From families to refugees, the City Heights Community Development Corporation (CHCDC) has helped provide a place to call “home” for many residents living in City Heights. Through its 13 low-income affordable housing properties, a total of 406 units, they have helped provide a safe dwelling for families and individuals to rest a little easier.
City Heights is an urban community in central San Diego, known for its ethnic diversity and many residents who are refugees and immigrants. The CHCDC is a nonprofit that started nearly 40 years ago to enhance the quality of life in City Heights, by working within the community to create and sustain high-quality housing, livable neighborhoods and foster economic self-sufficiency.
“Affordable housing is part of our history and how we started and become a launch point for our work in the community,” CHCDC Executive Director, Laura Ann Fernea said. “In the early ‘90s, our organization begin buying old apartment complexes and began renovating them to become quality affordable housing communities.”
The nonprofit works diligently to provide affordable living that is high-quality and fairly priced while supporting the needs of the residents. In addition to their work in housing, the nonprofit’s services are all-encompassing, including, but not limited to—promoting local businesses, working to improve transportation and local planning and providing resident services.
However, COVID-19 caused an economic ripple-effect across the nation and has especially battered low-income areas like City Heights. Fernea and her team have responded to the needs of the community by helping isolated seniors and providing food support, small business relief and rental assistance.
"There is an estimated 100,000 people in City Heights with the vast majority being low-income and most have no assets, savings or a network of family and friends to provide them with money,” said Fernea. “Most of the residents are essential workers and if they don’t go into work, they don’t have income.”
In the past few months, the demand for rental assistance has been increasing. The CHCDC staff have received 20 to 40 calls a day, and they had to add another staff member to help handle the growing number of requests. The organization is providing as much support as they can based on the amount of funding they receive from donors and foundations.
“Our emergency pantry for residents, which has canned foods and other goods, usually lasts a full year,” Fernea said. “But it was gone by May of this year, so we’ve been buying groceries and getting additional supplies from food banks.”
The nonprofit has also been leading the charge with a popular garden for farmers called New Roots, which is helping the community’s need for fresh food. Affectionately dubbed “the first refugee garden,” this green spot in a concrete jungle has more than 80 plots leased to immigrants and residents in the community.
In the near future, the organization is planning for a $70 million affordable housing complex with 115 units in City Heights to be completed in the next two years. Fernea considers housing a basic right and emphasizes the continuous need for affordable housing in San Diego.
“It is so needed right now,” Fernea said. “Currently, all of our properties have waiting lists that are five to 10 years long.”
The CHCDC’s impact in the community is life-changing for many. By working to help fill these basic needs, the organization has been making a positive impact for residents. However, Fernea said the future socioeconomic situation is difficult to predict under the veil of COVID-19.
“Most people were thinking in July that things were going to get better and we were going back to work soon,” Fernea said. “But right now, it’s really hard to predict what’s going to happen in the immediate future.”
The CHCDC is a client of CB&T. To support our struggling neighbors, you can help by donating at cityheightscdc.org. [cite::171::cite] [cite::172::cite]