While they once believed they’d never be able to afford a home in the Bay Area, Kennedy High teacher Mitzi Perez and her fiancé, Anthony Caro, who leads the nonprofit Citizens Power Network, received the keys to their brand new pad at 1025 Florida Ave. in Richmond on Thursday.
And not just any home – it happens to be the city’s first zero-net energy house, constructed with green materials and equipped with solar panels that can produce all the energy the home needs.
Did they win the Lottery? Not quite. The young couple is benefiting from an innovative Richmond program that launched in 2015 with the aim of rehabilitating blighted homes and properties in the city.
The home at 1025 Florida Ave. is the eighth completed under the Richmond Housing Renovation Program by the Richmond Community Foundation. Under the program, “social impact bonds” issued by the City of Richmond are purchased by investors who aren’t expecting high returns, in this case Mechanics Bank. The investment is used to acquire blighted, abandoned properties in the city. The homes are then resold to local residents who take part in first time homebuyer programs like SparkPoint.
Seven more homes have been acquired as part of the program and are in progress, said Jim Becker, president and CEO of Richmond Community Foundation.
Although the renovations take months to complete, each makes a big difference in improving neighborhoods. A blighted house costs the city of Richmond on average $7,000 annually to maintain. The former home at 1025 Florida Ave., for example, was once a major safety hazard. Homeless people lived in it and it eventually burned down.
“The whole point is to be able to be able to reclaim these properties, bring stability back into the neighborhoods,” Becker said. “Reclaiming these and getting new homeowners in them really does rebuild these neighborhoods.”
The social impact bond strategy was pitched in 2014 by prominent attorney and Richmond resident John Knox, and was ushered into action by Richmond Mayor Tom Butt and the Richmond Community Foundation. The mayor said the affordable housing options are necessary to help important local residents, like teachers, remain in their communities.
Mechanics Bank was the first investor in the program. On Thursday, Wells Fargo Bank added fuel with an $85,000 donation to the program as part of its $250,000 Wells Fargo NeighborhoodLIFT Local Initiatives Grant Program.
For Perez and Caro, both community advocates who regularly attend local school board and city council meetings, the new home doesn’t just represent building their life together, but doing so in a community where they have roots.
“Most teachers in the West Contra Costa Unified School District cannot live in the community because it is now too expensive,” Perez said. “We could not let this opportunity pass us by.”