Kaiser donates $1.6 million for apartment project at site of Journey’s End mobile home park

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Nearly 16 months ago a handful of people stood atop the three-story parking garage at Kaiser Permanente’s Santa Rosa hospital, awestruck as they witnessed flames from the Tubbs fire destroy their trailers at Journey’s End mobile home park.

They watched helplessly as propane tanks and firearms ammunition exploded throughout the 13-acre site while Kaiser medical staff, firefighters and law enforcement officials evacuated the adjacent hospital.

Not long after the 2017 fire subsided, Judy Coffey, Kaiser’s head of operations in Santa Rosa, took Kaiser’s top executive, Bernard Tyson, to that same spot to see the destruction — three-quarters of the 160 mobile homes incinerated. And two Journey’s End residents had died.

“He was devastated when he saw it,” Coffey said of Tyson, who used to work in Santa Rosa several years ago.

Before the devastating Tubbs fire, Journey’s End and Kaiser’s main Santa Rosa campus were neighbors, divided by a fence, evergreen trees and a creek. Now, those who control both sites are hoping to forge closer ties.

Earlier this month, Kaiser said it was donating $1.6 million to help kick-start the development of an affordable apartment community on the burned property. The money, a portion of more than $8 million Kaiser has thus far donated to local fire recovery, was given to nonprofit developer Burbank Housing. The nonprofit now has control of the Journey’s End property.

The donation is expected to advance an ambitious plan for a multi-story housing complex with 160 apartments that would replace mobile homes lost in the fire and the 44 homes that did not burn but were declared uninhabitable because of the blaze. Those homes will be razed or relocated to make way for the apartments.

Larry Florin, CEO of Burbank Housing, said the nonprofit housing developer has a memorandum of understanding with the family that owns the Journey’s End property and an option to lease it for 99 years.

Burbank officials now are in talks with the 44 mobile residents over how much they will be compensated for their property losses in the fire, he said. Many of them did not receive any insurance reimbursement or FEMA grants and most were either seniors or low-income residents.

Florin said Journey’s End residents will be given priority to rent in the new housing development. But such a project, which is only in the conceptual stage, could take several years before it’s completed. The most optimistic timetable and estimated cost for completion of the apartment project is roughly five years and $85 million, Burbank officials said.

That could be too long a wait for some Journey’s End residents.

Theresa Udall, 84, said she and other former residents do not have the luxury to wait for Burbank to build apartments. “Very few of them from Journey’s end will be alive by the time the apartments are built,” she said.

Udall, a retired nurse and hospital chaplain, said her mobile home on Sahara Street is among those still standing. She is now living in a granny unit next to a Bennett Valley Road home her daughter is renting.

She said she wished she and others whose homes were not destroyed would be allowed to hook up to city water and sewage and return to their homes, at least temporarily.

Shortly after the fire, Udall said she lived in a Burbank Housing apartment that rented for $1,050, a sum that took a big bite out of her $1,400 monthly income. She said paying that amount of rent was “unsustainable.”

Rents at Burbank Housing apartments can range from $506 to $1,059, depending on the circumstances, said Laurie Lynn Hogan, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit. Such rents, she said, are admittedly too high for some “extremely low-income” residents.

Hogan said Burbank Housing is doing everything it can to fairly compensate Journey’s End residents whose homes were not destroyed by the 2017 fire. It isn’t financially feasible to restore utilities and other infrastructure destroyed by the fire so that Udall and others can return to their homes.

“It’s simply cost prohibitive. It’s very expensive to revitalize infrastructure there and there’s no funding to do that,” she said. “There’s funding to build housing, but there’s no funding to make infrastructure occur like that.”

Kaiser’s $1.6 million grant will be used to pay for predevelopment costs for technical experts, architects and consultants working on the apartment project’s design. Burbank said the work is a first step toward rebuilding the site and bringing much-needed affordable housing to Santa Rosa, which is mired by a housing affordability crisis.

Florin said a portion of the property also likely would include a separate multistory apartment complex charging market- level rents, with open space and other amenities.

“That could include walking paths, some kind of park for lunchtime activity,” he said. “Kaiser is collaborating with us on this to try to maximize those connecting opportunities. We’re thrilled with the grant from Kaiser, which allows us to turn the concept into reality.”

Florin said there’s also an opportunity to cooperate with Kaiser on health care programs for future residents.

“There’s a whole new era in housing that shows the connectivity between housing and health issues,” he said. “That is what is fundamentally behind Kaiser’s focus on providing investments in affordable housing.”

Alena Wall, Kaiser’s regional community benefit manager, said Kaiser has identified issues such as affordable housing, economic security and education as critical to the long-term health care of communities. She said Kaiser’s fire-recovery response is aimed at protecting vulnerable people both directly or indirectly affected by the 2017 Tubbs inferno. That year was the most destructive and deadly of the North Bay wildfires.

The hope is the efforts will help slow gentrification by preserving affordable housing at a time when housing prices and rents have greatly increased in Sonoma County, Wall said.

“We would love for the Journey’s End residents to benefit, and that was our intention when we first engaged in conversations about how to quickly rebuild our community,” she said. “The big push here is to preserve affordable housing in the local community.”

One former resident said he’d be willing to wait.

“I do plan on hanging around to see what they build, to see if it’s really going to be worth my time and effort to live there,” said Robert Moyes, 60, whose home on Biltmore Street burned down.

Moyes, a Journey’s End resident for 32 years, now lives in a one-bedroom Rincon Valley apartment. The apartment, which rents for $1,600 a month, is subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through the Veterans Affairs supportive housing program.

Moyes, who has leukemia, said the HUD program allows him to pay rent that equals just 30 percent of his monthly disability income. Because he had lived there so long, Moyes’ rent at Journey’s End was set between $425 and $500 a month, depending on the monthly cost of his utilities.

Before the 2017 fire, Moyes used to walk to Kaiser for treatment. A new housing complex for seniors who could benefit from readily available medical care at the Kaiser campus would be ideal for him.

Moyes said he recently received a flyer from Burbank Housing notifying Journey’s End residents of plans for the apartment project.

“I’m sitting here looking at the Burbank housing flyer,” he said, as he contemplated the loss of the mobile home community. “It was pretty much in the middle of everywhere and that’s what was convenient about living there.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or

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