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City of Bakersfield hopes to create new affordable housing in Downtown Bakersfield

"Everything within fifteen minutes of walking."
Downtown Bakersfield Sign, Bakersfield (FILE)
Posted at 6:00 PM, May 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-13 13:54:04-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — As you walk around downtown, you may notice many new affordable and market-rate housing units popping up. Now, a $500,000 grant announced Thursday will contribute to this changing landscape.

This is not the first time the City of Bakersfield has received funds from the Brownfields Assessment Grants not only through their Community-wide Assessment Grant, which is what they’re getting awarded this round but the Workforce Development Program as well.

Brownfields Assessment Grants are provided by the Environmental Protection Agency. It provides money for communities to clean up and develop "brownfield sites," which are those areas that may suffer from the presence of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants.

Assessment Grants provide funding for a grant recipient to inventory, characterize, assess, conduct a range of planning activities, develop site-specific cleanup plans, and conduct community involvement related to brownfield sites.

A brownfield is a property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. It is estimated that there are more than 450,000 brownfields in the U.S.

- Environmental Protection Agency

According to City Councilmember Andrae Gonzales, the City of Bakersfield’s goal is to double downtown’s population in ten years. Robust efforts are already underway to make downtown not only a place to work, but a place to live.

“My vision is that we’d create a fifteen-minute neighborhood, so that is that we would have every single amenity, whether it be housing, a place for people to shop, go to the grocery store, a doctor a church, everything within fifteen minutes of walking for the residents of downtown Bakersfield.”

City councilmembers like Andrae Gonzales said the goal is to double downtown’s population to 10,000 people by 2030 and certain projects have gotten them closer to that goal.

According to Gonzales, 44 new units in downtown were built through 17th place townhomes a few years ago.

Then an additional 52 units through the “The Q” which should open by the fall. Three more market-rate housing projects are in the pipeline.

“It then develops a virtuous cycle, right? The more people that live downtown, the more there is a demand for lots of amenities. The more amenities there are downtown, the more people want to come downtown.”

Gonzales said he wants more people to live downtown whether it’s through market-rate housing, transitional or affordable housing.

Announced Thursday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded the City of Bakersfield the Brownfields Assessment and Cleanup Grants of $500,000.

Senior Project Manager of EPA’s Brownfield’s Program said it will be available in October and is the second community-wide assessment grant they’ve awarded our city.

“They had to demonstrate not only their need, but their capacity to really utilize the funds in a way that would benefit historically disadvantaged communities,” said Nova Blazej, Senior Project Manager, EPA Brownfield’s Program.

Their plan is to invest that money into the downtown’s urban core. The EPA have plans to create new affordable housing and transitional housing units using a 17-acre former corporate headquarters and other vacant and underused sites.

“We look at different properties, both publicly and privately owned throughout the city, where there’s cooperative owners and interested owners, to identify brownfields. And if they do find that there’s contamination, we help plan for the cleanup, and we also help plan for their reuse,” said Blazej.

Blazej adds the bipartisan infrastructure law has made those funds possible. It will award brownfields program $1.5 billion over the next five years.

Gonzales hopes to provide incentives for developers to be able to build more housing downtown by spreading out their high-impact fees over time as opposed to up-front costs and having the city conduct sewer studies for making offsite improvements.