After years of searching for a future use of the old hospital on Southside Road, a collaborative project will bring more self-help housing to the community. A draw for trouble, the seedy site may someday end up a close-knit community, dedicated to the fruit of their hard work.
“To me, the old Southside hospital represented a different era of our county’s history, when we were truly a small, rural agricultural county,” San Benito County Supervisor Anthony Botelho said. “When someone was in that hospital, most everyone knew in the county. I remember visiting a few relatives and friends of my family there. It was a place that brought comfort to a good number of people over our county’s history.”
Demolition of the old hospital began Thursday, May 17 and is expected to be completed by the end of June. Cost of demolition is roughly $500,000.
Community Services Development Corporation (CSDC) is the lead agency and developer of the project, but the group is also working with the Rural Community Assistance Corporation, as well as the San Benito County Board of Supervisors.
“San Benito County Board of Supervisors are committed to the development of affordable housing and the removal of the blighted hospital and will work with CSDC through the development process,” said Sonny Flores, executive director of CSDC.
Additionally, United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development is expected to provide CSDC with an $819,000 mutual self-help technical assistant grant to facilitate homeowners with building their homes.
“To see it actually being demolished is just wonderful,” Supervisor Jerry Muenzer said, whose parents stayed in the old hospital when it functioned as a convalescent rest home. “It’s become such an eyesore.”
The new self-help housing project, known as Riverview II, will feature up to 25 homes on 4,000 square-foot lots. According to Flores, site development cost estimates are roughly $3.2 million.
Self-help housing is a government program designed to assist low-income families build their own homes.
“Mutual self-help housing has it roots in a Quaker group working with farm workers in the Central Valley back in the 60’s,” said Seth Capron with CSDC. “It became a USDA program for rural, low-income housing as part of the War on Poverty. Nonprofit community development agencies carry out the program with funding from USDA.”
Self-help housing isn’t a new concept for San Benito County. Fifteen years ago, South County Housing developed Riverview I in collaboration with CSDC, Capron said.
As for Riverview II, CSDC will develop finished lots and sell them to the self-help builders.
“Groups of eight to ten families will work together with CSDC’s construction supervisors on a group of homes,” Capron said. “They will help with the foundations, do the framing, siding, install doors and windows, roofing, interior trim, painting, fencing, landscaping, and clean up. Subcontractors will do plumbing, electrical, mechanical, insulation, and sheetrock.”
Two recent self-help housing projects are Hillview I and Hillview II, located between Buena Vista Road and West Graf Road in the northwest portion of town. The houses feature energy-efficient, passive solar designs with panels on all the roofs.
“Some subsidized low income apartments are being built, and self-help homes create unique opportunities for low and very low income families, but only a small fraction of the need is being addressed,” Capron said. “Self-help housing doesn’t just provide a hand out, it supplies a hand up. Self-help families are rooted in the community and many of them have taken on positions of civic leadership. Self-help housing actually requires less subsidy per unit than rental housing, and it has a profound effect on the families that create these neighborhoods together.”
The statewide housing crisis affects not only those on low incomes, but the middle class and different age groups, Botelho said.
“Not all of us need a house per se, but we all need a place to live by owning or renting,” Botelho said. “The county needs to continue to work and prioritize sound and well-managed growth that fits our diverse needs for housing.”