
Community groups, including the Comite Progreso de Lamont, the Lamont Boys and Girls Club and Building Healthy Communities, had been pushing for the project ultimately developed by Kern County’s Housing Authority. Those groups and other community members weren’t able to come to the event because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We miss them today because they’re the reason that we’re here,” Stephen Pelz, executive director of Kern County’s Housing Authority. “They provided the inspiration and provided a lot of input.”
Pelz pointed to two ongoing crises that have made having a home to call their own even more crucial for families: the coronavirus pandemic and the poor air quality wrought by wildfires. But he said many Kern County families can’t afford a basic apartment, so they end up living in overcrowded homes, substandard housing or paying more than 50 percent of their income in rent, putting them at risk of homelessness.
“Mountain View Village will change that narrative in Lamont for 40 families,” Pelz said. “This is providing quality housing for affordable rent at hundreds of dollars less than they would get on the private market.”
The two-bedroom units will rent out to Lamont residents for $398 to $667 per month, depending on their income. To qualify, a family must make less than 50 percent of the median income for the area; in Lamont for a family of four that number would be $34,950.
Electric bills are expected to be extremely low — $5 to $10 per month per tenant on average — thanks in large part to solar panels on the roofs of the two-story buildings but also the “zero net energy” units themselves built with energy efficiency in mind.
Each apartment comes equipped with a refrigerator, stove, dishwasher and microwave. The floors are made of a vinyl plank wood. Communal areas include laundry facilities, 21 bike storage lockers, a picnic area and a playground. There are also two community rooms where people can gather or where services can be offered to residents. The units and parking lot are gated and secured, and there will be an on-site manager.
Trying to get the project financed was a struggle, said Thomas Lingo, of Americana Community Development, who worked with the county to develop the project. He said anything involving affordable housing in California has been tough since redevelopment agencies were snuffed out by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011. Mountain View took stringing together funding from a variety of sources, especially competitive grant funding that took a few rounds of applications.
The project was funded by Kern County’s HOME program, Pacific Western Bank and PNC Real Estate. But one of the key grants was from the state’s Strategic Growth Council. It hinged on the sustainability of the project — not just the vaunted “zero net energy” units themselves but the transportation infrastructure residents will rely on.
Parking spots are not just for residents’ cars but the state’s CalVans program. Residents and those who live nearby can carpool together to local employers, like Grimmway Farms, Tejon Outlets and Bolthouse. There are bike lockers, and also plans to help residents with bike repairs on site and offer periodic bike rodeos to teach residents about safety, Pelz said.
The infrastructure will extend beyond the units, too. There will be a new bus stop out front for Kern Transit, and residents will be receiving discounts on bus passes.
And though they haven’t been completed, the county will be building new bike lanes and sidewalks that extend for miles beyond Mountain View, so residents can ride their bikes or walk to school or into town. Pelz says the timeline for completing those is early 2021.
Gonzalez says these are all good signs for Lamont residents, who often feel like they have to fight for basic needs in their community. Many houses are bursting at the seams, with several families piling in just to have an affordable place. Many of them are agricultural workers who make little and want to live close to their employers. The community has been demanding more, and they’re starting to feel like leaders are listening.
“This is a glimmer of hope that investment is coming to Lamont,” Gonzalez said.