News

our town st helena: affordable housing in charlotte

In Charlotte: A New Model for Affordable Housing?

In Charlotte, NOAHs–naturally occurring affordable housing–were endangered–easy pickings for an investor looking to turn a profit.

A group of local organizations and investors built a pool of money to buy property, creating their Housing Impact Fund to preserve affordable housing. If their plan works, this group could be crafting a new and profitable model for dramatically increasing the amount of affordable housing in Charlotte and beyond. Read more

our town st helena: rezoning for affordable housing in bakersfield

Bakersfield Rezones Land for Affordable Housing

This is what it takes. It may sound like a small thing, but zoning plays a critical role in building affordable housing. In most communities there is a strong NIMBY factor—people don’t want affordable housing in their own neighborhoods. There’s a fear of density. Read more

our town st helena affordable housing battle in san francisco's sunset district

No Slums In The Sunset: Affordable Housing Battle Intensifies in SF Neighborhood

This article discusses one of the many problems that affordable housing advocates face as they try to move construction projects through the planning stages. Neighborhood objections are often vocal and persistent, as with this San Francisco Sunset District’s “No Slums In The Sunset” campaign. Flyers were the initial salvo in a development war that will surely escalate. Read more

our town st helena: In Kansas City, developers pay for affordable housing in every development

In Kansas City: Developers Will Need to Set Aside Units for Affordable Housing or Pay Fees

Tax incentives for apartment construction will now come with a condition in Kansas City. Developers will need to set aside 20% of the units for affordable housing. Half of these units must be affordable for those earning 70% of the area’s average income, the other half for those earning less than 30% of the average. Developers who don’t fulfill the requirement must pay 110% of the construction cost of those units into a housing trust fund. Read more

our town st helena: affordable housing palo alto

In High-Priced Palo Alto: Affordable Housing Project Breaks Ground

Wilton Court, a $46.3M, four-story affordable housing project in Palo-Alto will feature 59 units offering independent living for a mix of single- and two-person households earning between 30% and 60% of the area median income. Twenty-one of the units are reserved for adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The property is within walking distance of a grocery store, retail, restaurants, parks and public transportation.

One of the many obstacles to any kind of construction in high-priced California is financing

For this project, there is a total of seven organizations involved in its financing. The City of Palo Alto, Santa Clara County, Wells Fargo Bank, Enterprise Community Partners California Community Reinvestment Corp., California Tax Credit Allocation Committee, California Department of Housing and Community Development, and California Municipal Finance Authority are providing financing for the $46.3 million project. Read more

Amazon pledges $2 billion to affordable housing in 3 major hubs, including the Puget Sound area.

Amazon Pledges $2B For Affordable Housing Crises in 3 Major Employment Hubs

The competition continues–this time it’s Amazon. They’ve pledged to spend more than $2B over the next five years to build tens of thousands of affordable housing units in three of their major hubs–Seattle, Arlington, Virginia and Nashville, Tennessee—all areas where Amazon has a rapidly growing presence. The company employs more than 75,000 people in the Puget Sound region alone thanks to its headquarters in the state.

Big tech/business is taking responsibility for affordable housing

Amazon’s pledge follows similar commitments from Apple, Facebook, and Google, all of which previously promised between $1 billion and $2.5 billion each to tackle similar issues plaguing the San Francisco Bay Area. Read more

our town st helena: affordable housing in san francisco's sunset district

Affordable Housing Project Planned for Sunset District Families

Mayor London Breed is making good on her promise to build affordable housing. This 100-unit project is specifically for families. Another affordable housing project is under way in the Sunset District, specifically for educators.

The Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development has committed $15 million from the 2019 voter-approved affordable housing bond, spokesperson Max Barnes said Monday. Read more

our town st helena building affordable housing in san francisco for seniors

In SF’s Mission District: First New Affordable Housing Opens in More than a Decade

The Mission’s new apartments will be home to more than 90 seniors, including those who were formerly homeless.

“These 96 new affordable homes represent a new chapter for the residents who have moved in,” Mayor London Breed said in a statement. “Housing is more than a place to live—it’s stability, community, and as we have seen so clearly during this pandemic, it’s also essential to public health.”

