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“Welcome to Agrihood,” Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez said during a recent groundbreaking event at a construction site on North Winchester Boulevard near Santana Row and Westfield Valley Fair Mall.

Right now, it’s a vacant dirt lot filled with crews and cranes. But by Summer 2023, there will be a 5.8-acre affordable housing site for low-income seniors and veterans with a unique twist: a working 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.

The first-of-its kind housing site, which was formally introduced by Chavez and others this past Thursday, will have 160 mixed-income apartments, 165 homes for low-income seniors and veterans and 36 townhomes.

The most notable feature — the farm — serves three purposes, Agrihood leaders said. It provides nearly 20,000 pounds of food to the community; creates volunteer and community-building opportunities; and honors the Santa Clara Valley’s agricultural history.

“That’s 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.”

Patterson Ranch, located in Fremont and developed by Oakland-based Farmscape, was the first Agrihood community in the Bay Area. It features a 2-acre farming area with tree and row crops nestled amid a neighborhood of about 500 residents. (Image courtesy of Farmscape)

Forming bonds through farming

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 cost about $2,100 a month in rent.

Agrihood will also have 54 permanent supportive housing units that the county will fill with unhoused older adults — a population that has grown more 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.

(Video courtesy of Urban Land Institute/YouTube)

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 the county Office of Supportive Housing.

“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 — 367 of which will be 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, former 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.

A collaborative project

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 of 2019, which Gillmor called the “anchor tenant” of this housing site.

“All of that (food) will be going to a farm stand that we’ll be sharing with the community weekly. And people will be able to pay what they can there.”

Lara Hermanson, Farmscape

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.

There, residents and community members can volunteer to prepare and harvest the farm, though there will be 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.