The largest housing investment project in the city in the last 18 months is under way.
Fourteen new single-family homes have the green light to be built in midtown Merced at the corner of 18th and I streets and on additional lots on 18th and 19th streets.
That's according to Daniel Ainslie, development coordinator with the city's Redevelopment Agency.
"What it means for midtown Merced is having an attractive quality housing to bring in both families and people who want to live there," Bill Cahill, assistant city manager, said. "We know from our previous projects like the Merced Theatre that there truly is a market for downtown living, and it's for those who really like a bit more urban environment and to be within walking distance of a lot of attractions."
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The City Council, at its meeting Monday, approved an agreement with Maxwell Construction to build the houses. With the council's approval, the agency now has to go through a zoning amendment that would allow row house development, Ainslie said.
"Since there are no current zones for that, we have to create a residential plan development. That's a special type of zoning where you can create different requirements for the homes that are built in and in exchange you have to be providing amenities that aren't found in typical zoning," he said.
Once that's completed -- a process that could take four to five months -- construction of the homes will probably start six months from now.
All will be single-family homes. In the first phase of development, seven row houses will be built on the corner of 18th and I streets. Once at least five have been sold, the agency will allow the construction of the remaining seven -- two row houses and five single-family homes -- in the second phase.
"Before we commit ourselves to funding all 14 units, we want to make sure that seven do well," Ainsle explained. "It's just more prudent, and in order to be a better steward for taxpayer money, we want to ensure there is a market for these homes.
Funding for the project will come from the redevelopment agency. It is required to spend 20 percent of its total income on producing affordable housing, according to Ainslie.
Before the agreement, the sites were magnets for graffiti and vandalism, according to the report. These houses would provide moderate-income housing for families who make up to 120 percent of the area's median income. For example, the median income is $56,300 for a family of four, and any family who's making $67,550 a year would qualify.
Ainslie said the agency anticipates selling the houses for between $120,000 and $140,000. "But given the extreme volatile housing market, we don't know. The price will be ultimately set once we are closer to construction," he concluded.
The agency would provide a loan that covers 37 percent of the cost of development up to a $55,537 cap. In return, the city will get 60 percent of the sales price above $100,000.
Row houses share a common wall, while traditional single-family homes have side yards. All 14 houses will be single-family homes, Ainslie said.
The midtown Merced neighborhood features a lot of historical buildings and will mimic the styles found in the neighborhood, such as bungalows and Craftsman homes, he said.
The exterior facades of the houses will boast design elements from the 1870 to 1910 era. Moreover, there will be "green" amenities, such as solar panels. Plus, the homes will require almost no maintenance for the yards, according to Ainslie. "It's really going to be quite cutting edge," he said.
And right in the middle of town.
Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.