Empty lot could play key role in helping solve city’s housing issues

A 60-unit project named The Monarch Apartments is on track to transform this empty lot along North Indian Canyon Drive into much-needed affordable housing.

There’s nothing special about the 3.6-acre plot of land at the intersection of North Indian Canyon and East San Rafael drives that hundreds pass by each day on their way in and out of Palm Springs.

Like many other vacant parcels in the city, it collects its fair share of trash. Candy wrappers and coffee cups from commuters, blown in from strong winds common in the neighborhood, dance in and out of the creosote, brittlebush, and cholla dotting the dusty lot.

That lot, however, is about to become an unlikely hero in the struggle for home ownership faced by many families in Palm Springs today.

In October, if all continues to go well with permitting, ground should be broken on the first affordable housing project in the city in more than a dozen years. And while The Monarch Apartments won’t be for sale, they will be a key piece to the puzzle that needs to be solved so that working families here can eventually purchase homes, backers of the project said last week.

“For people who want to purchase homes, it usually takes a generation of families where each member is working one or two jobs,” said Joy Silver, the regional director of CHOC (Community Housing Opportunities Corporation) in Southern California. What the Palm Springs project will ultimately do, she explained, is ease some of that burden and accelerate the accumulation of wealth that helps with a home purchase. Rent and utilities at The Monarch will be capped at 30 percent of renters’ income.

“We want to make sure there are enough homes for working families who work in the community to purchase, and something like this helps start them down that path,” Silver said.

Many members of those families have been speaking out this month at listening sessions hosted by staff from the Palm Springs Planning Department. The sessions are designed to receive input from residents about exactly what housing, healthy food, parks, public facilities and community services they will need in the next 20 years. The next session — conducted in Spanish — is planned for tonight at Vista Del Monte Elementary, 2744 North Via Miraleste, starting at 5:30 PM.

What those in attendance at the meetings learn usually comes as no surprise. Palm Springs, with a median home sales price now well north of $900,000, faces a massive shortage of affordable housing. If the city could wave a magic wand, planning staff say, 950 homes priced well below the median would need to appear instantly to meet just the current need.

The Monarch Apartments were designed with the Palm Springs vibe in mind, featuring butterfly roofs popular in neighboring mid-century modern homes. (Photo courtesy of Interactive Design Corporation )

City planners and elected officials have been great partners in bringing CHOC’s Palm Springs project to life, Silver said, adding that blame for the 12-year gap between construction of projects similar to The Monarch in Palm Springs lies not with city officials, but with the state’s failed Redevelopment Agencies (RDAs) and the time it took to find replacement methods for building affordable housing.

In 2011, all 400 RDAs in California were shuttered by then-Gov. Jerry Brown following budget shortfalls caused by the recession. Helping bring about the RDA’s demise was a 2010 LA Times report that found at least 120 municipalities combined to spend $700 million in housing funds without producing a single unit, as many instead spent six-figure sums on “planning and administration.” In other cases, cities spent more than $800,000 per affordable unit.

The CHOC project in Palm Springs will contain 60 units in a dozen buildings. Throughout the property, there will be dog parks, a splash park, and areas for barbecuing, among other amenities. The city’s contribution, which comes in the form of donated land and affordable housing funds, will amount to roughly $56,000 per unit. CHOC will supplement the city’s contribution with $21 million in state and federal tax credits, as well as $500,000 from Riverside County.

Aptly named because it keeps with Palm Springs’ mid-century vibe by featuring butterfly-shaped roofs on its buildings, The Monarch has been well-received.

“A lot of people from the Wexler homes nearby were really happy to see how it fits in to the neighborhood aesthetic,” Silver said. “It’s amazing when a neighborhood is excited about a community development like this. So many times neighbors are upset.

“What CHOC did really well was present the project really well and choose a designer who was aware and sensitive on these kinds of designs.”

Silver’s organization is doing well in many communities. It has built, managed, or plans to build 30 housing projects in California and the western United States — including one other in the Coachella Valley. Silver said that success is fueling even more projects, as cities in need know they can depend on CHOC to step up.

“I think we can make it better and I think that’s what we do,” she said by phone. “By the time a municipality is ready to partner with us, we have already met all the bars. When you have a for-profit developer come in, they go to the city trying to get their projects on land they purchased. For us, cities come to us as a partner, looking to build housing.”

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SKATEBOARDING EVENT: Members of the Palm Springs Boys & Girls Club were among those celebrating National Go Skateboarding Day Monday, with a visit to Palm Springs Skatepark. The event featured pizza, contests, giveaways, and more. Members of the club also received a behind-the-scenes tour of the operations, learning the ins and outs of operating the facility. The skatepark is open for multiple sessions each day, and is the only supervised skatepark in the Coachella Valley.

AUDITIONS ANNOUNCED: Auditions for the upcoming season at Palm Canyon Theatre are fast approaching. Theater officials said this week that auditions for 11 of the 12 planned performances for the season will be this Saturday, June 26, from 10 AM until 3 PM. All ages are needed for performances, which begin in September with Guys and Dolls and end in July 2022 with Godspell. Anyone interested in auditioning should bring a headshot, resume, and music (sheet music, smartphone, etc.) for the audition. Singers should be prepared to perform an up-tempo song and a ballad. Monologues should be under two minutes. The theater is located at 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive.

MAC CLOSING: MAC Cosmetics announced Monday it is closing its doors at the downtown Palm Springs location at 111 N. Palm Canyon Dr. The store’s last day will be this Friday, June 25. Its El Paseo location in Palm Desert remains open.

HOTEL FIRE: Palm Springs firefighters responded to a structure fire in the 1600 block of East Palm Canyon Drive Monday. Upon arrival they discovered a blaze inside a hotel room. Occupants of the room were able to exit prior to the firefighters’ arrival. The situation was quickly under control, with no injuries reported to the hotel room occupants or fire personnel.


MIZELL: Tai Chi, Zumba, and more events are offered today at The Mizell Center, 480 S. Sunrise Way, beginning at 8 AM. For a complete list, turn here.

REUINION DEL PLAN GENERAL: La ciudad está llevando a cabo su tercera reunión comunitaria para discutir su Plan General 2040, a partir de las 5:30 PM en la Vista Del Monte Elementary School, 2744 N. Via Miraleste. La reunión es en Español. Para obtener más información, haga clic aquí.

VILLAGEFEST BOARD: The VillageFest Board meets at 5:30 PM. Information on how to view or participate in the meeting, including an agenda, can be found here.

POWER BASEBALL: The Palm Springs Power plays this evening at Palm Springs Stadium, 1901 E. Baristo Rd. First pitch is at 7:05PM. A complete schedule is available here.


Want to know what’s happening in your city and at agencies that make decisions affecting your neighborhood? The following links should help:

City of Palm Springs calendar of events

Palm Springs Library calendar of events

Palm Springs Unified School District calendar

Mizell Center calendar of events

Desert Water Agency calendar

ONE-PS calendar of events

Police reports | Submit a police report

Code compliance reports | Report a code violation

Current road projects and closures

Currently active development projects

FIND Food Bank mobile market schedule

Palm Springs Disposal pick-up schedule

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