Construction Starts on Paradise Community Village
Pulling the permits to begin rebuilding Paradise Community Village provided a long-awaited moment of celebration. As with every permit that goes through the Building Resiliency Center, when the bell rang, cheers were heard throughout the building. For Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), the Chico-based developer who originally built the project, it was the culmination of 20-months of hard work, preparation, and fears that this day might never come.
Identified during the Town’s Roadmap to Recovery process as a priority project, led by Kris Zappettini, CHIP’s Vice President and Director of Rental Housing, CHIP immediately jumped into the daunting process of rebuilding. From the beginning, they worked hand-in-hand with Town leadership to complete the more than year-long process of debris removal, clearing the property’s water of contamination, navigating the FEMA process, finalizing the plan update and review, and completing the procurement process. With a feeling of bittersweetness, she is leading the rebuilding project just as she did at the time of the property's original construction. "It took 10 years to build and one day to burn," Zappettini says. "The challenges only strengthened our resolve to rebuild," she added.
Upon completion, Paradise Community Village will be the Town's first affordable housing rental property. “The Town of Paradise is very excited that CHIP is rebuilding the Paradise Community Village housing development. The finished development will provide much needed affordable housing units for Paradise residents. This is a big win for Paradise and our recovery efforts,” says Lauren Gill, Paradise City Manager.
Seana O'Shaughnessy, President and CEO of CHIP, adds "We are thrilled to reach this milestone. The devastating impact of the Camp Fire on the region and the significant loss of housing, makes projects like Paradise Community Village even more significant." After overcoming numerous practical, regulatory, and environmental delays and challenges, with the support of the project’s original investor and Limited Partner, Merritt Community Capital, the apartments will be rebuilt. Ari Beliak, President and CEO of Merritt Community Capital Corporation, notes, "Merritt, as a mission-based non-profit investor in affordable housing, is proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our great partner, CHIP, and the Town of Paradise to rebuild this crucial housing. "
Rounding out the team, CHIP was fortunate to secure the original contractor, Sunseri Construction. While the selection of the contractor went through the typical bidding process and was subject to review by FEMA since the property was destroyed in the Camp Fire, CHIP felt fortunate that Sunseri provided the most competitive bid. Their connection and commitment to the project, as a local builder and the original contractor, was clear from the beginning. Donny Lieberman, President and CEO of Sunseri Construction, says, "Being a part of the rebuild is so special for us. We will all celebrate the day that 36 families are able to be welcomed into their rebuilt home." The company expects the construction of Paradise Community Village to be completed in the fall of 2021.
On Tuesday, September 15, CHIP will host a small, socially-distanced groundbreaking ceremony. CHIP also plans to live stream the event on its Facebook page for those who can’t attend. The event will honor the community’s resilience and the supporters who have made rebuilding Paradise Community Village possible with their generous donations.
The project has attracted outsized support in part because it has faced some genuinely unique hurdles. In fact, one particular hurdle is still on the minds of the project's leaders. A destroyed property built using Low Income Housing Tax Credits needs to be rebuilt in two years, or the government will recapture the tax credits. That two-year deadline is approaching this December. "We knew from the very beginning that we would need an extension from the IRS. Our request easily found the support of our elected leaders who knew firsthand the vast scope of the disaster and that it would take longer than two years to rebuild," says O'Shaughnessy. CHIP's initial request earned bipartisan support from Representative Doug LaMalfa and Senator Dianne Feinstein. A letter was sent to the IRS in support of the extension in the spring of 2019. The IRS' unexplained delays in responding to the request were emotionally magnified when the IRS finally sent a letter of denial on the day of the first anniversary of the Camp Fire. "Recovery is a long and winding road," notes O'Shaughnessy.
CHIP has continued to appeal to the IRS to get an extension and more elected leaders have signed onto the appeal. In the event the extension is not granted, the project will still be rebuilt, but CHIP and Merritt will face fees totaling more than a million dollars. Despite this threat, the decision to move forward was based on one simple fact: Both organizations felt it was the right thing to do. “Paradise Community Village will house generations of Paradise families, regardless of what the IRS decides,” says Beliak. “It is crucial that the IRS change its position, not just for us, but because future affordable housing communities in disaster prone areas will not get built if investors lose faith that the IRS will act reasonably.”
While advocacy continues to build hope for a fair decision, crews on site are preparing the grounds so construction can begin. “On site, we are seeing signs of renewal and that’s lifting our spirit,” says O’Shaughnessy. Paradise Community Village will once again be home to residents—something to celebrate in the long recovery of the Town of Paradise.