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Oildale neighborhood living with 'Dirt Mountain' two years after tiny homes for veterans stalls

It’s been two years since the Kern County Board of Supervisors approved a conditional use permit for the construction of Covey Cottages, 12 so-called "tiny homes" to be built on a vacant patch of land on Covey Avenue in Oildale, just south of Beardsley Canal.

What made this project different is that it was intended to provide permanent housing for homeless vets, homes in which veterans 55 and older could live out their golden years in relative comfort, safety and maybe a level of contentment.

Now fast forward to today and construction has still not begun — except for soil grading in 2019 that left a large mound of dirt right about where the sidewalk would be — if this neglected neighborhood was lucky enough to have sidewalks.

"My kids call it 'Dirt Mountain,'" Michelle Louviere, who lives across Covey Avenue from the property, said of the mound of fill dirt.

Dirt Mountain, she says, has become a playground for drug use and discarded trash, itinerant whiffers and tweakers. On Tuesday, several canisters of nitrous oxide, sometimes referred to as hippy crack, whippets or laughing gas, were strewn around the dirt mound along with discarded beer cans, rusted plumbing pipes and chunks of broken concrete.

"It sounded good," she said of the plan to build homes for struggling military veterans. "But when are they actually going to do something?"

Josie Malloy, a resident of the Covey Avenue Oildale neighborhood since 1990, lives across the street from the dirt mound and worries about drug activity at the location, as well as the general security of her neighborhood.

"They did a lot of work leveling the property, and this is what we're left with," she said. "A mess."

Victor Malloy, Josie's husband, spoke with this reporter in 2018, when optimism about the plan to house veterans sounded like it might be a good addition to the neighborhood.

Anything that helps homeless veterans was OK by him, Malloy said at the time. And he still believes that. But he and his wife want to see progress or see Dirt Mountain cleaned up.

Deborah Johnson, president and CEO of the nonprofit California Veterans Assistance Foundation, the nonprofit that is shepherding the project, said she understands the frustration of neighborhood residents.

"We are so frustrated we're not further along than we are," she said.

But Johnson was clear: The project is on hold, but she fully intends to see it to completion.

"The planning and permitting have been approved," she said. 

First came rains in early 2020, then COVID-19 exploded in the spring, slowing down the process, including permitting.

"The cost of construction went up $5,000 per unit," she said, raising the cost by more than $60,000.

"We had to stop and re-evaluate our funding," she said.

Since then, the nonprofit has applied for federal HOME funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. But they remain in a holding pattern.

Meanwhile, the mound of fill dirt causing so much aggravation will be needed for construction once construction resumes. If and when that happens, the project will include paved areas and green space, a commons room with a covered outdoor eating area, laundry facilities and parking. Each home will be just 400 square feet, but includes a bathroom, kitchenette, bedroom and living area.

Johnson and he partners in this project want the new residents, when they first arrive, to open the door to a new house, with everything they need, including stoves, refrigerators, sofas, beds, pots, pans, dishes and more.

It's going to require help from the community. Lots of help.

And apparently patience as well.

Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.