The nine-story building includes studios and one-bedroom apartments. Among the features include rooftop terraces with shared garden plots, bicycle storage and a solar hot water system. 1296 Shotwell also incorporates a “state-of-the-art seismic design” that would allow for residents to stay in place following an earthquake. Read more

Our Town St. Helena Newsletter: December 2020

our town st helena jen la liberty executive director

The Give!Guide Makes it Easy to Donate; OTSH Welcomes new ED Jennifer La Liberte

our town st helena give guide

The Give!Guide Makes it Easy to Give

The Guide is all online this year at candogiveguide.com. Key in “Our Town St. Helena” in the search field in the upper right corner of your screen. What’s great about the Give!Guide–donations start at just $10. Even small donations add up to make a difference. Thank you for supporting affordable housing!

OTSH Welcomes New Executive Director Jennifer La Liberte

Jennifer La Liberte joined OTSH as our Executive Director in November. Her professional experience includes 30 years in local government, the last 20 with the City of Napa. As the City’s economic development manager, she liaised with developers, businesses and the City, facilitating infrastructure projects and business retention programs as well as attracting private investments to provide new jobs and local tax revenue. Read more

our town st helena Mighty Building in Oakland: creating affordable ADUs

Oakland Factory 3D Makes Small Units: Faster, Cheaper Housing

Affordable housing advocates recognize that many parts of California are no longer accessible for families. The average cost per unit is about $500,000 to $600,000. This is due to the high price of land and the cost of labor. A whopping 25% of the cost of building affordable housing goes to government fees, permits and consulting companies.A single affordable housing project requires financing from an average of six different sources. Zoning issues or objections by other property owners can consume many years before ground is broken.

Innovative companies are coming up with new ways to create affordable housing

Mayor Libby Schaaf toured an Oakland factory that uses 3-D printing to create small in-law units in a bid to bring down the cost of housing. Schaaf walked through Mighty Buildings’ factory and into a furnished, modular unit with large windows and a small kitchen and watched as a 3-D printer produced wall panels. Workers stood nearby as Schaaf looked through yellow goggles at the UV lights that harden the material for the panels.

Mighty Buildings’ 3-D printing method creates walls, ceilings and overhangs for the tiny units that are often built in backyards. The one- or two-bedroom units range from $115,000 to $169,000–40% cheaper than site-built units of similar quality. Read more

our town st helena star editorial about OTSH

Star Editorial: The Mighty Our Town St. Helena

A scrappy nonprofit is gaining powerful allies and racking up victories as it faces down St. Helena’s biggest challenge: a lack of adequate affordable and workforce housing.

Since forming in 2009 in response to an attempted condo conversion, Our Town St. Helena has developed a reputation for getting things done by working with nearby residents on small projects that demonstrate how affordable housing enhances neighborhoods.

The most visible one was Brenkle Court, the self-help project under construction on McCorkle Avenue, where eight local families with household incomes of $40,000-$60,000 are building their future homes. Read more

our town st helena affordable housing in silicon valley

Mountain View Commits $15M for Affordable Housing

Mountain View commits $15M for affordable housing. It’s joining its big tech neighbors Google and Facebook who have recently made multimillion-dollar donations to creating workforce housing.

Mountain View city officials are moving briskly to approve an all-affordable housing project — including units for the homeless — located next door to some of the Bay Area’s biggest tech powerhouses.

It’s the kind of project that might spark protests in other neighborhoods, with residents raising concerns about traffic and the prospect of the chronically homeless living nearby. But things are different when your neighbors are Microsoft offices and Google buildings. Read more

our town st helena Facebook pledges 1.5 M for affordable housing

Facebook Joins Apple and Google, Pledges $150M for Affordable Housing in the Bay Area

The tech housing sweepstakes continue!

Facebook will spend $150M to build 2,000 units of extremely low-income housing. This is part of their October 2019 pledge to spend $1B on affordable housing in the San Francisco Bay Area. Facebook says this new Community Housing Fund would be the largest of its kind in California.

Tech sector steps up to provide housing for workers

Google was first to pledge $1 billion in June of 2019; Apple upped the ante by pledging $2.5B. All three tech titans employ tens of thousands of employees, and tens of thousands more through subcontractors. Affordable housing is scarce, and many essential workers cannot find housing.

Read more

Our town st helena affordable housing in idaho from a nonprofit

In Idaho: Nonprofit Helps Add More Affordable Housing

Nonprofit home developer NeighborWorks Boise will build a pocket neighborhood with 39 homes. The second development of its kind by the organization in Boise, it will use grant funds, secondary loans and other assistance to sell a large portion of the homes to those for whom homeownership would be out of reach. A big part of NeighborWorks Boise’s mission is helping provide housing solutions to underserved communities.

NeighborWorks is working to boost families making 80% of the area median income or below into homeownership to build equity and provide stability.

