“Welcome to Agrihood,” Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez said on Thursday at a construction site on North Winchester Boulevard near Santana Row and Westfield Valley Fair Mall.
The site of the groundbreaking ceremony is a vacant dirt lot filled with crews and cranes, but by next summer, there will be a 5.8-acre home for affordable housing for low-income seniors and veterans and a 1.7-acre farm.
Residents “will be surrounded by food gardens, and be within walking distance to grocery stores drugstores, and public transportation," Chavez said at the ceremony..
The unique housing site will have 160 mixed-income apartments, 165 homes for low-income seniors and veterans and 36 townhomes.
The farm, the project’s signature feature, serves three purposes, Agrihood developers said. It aims to provide nearly 20,000 pounds of food to the community; create volunteer and community-building opportunities and honor the Santa Clara Valley's agricultural history.
“That'’something we should celebrate here in the heart of Silicon Valley,” said Kirk Vartan, a community housing activist and founder of A Slice of New York. “We want opportunities for seniors to remain active and engaged and independent.”
Chavez said the food gardens would create a strong bond with the community through events like farm-to-table pop ups, food trucks and maybe even farmers markets.
“The possibilities are endless, because eventually this will be a mixed-income, mixed-use intergenerational housing development," Chavez said.
The units will be a mix of studio and one-bedroom apartments that will rent for about $2100 per month.
Agrihood will also have 54 permanent supportive housing units that the county will fill with unhoused older adults, a population that has grown during the pandemic.
“Over 50 percent of our unhoused folks are seniors, aged 55 or older,” said Consuelo Hernandez, Director of the Office of Supportive Housing.
That number is up from 2019 estimates, in which 40 percent of the homeless population identified as 51 and up, according to the 2019 survey conducted by her office
“Collectively, these developments will help us fill that gap that's needed,” Hernandez said.
The new site in the City of Santa Clara is one of six sites that will begin construction very soon in the county, which will create 560 new units, including 367 allocated to seniors, Hernandez said.
The other five projects are the Blossom Hill Senior Apartments with 146 units; PATH villas at 4th Street with 94 units; Gallop and Mesa Apartments with 46 units for foster care, formerly foster youth that are previously unhoused; Immanuel-Sobrato Apartments with 108 units and the redevelopment of Markham Plaza II with 152 units.
Those projects are largely funded by the Measure A Housing Bond passed in 2016 by county voters to help construct 4,800 units of affordable housing.
Agrihood, which has a price tag of $250 million will use $23 million in Measure A funding, $15.7 million from the city of Santa Clara and a grant of $50 million in tax-exempt bonds from the California Debt Limit Allocation Committee.
Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor said the development is “truly a result of community led collaborative process” that has been in the works since 2005 when the city acquired the 5.8-acre vacant lot.
The Santa Clara City Council approved development of the urban farm in January 2019, which Gillmor called the "anchor tenant" of this housing site.
The farm will be managed and designed by Oakland-based farming company Farmscape.
“All of that (food) will be going to a farm stand (on site) that we'll be sharing with the community weekly,” said Lara Hermanson, co-owner of Farmscape. “And people will be able to pay what they can there.”
Hermanson continued that the "organic, sustainable and regenerative farm" will grow tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, squash and fresh herbs during the summer and broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce greens, beets and carrots, among many others in the winter.
Residents and community members can volunteer to prepare and harvest food from the farm, with professional staff on site to tend to the food gardens.
“We're going to be having essentially a giant intergenerational hangout on this farm, so we look forward to seeing everybody there,* Hermanson said.
Jana Kadah is a reporter with Bay City News.