Small-scale affordable housing project keeps San Ysidro community in mind
The old church that once housed Nuestra Señora de Monte Carmelo, or Our Lady of Mount Carmel, will be the centerpiece of an affordable housing project that aims to serve the needs of the predominantly Latino community.
(David Hernandez - U-T)
San Isidro - Located in the heart of San Ysidro, the white, stucco church that once housed Nuestra Señora de Monte Carmelo, or Our Lady of Mount Carmel, stands as a symbol of the border town’s rich history and culture.
Built in 1927, the landmark is set to be the centerpiece of a small affordable housing project that will include spaces for services and programs geared toward the predominantly Latino community.
“We want to integrate (the church) because of the huge historical significance in the community. It’s seen as an icon in San Ysidro,” said Teddy Cruz of Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman, a research-based political and architecture firm that designed the project with Casa Familiar, a social services organization.
David Flores, Casa Familiar’s community development director, added: “We believe that culture exisits in a community — that you don’t bring culture to a community.”
Construction at the site on West Hall Avenue, just west of the San Ysidro Community Park, is expected to begin in October.
Cruz and Flores said they consider the small-scale development an important model for other housing projects in small communities like San Ysidro — one that puts residents’ needs first and aims to spur community engagement.
Plans for the $8.7 million project, named Living Rooms at the Border, include 10 apartments: four 3-bedroom units, three 2-bedroom units and three 1-bedroom units. Rents are estimated between $900 and $1,800.
“In neighborhoods like San Ysidro, housing cannot just be units on their own,” said Cruz, a public culture and urbanization professor at UC San Diego. “They need to be embedded in an infrastruture of social, cultural, educational and economic programming.”
To that end, plans call for the church to be restored and used for visual arts and theater programs run by theater company Teatro Mascara Magica and a UCSD program named Community Stations. The space, which will be re-named El Salon, or The Hall, will include a recording studio.
Plans also include an open-air pavilion called Casa Patio, where UCSD would put on art-related programs and activities for the community.
“This is about developing programs, developing participation and developing engagement,” Cruz said.
Also included in the plans are five office spaces, reserved primarily for community services. Casa Familiar intends to use two spaces to offer immigration services and a third to house a coffee cart, which would provide barista jobs to youth.
Casa Familiar has not yet designated a use for the two other office spaces, although the nonprofit has considered leasing to San Ysidro Health for a small clinic.
Other aspects of the the project that aim to draw the community include walkways and courtyards.
Cruz and Flores said they hope the the project encourages more urban development in San Ysidro and beyond.
“It’s about respecting the small-scale fabric of the historic center, the heart of San Ysidro,” Cruz said.
The project dates back to 2000, when Casa Familiar purchased the land on which the church stands. In 2001, Casa Familiar bought an adjacent property, with a ramshackle house on it.
Cruz and his partner Fonna Forman, a UC San Diego political science professor, pointed to various aspects that contributed to the time frame of the project.
“This is not a developer-driven project, which from the beginning has budgets and a process all in place,” he said. “For this project, Casa Familiar has to construct a process: advocating for the right housing agenda, fundraising for acquiring land, approaching policy makers to raise awareness about the relations between housing and social services, and developing outreach efforts in collaboration with others like UCSD and foundations. To put in place the right financial composition that could support an unorthodox housing project.”
The project was one of five selected by the city of San Diego as part of a development planning effort, named the “City of Villages” initiative. The initiative began in 2002 and later fell apart. Despite the loss of support from the city, Casa Familiar moved forward with the project.
In 2010, the project gained national attention after it was showcased as part of an exhibition named “Small Scale, Big Change” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Casa Familiar, which has developed six housing projects, including two in National City, received funding for the project from the PARC Foundation and Civic San Diego’s New Market Tax Credit program.
The project is expected to be completed in a year.