Read more

What We Can Learn from An Affordable Housing Project in Aspen

our town st helena building affordable housing in aspen

Su Lum was a favorite columnist and part of the leadership team at The Aspen Times for 40 years. Her home, a historic miner’s cabin, is proposed for a project that will provide five units of badly needed affordable housing in Aspen.

This is the kind of project that we all should be looking out for

Instead of turning older homes into multimillion dollar estates, they can become small workforce villages, with three-five units of housing. As we address our housing needs, we all need to be looking for this and other kinds of infill opportunities. Read more

St. Helena Planning Commission Approves Affordable Housing Project @ 963 Pope St.

our town st helena affordable housing on pope st.

An affordable housing project on Pope Street won Planning Commission approval on Thursday. The nonprofit Our Town St. Helena will build four new units at 963 Pope St., which already has a single-family home.

All five two-bedroom rental units will be set aside for local workers: one for a very low-income household, three for low income, and one for moderate income. “The town needs more of this, and we need to support it,” said Commissioner Daniel Hale. Read more

Reno Donates City-Owned Property to Land Trust for Affordable Housing

our town st helena Reno: building affordable housing through land trust

This Is Reno | Carla O’Day | October 15, 2020

Reno’s donation of land for affordable housing is a big step in the right direction. The city expects to build ten single-family homes. What’s interesting about this project: The trend in affordable housing is for density. Apartment blocks that are close to shopping and transportation hubs so that people can walk to work. An environmetal friendly approach. 

The Reno City Council on Wednesday agreed to convey city-owned property in the North Valleys to a non-profit organization, which plans to build single-family homes for those earning less than 80% of the area’s median income.

The Community Housing Land Trust LLC is expected to construct 10 homes on 2.5 acres near the junction of West Golden Valley Road and North Virginia Street near Yorkshire Drive by the end of 2021. People would own the homes but the land would stay with the trust.

Read more

OTSH Newsletter, July 2020

our town st helena brenkle court affordable housing project
Project Manager Larry Vermeulen—he’s turned a bunch of rookies into wannabe carpenters

As we kick off a new season, we want to pause and thank our community. All of these generous, hardworking people have helped keep Brenkle Court, our Self-Help Home Ownership project, on track. Despite COVID, catastrophic weather and the long hours of harvest seasons, this just keeps moving forward. If all goes well, our eight families will move into their homes in May 2021.

Self-Help Workers in St. Helena Build Their Own Homes

John Ramos of KPIX featured the Brenkle Court project on Sept. 19, 2020. 

ST. HELENA (KPIX) — A self-help housing project in St Helena is building homes for lower-income families in one of the most expensive communities in the Bay Area. It’s also showing that there are some rewards that money can’t buy.

Just steps from downtown St. Helena, the property on McCorkle Avenue could have been a wealthy person’s vacation home. Instead, a group of townhouses called “Brenkle Court” will be a shot at a new life for eight working-class families. Make no mistake –it is no gift. 

“I told ‘em at the beginning: forget about vacations — no vacations,” said project manager Larry Vermeulen.

The retired builder said most of the self-help homebuilders working at Brenkle Court had zero experience coming in. The families are working on all eight homes at the same time and, since they are all identical, when workers learn a new building skill on one, it can be applied to the next seven houses. Read more. Watch the video for the rest of the story!

Volunteer with OTSH: Contact Project Manager Larry Vermeulen, projectmanager@ourtownsthelena.org

Our town st helena Larry Vermeulen at brenkle court
Project Manager Larry Vermeulen
Our town st helena Ana Martinez at brenkle court
Brenkle Court Homeowner Ana Martinez

Eight St. Helena families build their American dream from the ground up
 Updated 

our town st helena building their own american dream

Eight St. Helena families spent last weekend the same way they’ve spent every weekend for more than a year: Building their future homes stud by stud, wall by wall, and side by side.

As temperatures crept toward the triple digits at the Brenkle Court construction site on McCorkle Avenue, it was clear they don’t call it “sweat equity” for nothing. Read more

OTSH Newsletter, July 2020

Brenkle Court: A Year in Review

our town st helena building affordable housing, digging trenches in scorching heat

A look back over the last year. We began working at the Brenkle Court job site in mid-July, 2019. There were exhausting days digging trenches in record-breaking heat. We learned to use tools and to frame. Our most immediate goal: Finish the roofing before the fall rainy season so we can continue working through the winter. Despite COVID, we’re still on schedule!

