AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN IRVINE
“It’s important to have affordable housing because it gives an opportunity to folks to come to Irvine and realize a dream they might not otherwise be able to realize and that strengthens our community.”
A new neighborhood
The Great Park Neighborhoods are now home to 166 families living in new Luminaira and Espaira apartment communities
Kedric Francis | November 17, 2017
An official ribbon-cutting ceremony was held recently at two new Irvine communities offering affordable housing to qualifying families. The 82-unit Luminaira and 84-unit Espaira apartments are located in the Great Park Neighborhoods, the master-planned, mixed-use community being built by Five Point Holdings, LLC’s partnership (Heritage Fields El Toro, LLC) adjacent to the Orange County Great Park.
“It’s important to have affordable housing because it gives an opportunity to folks to come to Irvine and realize a dream they might not otherwise be able to realize and that strengthens our community,” Irvine Mayor Don Wagner said at the ceremony. The ribbon-cutting was attended by city officials as well as representatives of the non-profit organizations and development partners that had been part of the effort to bring these affordable projects to fruition, many since the announcement that the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro base was closing.
California is facing a housing crisis, according to experts. Orange County is facing a workforce housing shortage of between 50,000 and 62,000 units, according to the Orange County Business Council.
As of September 2017, average rent for an apartment in Irvine was $2,264, up from $1,870 five years ago, according to rentjungle.com. In Irvine, nearly half of the total households are renters. Of that, the City of Irvine says some 3,000 units or 13 percent are designated as affordable housing.
“In order to maintain the economic vibrancy of the county, the talented workforce that businesses depend on must have far more affordable housing options to retain individuals locally,” was how Heather Stratman, CEO of the Association of California Cities-Orange County, described the issue in an opinion piece published in the OC Register.
Wijdan Abbas, a resident of Luminaira, spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. She explained that after living in Irvine for seven years, her family had been priced out of Irvine and had to move. “We had fallen in love with the city, its people, schools, and organizations,” she said. “But we were not able to continue living in this wonderful city without a miracle, affordable housing.”
The family found their “miracle” in the Great Park Neighborhoods. When she and her husband Mehdi, a civilian linguist with the U.S. Marine Corps, were notified that their application to move into their new three-bedroom Luminaira apartment was approved, Abbas said she was “happier to receive this congratulation call than I was for my college admission.”
In August, 118 school-age residents of the two communities began attending the K-8 Beacon Park School a few short blocks away, and nearby Portola High School, both of which opened last year.
FivePoint Executive Vice President Lynn Jochim encouraged those at the event to “ stay involved in these family affordable projects.” Jochim recalled seeing the kids from the two communities going to their first day of school wearing backpacks provided by FivePoint, and imagined them playing at the nearby Orange County Great Park Sports Park, going for their first jobs and becoming the leaders and established members of the community.
Rents at the Espaira and Luminaira range from $657 to $943 for two-bedroom apartments and $742 to $1,029 for three-bedroom apartments. All the units are now leased, after 4,300 applications were received seeking to qualify for the 166 units. Ultimately, the Great Park Neighborhoods master-planned community will include 1,056 affordable units. The two new communities join Solaira, which opened in November 2015 with 221 units. Reserved for those over 55, Solaira is the first senior affordable housing to be built in Irvine in 20 years.
Other speakers at the morning event included key contributors to the affordable housing effort, including Bill Witte, chairman and CEO of Related California; Ken Robertson of Riverside Charitable Corporation; Related Senior Vice President Liane Takano; Craig Gillett, president of LifeSTEPS; and Allen Baldwin, who served as executive director of the Orange County Community Housing Corporation for 35 years.
“We started in 1995, working with all the shelters and other nonprofits in Orange County,” Baldwin said. “We tried to keep this project as visible as possible, so the mission wouldn’t be lost, to have these 166 units. And we’ve got ‘em, thanks to everybody involved.”