Father Joe’s Villages has received a $4 million grant from the City of San Diego that will go toward construction of an apartment complex at 17th and Commercial streets for homeless families, individuals and people with disabilities.
The project is still being designed, but will likely cost $50 million to $60 million, according to Deacon Jim Vargas, president and CEO of Father Joe’s Villages.
At six to seven stories, the plan is for the project to include 107 apartments that will be designated as permanently supportive housing, meaning that tenants will receive a variety of social services meant to help keep them off the streets.
“Putting individuals within four walls is not all we do. Along with that, there are a lot of services,” Vargas said, adding that 95% of those who find housing through Father Joe’s Villages stay off the streets as a result.
“We work with them on an ongoing basis, teaching them life skills,” Vargas added. “A lot of times, they need to learn how to live within an apartment and live with neighbors, something you and I take for granted.”
Father Joe’s is also planning a separate affordable housing project at 16th and Island streets, also planned to be six stories.
“We expect to break ground on each of those endeavors the latter part of next year,” Vargas said, with a goal of having them open for tenants to move in by early 2026.
The two projects are part of Father Joe’s Turning Key initiative that has set a goal of developing 2,000 affordable housing apartments.
Vargas said more projects are in the works, although he declined to say where.
“There are a couple of properties that are in play,” he said.
The biggest project Father Joe’s has built as part of the Turning Key initiative was the $148 million St. Teresa of Calcutta Villa, a 14-story apartment building in East Village that opened in January 2022 with 407 apartments. The project was named for the late Mother Teresa.
As an alternative to building new projects from the ground up, Vargas said Father Joe’s hopes to acquire aging motels to renovate as affordable apartments, similar to Benson Place, a former E-Z 8 Motel in South San Diego that was converted by Father Joe’s into 82 studio apartments, 25 of which were earmarked for mentally ill homeless people.
“This has become a big part of what we do,” Vargas said. “It’s too costly to build in California.”
Like most real estate in California, the price of motels rose significantly in 2022.
“They’ve been coming down in price and we’re waiting for kind of a sweet spot,” Vargas said.
The San Diego City Council in January declared housing a human right, and Vargas is hoping that will help hasten construction of more affordable housing projects.
“We need to focus on that,” he said. “The permitting process needs to be streamlined. The funding process also needs to be streamlined.”
Vargas said that it can take two to three years to get permits before a project can even break ground.
“It shouldn’t take that long,” he said. “There are people who are suffering on the streets.”
Despite the rise in the number of homeless people on the street, Vargas said, “We are without a doubt making an impact.”
St. Teresa’s alone provided housing for more than 500 people, Vargas said. “If not for that building, where would those people be?” he asked.
Father Joe’s Villages
Founded: 1950 as St. Mary of the Wayside Chapel
CEO: Deacon Jim Vargas
Headquarters: East Village
Business: Nonprofit agency serving people who are homeless
Notable: Fr. Joe Carroll, for whom Father Joe’s Villages is named, took charge of St. Vincent de Paul Center in November 1982 and retired in November 2011. He died in 2021.