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Legacy Square affordable housing receives prestigious 2024 Project of the Year award

Posted on April 19, 2024

A four-story apartment building on a street corner lined with palm trees and lit with street lights at dusk.

Pioneering affordable housing community honored for innovation and impact

Rancho Cucamonga, CA – Legacy Square, a 93-home affordable housing community developed by National CORE, the City of Santa Ana and the Santa Ana United Methodist Church, has been named the 2024 Project of the Year by the Orange County Affordable Housing Awards.

The award was announced April 11 during the 2024 Affordable Housing Awards (AHA) Breakfast co-hosted by the Affordable Housing Clearinghouse, Kennedy Commission and the Orange County Community Housing Corp. (OCCHC/SteppingUP). The AHA honors individuals and organizations that further the cause of affordable housing for extremely low-income families throughout Orange County.

“Legacy Square is a model for what is possible,” National CORE President Mike Ruane said. “It represents the power of deep public-private partnerships and innovative approaches to creating affordable housing solutions that serve the entire community.”

Legacy Square, which opened in June 2023, transformed underutilized church land into a stunning community serving residents who earn less than 60 percent of the median area income. Thirty-three apartments are reserved for residents who experienced homelessness or who were at risk of becoming homeless.

Residents enjoy stunning, spacious apartments with all-electric appliances, a community recreational area, a children’s play area, barbecues, gardens and 8,653 square feet of non-residential space, including flexible space available to local community benefit organizations to offer services to residents and the neighborhood. A 3,800-square-foot community room features both a warming kitchen and a computer nook.

The development prioritizes public transit and provides residents with free programs in bike repair and job development as well as a full slate of enrichment programs from the Hope through Housing Foundation. Mercy House provides comprehensive case management services for formerly homeless residents. A forward-thinking environmentally friendly design and a transit focus helped Legacy Square secure a rare LEED for Homes Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

But perhaps its most innovative element is a groundbreaking partnership with the Santa Ana United Methodist Church, which wanted to turn its underused location into community homes. The partnership allowed National CORE to significantly reduce development costs by leasing the lands from the church, rather than buying upfront.

“Legacy Square fulfills a dream to be part of the solution to the great need in Santa Ana for more affordable housing,” said the Rev. N. Adiel A. DePano, lead pastor of Santa Ana United Methodist Church. “It testifies to the courage of Santa Ana United Methodist Church along with our partners – National CORE, Mercy House, the City of Santa Ana and community organizations – to transform the site where a church campus once stood proudly for decades into a beautiful complex of much-needed affordable housing.”

That innovation sparked a series of similar deals for National CORE in San Diego, Riverside, Placentia, Buena Park and Claremont. Since then, the state has created a new law to expedite affordable housing construction on land owned by faith-based groups.

National CORE also worked closely with the City of Santa Ana and local nonprofits such as Vecindario Lacy en Acción (VeLA), a community-based organization working to improve the quality of housing and to boost housing affordability in the Lacy neighborhood of Santa Ana.

“Thank you to Santa Ana United Methodist Church and National CORE for partnering with us on this transformative approach to creating new affordable housing that will serve families and residents with the greatest need,” Santa Ana Mayor Valerie Amezcua said. “I’m proud to see Legacy Square recognized as Project of the Year, as Santa Ana continues to lead the way in finding outside-the-box solutions to address the housing crisis.”

Santa Ana’s strong community support helped National CORE secure a $25.4 million Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC) loan and grant from the state’s Strategic Growth Council and California Department of Housing and Community Development. The funds dedicated $10.4 million for investment in community improvements, including upgraded commuter rail lines, bike paths, safer routes to school and a park.

“Our pursuit of the AHSC funding reflects National CORE’s intense focus on neighborhood investment,” said Alexa Washburn, senior vice president of planning and acquisitions. “These funds allowed us to elevate an already innovative development into a beacon of sustainability and community service.”

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