The tiny homes community being developed in a partnership between the city of El Centro and Imperial Valley College to house homeless college students or students at risk of homelessness are nearing completion on Bradshaw Avenue in El Centro near Lowe's home improvement store on Tuesday, Jan. 12. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO
EL CENTRO – Construction is nearing completion for the Lotus Living, Rise Above Resilient Community project, which will provide 26 tiny homes for some of the Imperial Valley College students experiencing homelessness.
Already, several of the 170-square-foot homes have been delivered, with the remaining number expected to arrive and be installed in the coming weeks.
“We are excited and aiming to house students by the end of the month,” said Elizabeth Espinoza, IVC interim communications and governmental relations officer, on Wednesday, Jan. 13.
Housing priority will be given to students who were formerly in the foster-care system, IVC officials have said. About 210 IVC students have self-identified as being homeless or at risk of experiencing homelessness, according to a recent survey by the campus.
The Lotus Living project was made possible by a $2.6 million grant the city of El Centro, in partnership with the local college and the Imperial Valley College Foundation, received from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Homekey grant program.
The city was able to expend all the funds associated with the Homekey program by its Dec. 30 deadline, said Adriana Nava, El Centro Community Services director.
Original plans had called for the construction of 13 tiny home duplexes, each about 340 square feet in size. But deadlines associated with the Homekey grant prompted stakeholders to pivot to the use of single-occupancy homes, Nava said on Monday, Jan. 11.
The duplexes would’ve resulted in additional time-consuming review related to building code requirements, Nava said.
The single-occupancy homes are about half the size of the duplexes and will include a standard-sized restroom and shower, as well as living and study space, kitchenette, and closet.
Instead of the stacked washer-dryer unit that was proposed for each of the duplexes, the 26 separate units will come equipped with a dual washer-dryer unit.
“The homes are tiny but they’re mighty,” Nava said. “It’s really got everything you need.”
The $2.6 million Homekey grant that was awarded to the city last year was part of the $600 million the state program allocated for the purchase and rehabilitation of housing to assist those impacted by COVID-19 and experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness.
In addition, stakeholders had received $424,114 from Enterprise, a non-profit affiliated with the state’s Housing and Community Development Department. The Enterprise monies will cover two years of operational costs, the city previously reported.
The Imperial Valley Continuum of Care Council had also contributed another $458,000 to help offset the increased costs associated with the installation of the 26 tiny homes, Nava said.
The steady advancement of the tiny homes project is owed largely to the collaborative effort of a variety of local stakeholders, as well.
The Imperial Irrigation District, Spectrum/Time Warner Cable, and AT&T are among some of the entities that expedited their work to help the project advance quickly.
“We’re really grateful for the community support that the project has received,” Nava said. “It really does take a village.”
El Centro Mayor Cheryl Viegas Walker expressed similar sentiments on Jan. 11 about the project and the collaboration it inspired.
“It’s a tremendous success story that I think just shines a really good light on Imperial County,” she said. “We often come together for the benefit of the community and do it in just such a great fashion.”
The Lotus Living project is located at city-owned property that had previously sat vacant at 1998 N. 12th St., near Lowes and Target.
Students will pay about $200 per month for rent and be required to complete 10 hours per month of community service on the grounds, to help maintain the property and provide them with a sense of ownership, Nava told the City Council at its Dec. 15 meeting.
During the Dec. 15 meeting, the council had approved the last in a series of three agreements related to the Lotus Living project.
The final agreement was a $362,444 contract with Back Porch Homes for the installation of the tiny homes.
In October, the council had approved an onsite construction agreement with El Centro-based Michael “Mike” Mordah Construction in the amount of $1,160,696, and a purchase agreement of $897,597 with Back Porch Homes for the 26 units, the Dec. 15 council meeting’s agenda report stated.
During that meeting, IVC President and Superintendent Martha Garcia, appearing virtually, thanked city officials for their support of the project.
“In spite of all the despair that our community is experiencing during these times, this project reflects hope for the students who will benefit from living in this safe community that is being created,” Garcia said.