Our Town St. Helena's Sklar to head up Napa Valley Community Housing

The Star, July 15, 2020

St. Helena’s Erica Roetman Sklar has accepted the position of President/CEO of Napa Valley Community Housing (NVCH).

Over the course of nearly 10 years, Roetman Sklar has played a major role in developing projects for Our Town St. Helena (OTSH.) She has provided expertise on land analysis and acquisition, project conceptual development and funding, as well as construction project management. Read more

Press Release: OTSH/7.10.20

our town st helena erica roetman sklarErica Roetman Sklar Joins NVCH as President/CEO

Our Town St. Helena (OTSH), a local housing advocacy nonprofit, congratulates Erica Roetman Sklar on her acceptance of the position of President/CEO of Napa Valley Community Housing (NVCH). Over the course of nearly ten years, Erica has played a major role in developing OTSH’s projects. She has provided expertise on land analysis and acquisition, project conceptual development and funding, as well as construction project management. “While we are sorry to see her go, we are pleased that Erica will be at NVCH—an organization that shares our goal of providing housing opportunities to local communities in Napa County,” said OTSH President Mary Stephenson.

OTSH currently has a five-unit affordable housing project at 963 Pope Street being considered by the City of St. Helena Planning Department with the anticipation of receiving entitlement in late summer 2020. OTSH has entered into a working agreement with NVCH to have their organization manage this project from entitlement through construction. This agreement will allow Erica and the experienced staff at NVCH make sure the Pope Street Workforce Village is completed on schedule and on budget.

OTSH wishes to thank Erica for her incredible efforts over the last decade, and we look forward to strengthening our relationship with NVCH to provide affordable housing in Napa Valley.

OTSH Newsletter, May 2020

Our Town-St. Helena Newsletter May 2020.pdf

OTSH Welcomes Jeff Feeney to BOD

OTSH is delighted to welcome Jeff Feeney to our Board of Directors. Jeff has been living and working in the Napa Valley since graduating from Chico State in 1990. He has built a successful career as a commercial real estate broker, where he’s learned about customer service and the power of relationships. Jeff is well known in the community and is not afraid to speak out about the ongoing challenges we face–balancing quality of life while providing opportunities for growth.

OTSH continued to work during the sheltering in place order

Wearing masks and hardhats, the Brenkle Court crew continued framing the second floor. We staggered shifts at times so that we could maintain social distancing. 

our town st helena framing the second floor

OTSH Newsletter, March 2020

The Kiwanis Club Turns Out for a Saturday Work Party at 963 Pope St.

OTSH Board Member Marisol Vargas reached out to St. Helena’s Kiwanis Club about helping us clean up the yard at 963 Pope St., where OTSH plans to create a five-unit workforce village. We pruned rose bushes and trimmed shrubs, raked leaves and cleaned gutters. We will be rethinking the landscaping on this property to streamline maintenance and reduce water consumption.

our town st helena rotary club helped on pope st

A big thanks to all of the Kiwanis Club members, including John Heflebower, Jan Darter and Bob Beckstrom!

Educating Our Community: What is Affordable Housing?

OTSH hosted a community meeting in February on affordable housing–how it’s developed and financed, its current status and its outlook for the future. Lack of affordable housing affects us all. OTSH President Mary Stephenson was the evening’s presenter. She debunked some common myths, presented data and talked about how we can preserve and build affordable housing in St. Helena to retain the character of our community.

OTSH Newsletter, January 2020

Our-Town-St.-Helena-Newsletter-January-2020.pdf

We want to thank those across our community who helped make 2019 a successful year. It includes a long list of donors who understand that affordable housing is key to maintaining the structure and character of St. Helena. 

  • Silicon Valley Bank was a major donor, and their Wine Division took an afternoon off to work on the job site
  • The Episcopal Church lets us use their copying machine to reproduce reams of loan documents 
  • Kendra Kelperis’ art students at RLS Middle School made the murals for the McCorkle St. fences 
  • Jeff Weineman at UpValley Electric donated the labor portion of the underslab electrical
  • The Methodist Church brings lunch to our Brenkle Court crew once/month
  • Father Brenkle treats our families to lunches at Villa Corona
  • Central Valley gives us discounts on materials
  • Our end-of-year mailing brought a huge response that will help defray operating expenses
our town st helena building affordable housing
Like many of our families, Mariana Rodriguez had never used a saw before she began building a house

OTSH Newsletter: November 2020

SVB Gets Involved in Affordable Housing

Our-Town-St.-Helena-Newsletter-December-2019.pdf 

Silicon Valley Bank’s Wine Division spent an afternoon at the Brenkle Court jobsite breaking up concrete and removing fence posts. This from Suzann Russell, the group’s Managing Director:

