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An Urban Farm In Silicon Valley? Welcome To The 'Agrihood'

A long-awaited Silicon Valley affordable housing project is on track for a timely Q1 or Q2 groundbreaking after securing key bond financing last month — and it's grabbing attention for an unorthodox setting: an urban farm.

Dubbed Agrihood, the 361-unit Santa Clara project is scheduled to break ground early next year using $50M in tax-exempt bonds awarded by the California Debt Limit Allocation Committee, developer The Core Cos. said last week. 

The Core Cos. declined to give an estimated total development cost.

One of Silicon Valley’s largest affordable housing developments, the project is arriving just in time, according to housing experts. Housing underproduction across the high-priced region has been especially stark for lower incomes, and the coronavirus pandemic has added about 53,600 people, or a year-to-date tripling, to Santa Clara County’s unemployment total.

A rendering of the Agrihood project coming to Santa Clara.

The project also comes in an unusual fashion for Silicon Valley, even beyond its level of affordability. Located across the street from Westfield Valley Fair, Agrihood will feature over 1.5 acres of urban farm and open space, a café, a community room and a learning "shed."

“The funding for Agrihood could not have come at a more pressing time in our affordable housing emergency,” Sand Hill Property Co. Chief Housing Officer and Managing Director Candice Gonzalez, who is unaffiliated with the project, told Bisnow in an email. “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the fundamental role that housing plays in all of our lives. With the resulting economic and health crisis, housing hardships with only continue to intensify."

About half, or 181 Agrihood units, will be below market rate, and 165 of those will be reserved for low-income seniors.

A former UC Davis agricultural research and development hub, the project site has been slated for senior housing by the city for over a decade, but its agricultural focus was introduced more recently during Santa Clara’s request for proposals process in 2015. The Core Cos., which was chosen as master developer that year, took note, and the result is not only a mix of incomes but a farm sustaining the community with food.

“I would argue the project and a thousand other projects like this are needed now more than ever, with everybody having to adjust to the reality of COVID,” The Core Cos. Vice President of Development Vince Cantore said.

The Core Cos. said the CDLAC award is the final piece of financing needed before a groundbreaking. The CDLAC, which was created to set the state’s annual debt ceiling, allocates private activity bonds used primarily to finance affordable housing projects. In April, the CDLAC voted as a response to the pandemic to accelerate its affordable housing financing specific to new construction, nearly doubling it from $443M to $800M for this year.

Other funding sources for the Agrihood project include a loan from the city, funding from Housing Trust Silicon Valley and Santa Clara County’s Measure A, a $950M affordable housing bond approved by voters in 2016, according to Cantore. 

He said the project's affordable units will target households of between 30% and 60% of area median income, which this year works out to a range of $33,150 to $59,450 for one-person households in Santa Clara County.

“We are delighted that the Agrihood project, one of Santa Clara’s largest affordable housing projects to date, is on track for breaking ground in early 2021,” Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor said in a statement. “Especially now, as the COVID-19 pandemic affects many people’s livelihoods, it’s critical for more affordable housing to be developed in Silicon Valley quickly.”