MODESTO -- This industrial strip at West Carver Road and North Ninth Street in Modesto is marked by container storage yards and abandoned properties.
But city officials and a nonprofit housing corporation said they saw an opportunity here to build garden-style apartments and help low-income families get access to the American dream.
After five years of planning, work on the $20 million Archway Commons affordable housing complex is set to begin next week, with the 76-unit first phase slated to be finished in August 2013. No one is sure when construction on the 74-unit second phase will get under way because of the demise of redevelopment agencies in California.
"We try to provide support for families any way we can," said Mary Murtagh, chief executive officer of EAH Housing of San Rafael, which has worked with the city to develop the apartment complex.
Founded in 1968, the nonprofit has developed 83 projects and manages more than 9,000 housing units in California and Hawaii.
Murtagh and others spoke during a ceremony Friday attended by Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, other state representatives and local dignitaries.
The plan calls for Archway Commons to have one- to three-bedroom apartments clustered in "villages" designed to cultivate a neighborly atmosphere, said Felix AuYeung, project manager for EAH.
The complex will have a swimming pool, a 3,500-square-foot community building, a playground, picnic areas and a community garden.
To provide educational support for families who will live at the center, EAH is promising a computer learning center and a part-time coordinator who will supervise after-school programs. The learning center will have classes for adults as well.
Murtagh said education is stressed at the nonprofit's housing complexes, because it's common for children in households with unstable incomes to move frequently. That pattern of moving between school districts could take a toll on their education.
Among children who change school districts during their education, Murtagh said, the high school graduation rate is 30 percentage points lower than the rate for other students.
A challenging site
Architect Chris Lamen said he faced some difficulties designing a living environment on the barren 8.75-acre site that once held rusty storage containers. He designed the complex with plenty of trees and thick landscaping.
The complex will have gated entries on Carver Road and Ninth Street, with an arch over the Ninth Street entrance.
Residents will be able to walk across the street to the Sam's Food City market. City officials also noted the site is on a major bus route to Vintage Faire Mall and about a half mile from the east and west campuses of Modesto Junior College.
According to EAH, the top rent for the largest three-bedroom apartments will be $800 a month; the rents will be lower for smaller units. Officials expect that working families, seniors, disabled people and veterans will live at the center.
Households with incomes as low as 30 percent and as high as 60 percent of the median income in Stanislaus County will be eligible for the apartments. For a family of four, that income range is from $18,600 to $37,200 a year.
Despite the surplus of homes for sale in Modesto, there is demand for rental housing for working people who don't have the credit or employment history to qualify for mortgages, AuYeung said.
Federal and local funding
About half of the project's cost is being financed through the federal low-income housing tax credits program, with other funding coming from Modesto's HOME Investment Partnerships Program funds, redevelopment assistance and bank loans.
AuYeung said planning for Archway Commons began in 2007, but the competition for low-income housing tax credits in California caused delays in financing the project. To help finance low-income housing, the federal program allows investors to buy the credits to reduce their tax liability.
With the demise of redevelopment agencies this year, the financing plan for the second phase of Archway Commons is unknown.
Officials at Friday's ceremony mostly focused on the benefits of Phase I.
Huff Construction of Modesto expects to employ about 200 workers building the apartment complex over the next 14 months.
Mayor Garrad Marsh said he's impressed with the housing developed by EAH.
"If you look at what they have done, they are high-quality, first-rate projects," Marsh said. "They do quality work to begin with and maintain the quality into the future."
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2321.