Hope Village

Text of Article from the Rossmoor News

For the Rev. Mark Burnham, getting accurate information out about his church’s proposal to build and operate six “micro-homes” on its campus has been an ongoing campaign. “You have to say it at least 10 times, in at least four different formats, for people not to say, ‘I hadn’t heard,’” said Burnham, who leads Grace Presbyterian Church just outside Rossmoor. He also is helping spearhead the effort to keep the surrounding community (including Rossmoor) abreast of the proposed micro-homes, designed to house people who are either homeless or in jeopardy of becoming homeless. The next major public outreach will be Jan. 12, when Burnham, the Walnut Creek Homeless Task Force and Pleasant Hill-based nonprofit Hope Solutions will welcome Rossmoorians to a public presentation in Rossmoor about the micro-home proposal. It will be held in the Event Center, and is set to begin at 2 p.m. Check-in will start at 1:30 p.m.; proof of vaccination or negative COVID test within the previous three days is required, and masks are mandatory.

It will be the next in a series of such outreach efforts ahead of this coalition filing its formal proposal with the city of Walnut Creek’s Community and Economic Development Department, which would then be heard and decided on by the city’s Planning Commission. Jasmine Tarkoff, consulting director of strategic needs for Hope Solutions (formerly known as Contra Costa Interfaith Housing), would not offer a specific filing date for the Grace Presbyterian project, called “Hope Village.” Burnham and other proponents of the project have made several presentations already, including on Dec. 8 to neighbors of the church; a Nov. 17 presentation to Rossmoor Rotary; at an Oct. 14 panel discussion hosted by the Democrats of Rossmoor; a meeting with residents of the Trellis home development across Tice Valley Boulevard from the church; and the initial widely encompassing presentation to the Walnut Creek City Council in July.

Council members liked the basics of the plan at that time. The proposal as it stood in mid-December is for six 220-square-foot homes, and a seventh building that would serve as an office and laundry room, to be built on Grace’s campus off Tice Valley Boulevard. Each of the six housing units would have a toilet, a shower and a kitchen sink. The exterior colors for the project would be chosen to blend in with both the church buildings and the surrounding landscape, Burnham said. The seven units would be built by Pulte Homes, one of several homebuilders associated with HomeAid, dedicated to helping the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless.

Burnham and Tarkoff said a key task has been to tell people living near the church who the residents of these micro-homes would be. They will be either homeless or on the edge of homelessness, screened and vetted by Hope Solutions staff and receiving case management services from that nonprofit. Residents would need a source of income, either from a job, public assistance or a rental-assistance program like federal Section 8 housing vouchers. What Hope Village wouldn’t be, Burnham and Tarkoff stressed, is a homeless encampment like those that have sprung up all over the Bay Area, or a food pantry or a homeless shelter. Burnham said Hope Village would function as a sort of extension of the Tice Oaks apartment complex next door to Grace Presbyterian, providing affordable senior housing. And Burnham, a Rossmoor resident himself, said there’s already a potential target population outside his door. “For Grace, the priority population is seniors – we’ll do everything we can to reach out to them,” Burnham said. Since 2018, homelessness among seniors has gone up 50 percent in Contra Costa County, he said. And though Rossmoor is seen by some as an exclusive community for well-to-do seniors, Burnham said that perception isn’t necessarily true. He sees some of his neighbors struggling to pay the coupon. “The focus on seniors makes sense, given our population,” he said. When first made public in July, the micro-home proposal drew decidedly mixed reviews, including from Rossmoor residents. While many said such housing exemplifies Christian charity and addresses a profound community (and regional) need, others feared it would attract an unsavory element, possibly a criminal one, to the neighborhood.

Tarkoff and Burnham are confident that the more people know about Hope Village, the more comfortable they will be with it. Tarkoff said she hopes people come to the Jan. 12 presentation with “curiosity, and a spirit of listening.” The presentation is open to all Rossmoor residents. Tarkoff said the exchange of information is a two-way street, and that members of the Hope Village coalition are in a “listening phase” themselves. “The community wants to learn, to understand, to ask questions,” she said. “They want a high degree of transparency.” Being as clear and direct about what the Hope Village proposal is, and isn’t, has helped soothe some of the worst fears about what the micro-homes would be, they said. “People are hopeful that a faith institution is willing to tackle an intractable problem such as homelessness,” said Tarkoff, adding that Hope Solutions’ record of work with the homeless, and those vulnerable to becoming homeless, is also becoming more widely known. Getting all those answers out there, Burnham said, is a key. “I have yet to find anyone who, once you give them all the information, say it’s a terrible idea,” he said.

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