Despite obstacles, thousands of affordable housing units are on the way in the valley. They still won’t be enough.

Dozens of projects are either under construction or in the works throughout the Coachella Valley, with city councils, planning commissions, and key stakeholders pitching in to push nearly 4,500 units of affordable housing forward.
The Monarch Apartments project in Palm Springs is on of dozens of affordable housing projects underway in the Coachella Valley. (Photo courtesy davisREED Construction)

Permit by permit, board by board — from Palm Springs to Thermal — thousands of apartments and other housing units are currently coming to life that all have one crucial design element in common: Affordability.

Dozens of projects are either under construction or in the works throughout the Coachella Valley, with city councils, planning commissions, and key stakeholders pitching in to push nearly 4,500 units of affordable housing forward – a massive increase from just four years ago.

What does that look like? Here are a few of the projects we’ve been tracking:

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  • In Cathedral City, a grand opening was held last week for the 60-unit Veterans Village. A 224-unit project named Cathedral Palms is under construction off Landau Boulevard.

  • In Indio, city leaders last week approved a $2.5 million loan for the development of 180 affordable units in a project being driven by Pacific West Communities. Along Highway 111 near Jefferson Street, you’ve likely seen construction activity where the same developer is building 400 affordable units.

  • In Palm Springs, construction at The Monarch Apartments and Vista Sunrise II projects is visible, and the Aloe Palm Canyon project is coming – a total of 190 units that will be the first affordable housing built in that city in more than a decade.

  • In Palm Desert, the city council unanimously approved a $6.75 million, 55-year loan last month for the developer of a 241-unit project off Gerald Ford Drive. Nearly 650 total units are planned in that city.

If you think the pace of development for affordable housing is increasing, you’re right.  

“From 2010 to 2018, there was an average of about 38 units of affordable housing per year being produced in the Coachella Valley,” said Ian Gabriel, director of data, policy, and planning for the local nonprofit Lift to Rise. “Now there are about 1,600 units that are either under construction or set to break ground within six months.”  

The spike in affordable housing could not come at a more crucial time. The need for such housing in our region is so acute that it was called out specifically by a national organization in one of its reports.

Who qualifies for affordable housing? Most developments in that category are built for households and individuals bringing in 60% or less than the area median income. In the Coachella Valley, you could qualify with an individual income of $24,400 and a household income of about $33,350 or less. 

How great is the need? According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Coachella Valley needs about 14,700 more affordable housing units than it currently has. With rents spiking in most valley cities, and wages stagnating, the need is almost certainly growing. 

That’s where nonprofits such as CHOC (Community Housing Opportunities Coalition), Lift to Rise, and the Coachella Valley Housing Coalition (CVHC) come in. Among other efforts, the organizations build housing and work to place people in affordable rentals and homes they can own.

Lift to Rise even has a special program focusing on housing stability, the United Lift program

A Project Pipeline put together by Lift to Rise is currently tracking about 4,000 units of affordable housing in some stage of development in the valley. The organization is working with more than 60 participating stakeholders in its Housing Collaborative Action Network (CAN) to build 5,000 new affordable housing units by 2024 and 10,000 new affordable units by 2028. That number is even greater if you count mobile homes. 

“Mobile home parks are actually a viable and affordable housing product type for our region,” said Gabriel. “They help us alleviate some of the deficit we have in affordable housing.” 

An interactive mapping tool that shares the progress of affordable housing projects in the Coachella Valley was developed by Lift To Rise. Bubbles show where each project is located, no matter how big or how small.

While the numbers may fall short of HUD recommendations, if Lift to Rise succeeds, it would put our region on the right track and move thousands more residents into new housing that is desperately needed. 

Could the momentum stop? Gabriel said several different barriers make it hard to build affordable housing in the valley, but just like elsewhere, it all comes down to money.  

“The number one barrier is always money and financing,” he said. “It’s pretty complicated because these projects require five, six, or seven different types of funding sources. On the other hand, market-rate development can bypass a lot of the red tape and get by with fewer funding sources.”  

What that red tape looks like was reported in a stunning Los Angeles Times report that showed why it costs developers up to $1 million per apartment to build affordable housing in Northern California. Gabriel says many problems mentioned in the article are mirrored at a smaller scale in the Coachella Valley.

He estimates it costs about $450,000 to $500,000 per unit to build affordable housing here. The money needed just for pre-development applications for grants and loans can range between $500,000 to $1.5 million. 

A rendering of what Placita Dolores Huerta will look like when construction of the affordable housing project is completed in Coachella. The project is being guided by CHOC (Community Housing Opportunities Coalition).

One issue the valley doesn’t have is a lack of land. Still, that land lacks some key elements. 

“Much of that available land is not adequately connected to sewer, water, power substations,” he said. “That’s a costly investment for a developer to shoulder.” 

Improving infrastructure, he added, would “unlock” a lot of that land for easier development. But Gabriel doesn’t see that happening without significant state and federal investment.

“That is sort of happening,” he said. “But it’s not reaching our region in the way that it needs to, unfortunately.”

To increase chances of securing more government funds, those seeking them would need the valley to overcome the fact its unique combination of rural, suburban, and urban development often makes it challenging to apply for those funds. That’s especially true when those approving the funds consider factors like density or proximity to public transportation. 

“That’s much easier to achieve in urban settings,” explained Gabriel. “Our only public transit is Sunline, which isn’t very frequent, and the stops are far apart.” 

Gabriel is a part of a team at Lift to Rise lobbying the state to loosen the regulations and scoring mechanisms that he said unintentionally penalize our region.  

“The funding is just not as flexible in terms of eligible uses to meet the needs of an area like ours that has been historically under-invested,” he said.


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