News

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.