Posted on: April 25, 2023
The first residents could return this summer to the site of the former Journey’s End mobile home park mostly leveled in the 2017 Tubbs Fire as construction of the first phase of replacement housing nears completion.
The initial group of 94 apartments is slated to be completed in May, with residents beginning to move in as early as late June. Additional units are expected to come online later this year.
Once complete, the project, named Laurel, to represent triumph, will add 162 apartments for low-income seniors 62 and older on Mendocino Avenue.
The long-awaited redevelopment marks a milestone for Santa Rosa’s recovery more than five years after the Tubbs Fire. Two park residents died and 117 of the park’s 161 homes were destroyed in the fire as it burned over the hills in northeast Santa Rosa and across Highway 101.
Those units left standing were deemed uninhabitable because the park’s utility system was too badly damaged.
Former resident Terrie Colen said she was happy to see the first phase of the project nearly done and she hoped to be able to return to the area.
“From the beginning I’ve always had the intention of moving back here,” she said.
Construction of the affordable apartments, a joint venture by Santa Rosa-based nonprofit Burbank Housing and San Francisco-based Related California, is expected to cost about $117 million. It is being paid for through federal low-income housing tax credits and grants geared toward disaster-impacted areas, local funds and loans.
Another 260 market-rate homes being built by a subsidiary of housing giant Lennar will round out the 13.3-acre property.
Altogether, the two projects will add about 420 apartments and represent the largest redevelopment in Santa Rosa related to the Tubbs Fire, which destroyed more than 3,000 homes in the city.
“This project is what I would consider the quintessential disaster relief project and we were able to rebuild it bigger with more units and more amenities,” Burbank’s Housing Development Director Jocelyn Lin said. “It has taken a team of folks, who we’re all grateful for, and to get to this point is so exciting.”
After the fire, a group of developers, including Burbank, came together and worked with the property owner to figure out how to redevelop the site, but the property remained vacant as thousands of new homes went up in fire-ravaged areas.
Construction on the project finally started in December 2021 and housing, government and community leaders marked the rebirth with a ceremony and tour last May after several delays.
The Laurel project consists of one- and two-bedroom units plus community amenities like indoor gathering space with a kitchen and theater, a community garden, bike storage and health and wellness services for residents, Lin said.
Lin said the development is in an ideal location, close to public transportation, shopping, health care and other services.
Units are open to people 62 and older earning between 30% and 60% of the area median income.
Rents range from about $668 for a one-bedroom to a maximum of $1,605 for a two-bedroom depending on household income and size.
Burbank will select prospective tenants for the first 94 units through a lottery on May 2.
People interested in living at Laurel can call Burbank at 707-526-9782 to be added to an interest list and can apply online by May 1.
Preference in the lottery will be given to former Journey’s End residents who meet the age and income requirements, Lin said.
Just under 90 people on the interest list had returned pre-applications as of April 21, including 19 former park residents, said Elisha Huckbody, one of Burbank’s regional property managers.
Residents are expected to be able to move in late June or early July, pending any construction setbacks, Huckbody said.
A second phase that includes 38 units will be completed in the fall and a third phase consisting of 30 units is in the planning process. Leasing information for later phases will be available in the future.
Colen, the former Journey’s End resident, first moved to the park around 2011 to help care for a friend who’d had surgery.
“That was the open door for me to get in there,” she recalled.
After about six months, she moved to another mobile home in the park, where she rented a room until the house was destroyed in the Tubbs Fire.
Colen, 64, bounced from place to place in the years since, unable to afford rising home prices in the region, she said.
She was able to secure a spot in one of the trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to house fire survivors and rented an apartment on Sonoma Avenue for a year before landing on her feet.
She has lived in an apartment in Bennett Valley the past few years but had always envisioned returning to the Journey’s End site if possible.
She said she liked the area because of its proximity to various services. She added her name to the interest list early on as Burbank started work on the project and recently completed the pre-application.
She worried that former residents haven’t been notified of the leasing requirements and upcoming deadline and that they won’t be prioritized in the lottery, she said.
Still, Colen said the development and proposed amenities were welcoming and she looked forward to potentially catching up with some of her former neighbors and rebuilding the lively sense of community that once characterized the mobile home park.
“We are all scattered all over the place. Some have passed away since the fire. There aren’t that many of us around anymore,” she said. “It will be nice to see some of the old people and catch up on what we’ve been up to.”
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