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With Riverside County Prices Rising, A New Multifamily Development Aims To Help Veterans, Low-Income Residents

The 14-acre parcel around 28136 Brodiaea Ave. in Moreno Valley might not look like much now, but it could soon be a construction site for as many as 600 apartments.

The proposed housing development with affordable and below-market-rate units is slated for an area that, like much of the rest of Southern California, needs more units that are within financial reach for residents, including military veterans. 

Riverside County used to be considered a place where SoCal apartment dwellers or would-be homeowners decamped to when they wanted more space for less money. During the coronavirus pandemic, that trend took off. Housing prices have risen dramatically, and while they are still lower than LA County's, their increase has been marked. 

A rendering of the proposed Moreno Valley project.

The average one-bedroom apartment in Moreno Valley rents for approximately $1,800, according to March 2021 findings from rental listing and data site Zumper. That represents a 35% increase over the previous year’s average for the month.

Like elsewhere in the region, single-family homes in Riverside County became a white-hot commodity. Prices rose 17.1% from January 2020 to January 2021, the Press-Enterprise wrote, putting the county median price at roughly $455K. The median household income in the county was about $67K, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey estimate for 2019.

The Moreno Valley project seeking to offer area residents a more affordable alternative comes from Nick Saifan, a 24-year Army and Navy veteran. His construction company, IEGS Construction, has built a number of projects for the military and the private sector, but this is the first where he will also be the developer with his newly formed company, Vendaval Corp.

Saifan already owns the property where the project is planned and has private funding for the $125M development, which proposes 450 to 600 studio and one-bedroom apartments across as many as five buildings. Saifan said since he already owned the property, he has leveraged that to fund the initial architect work and engineering reports. He plans to have his construction company work as the construction manager on the project and says he has so far hired smaller firms to complete other tasks like architecture because they have offered him competitive prices. 

Saifan, who described himself as “service-connected disabled,” said part of the impetus behind the project was the obvious need for more housing that is within financial reach for area residents. The plan is for “anyone who qualifies for affordable housing through a city of Moreno Valley program” to be eligible for the affordable units, Saifan said.

Guillermo Molina, a coordinator with the Fair Housing Council of Riverside County, said that the pandemic has made it harder to find rentals in general, but especially at the lower end of the rental spectrum. He agreed that the area could benefit from more units that lower-income residents can afford.

"The more affordable housing, the better," Molina said.

While the exact breakdown is not yet firm at this time, 35% of the units in this project are expected to be income-restricted according to county eligibility levels and 65% will be offered at below-market rents. Current estimates from Saifan put that at $1K to $1,200 for a one-bedroom apartment.

Saifan also plans to set aside a portion of the units — 100 or so, depending on final project size — exclusively for veterans.

The project site is less than 30 miles from March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County. Within the county, there are a number of programs from nonprofits that are in operation now aimed at creating affordable housing for military veterans. One, from U.S Vets - Inland Empire, serves Riverside and San Bernardino counties and offers housing for 138 veterans in a two-building complex called March Veterans Village. The organization expects that project, which opened in 2018, to have a third building ready by the end of the year.

The project will also include retail space up to 30K SF. The rents from those spaces will eventually go toward providing programs that would be open to residents of the complex and the surrounding area, including job placement and services geared toward veterans.

“We don’t have enough affordable housing built and I don’t think it’s going to change in the next five to 10 years,” Saifan said, though he is hopeful that his project will make a dent in the overall need for the area. He is waiting for city approvals to get shovels in the ground on the property.