“This affordable housing will help our workforce live closer to where they work, support our winery and vineyard clients and their employees, take commuters off the road, and add to the overall quality of life in St. Helena. I hope we will see a lot more projects like this and more support from local businesses

our town st helena SVB comes to the job site

L to R First Row: Lindsay Gallion, Diane Dodge Bianchini, William Stevens (Head of SVB’s Wine Division), Tyler Vasilik, Sara Chrisman Bjerkan. L to R Second Row: Suzann Russell, Steve Bierer, Jonathan Williams, Dino Pillinini

OTSH Newsletter, October 2019

Our-Town-St.-Helena-Newsletter-October-2019-.pdf

Another Step Forward for Affordable Housing in St Helena!

Our Town St Helena (OTSH) closed escrow on this 1/3-acre property on 963 Pope Street in September, utilizing financing from the City of St. Helena and Rural Community Assistance Corporation. By employing a Charitable Sale strategy, which includes significant reductions in capital gains and income tax, the seller was able to obtain a higher net value than a market-rate sell, and OTSH was able to purchase the property at a deep discount.

We’re looking for other in-fill opportunities

According to Mary Stephenson, President, BOD, “This is the kind of in-fill project that can fit nicely into a neighborhood and still provide much needed housing for a diverse group of local residents. OTSH hopes to work with other homeowners to determine if a Charitable Sale could have tax advantages for the seller and provide our town with additional housing opportunities.”

ourtownsthelena affordable housing on pope street

In addition to this lovely 2-bedroom home, the property has room to build four more units behind the house. We’ll be creating a “workforce village”

OTSH Newsletter, July 2019

Our Town St. Helena Newsletter July 2019

Our Town St. Helena (OTSH) is a local nonprofit that began working together in 2008 with the goal of preserving existing housing and identifying new housing opportunities for the people vital to the economic health and wellbeing of St. Helena. 

Emergence of the Brenkle Court Townhomes

The USDA Rural Development Agency provided low-interest mortgages and the City of St. Helena donated property at 684 McCorkle Ave. Eight low-income families qualified for home ownership under the Mutual Self-Help Program, which means they’re responsible for 65% of the work on their homes. 

our town st helena: affordable housing

An architectural rendering of Brenkle Court

A do-it-yourself affordable housing project begins in St. Helena

Napa Register/The Star, David Stoneberg, July 22, 2019

ST. HELENA — Eight Upvalley families started a journey of home construction this month that will end in 18-20 months when all of the eight townhomes on Brenkle Court are finished. 

On a recent Saturday, the families cleared weeds, cut down shrubs and got the land ready for a concrete subcontractor to form and pour the two slabs needed for the single-family common-wall townhomes. Each of the homes will be two-story with three bedrooms and 1 1/2 baths.

Read more

our town st helena: Napa Register, July 2019

The artwork on the chainlink fence is by Kendra Kelperis and her art students at RLS Middle School 

Our Town St. Helena nears construction start on affordable housing project

Napa Valley Register, David Stoneberg, Jul 15, 2019

Eight Upvalley families started a journey of home construction Saturday that will end in 18-20 months when all of the townhomes on Brenkle Court in St. Helena are finished.

The Brenkle Court subdivision at 684 McCorkle Ave. is sponsored by Our Town St. Helena, a local nonprofit affordable housing advocacy group.

The families spent Saturday clearing weeds, cutting down shrubs and getting the land ready for a concrete subcontractor to form and pour the two slabs needed for the single-family common-wall townhomes. Each of the homes will be two-story with three bedrooms and 1 1/2 baths. On Monday, there was a large pile of brush behind the chain-link fence, on which hung several colorful and whimsical paintings. Read more 

our town st helena building affordable housing

The project is named after Father John Brenkle, a longtime advocate for affordable housing in St. Helena.

Construction nears at St. Helena’s Brenkle Court

Napa Valley Register/Star News, Jessie Duarte, Jan 7, 2019

A team of local workers is getting ready to devote a year and a half of their lives to realizing their dream of owning a home in St. Helena – and they’re looking for some help.

The nonprofit Our Town St. Helena has established an online tool registry where people can donate money for tools or equipment to aid the future residents of Brenkle Court at 684 McCorkle Ave. Read more 

Project Manager Larry Vermeulen works with the homeowners to teach them carpenter skills. None of the homeowners has a construction background, so they will learn as they go.