SELMA – With lush landscaping, modern architecture, colorful playground and meeting hall with a modern kitchen, weight room and computer lab, you’d think the newest housing complex to open in Selma was a high-end development.
Instead, it’s the 48-unit complex Cueva De Oso at William Shockley Plaza, the site of the former government housing apartments then known as Shockley Terrace. Construction started in April 2017 and finished earlier this year.
A grand opening was held at Cueva De Oso Aug. 29 to officially welcome new and returning residents. Fresno County, Housing Authority and Selma City officials spoke before tacos and cupcakes were served.
Preston Prince, executive director of the Fresno Housing Authority, said the new housing complex was named with the Selma High mascot and a local World War II hero in mind.
“We will have a plaque in the courtyard that commemorates this site after William Shockley, who received the Congressional Medal of Honor," he said. "We are so happy and proud no one will forget him in the future. We’re also proud to link it to the Selma Bears. We thought having that connection was really important to recognize our families.”
The units have all been leased out and there is currently a waiting list for the low-income units with the Fresno Housing Authority. Since there are nearly 1,000 on that waiting list, Cueva De Oso Manager Timothy Earl said the list is currently closed. However, the complex is split between low income and tax credit-based units. There are still applications available for the tax credit-based units.
“The application is short, but we’re 100 percent full,” Earl said. “It would be when somebody’s lease is over and everybody’s on a one-year lease.”
Earl said he’s been on site for nearly two months now and hears a lot of positive feedback from the residents.
“I see residents every day as I’m walking from the office to the unit. They always greet me and the kids love it here. They’re all excited and happy to be here. We had 11 returning families,” he said of those who previously lived at the complex.
Fatima Mejia is one of those returning residents who lives at Cueva De Oso with her son, Jonathan, 13. Speaking at the grand opening, Mejia said she uses a wheelchair or walker since she has nerve damage and suffers with chronic pain. Thus, living in a unit with wider areas, lower counters, bathroom rails and a walk-in shower has made a huge difference in daily living, she said.
“This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s just overwhelming,” she said. “I can’t do a lot of things that normal people can do. It’s very hard for me. I suffer a lot and it affects my son. It’s heart-breaking. When I first walked into the unit, I thought ‘This is awesome,’ and I was telling my parents and my caregiver and my son.”
Mejia said having an on-site manager, better lighting, more patrols by local police and mutual respect among the other residents has also made a huge difference in the area.
“I’ve lived on this property for 17 years. I’ve seen the good and the bad and before, it was rough. I notice that [Earl] walks around the property and makes sure everything’s good,” she said of the improved atmosphere. “With the police patrols that have been coming through a lot, it makes me really grateful. You make me feel safe in my own home. I can just focus on my health and getting better and my son’s health. We can sleep safe at night and the kids have a safe place to play. I’m so grateful. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Outside under the shade canopies brought in for the event, returning resident Johanna Bello enjoyed the taco luncheon with her son Fabian Bello and visiting mother, Marisela Garcia.
“It’s all new now and it has more activities for the kids. It’s much nicer than the last time. There’s more lightning,” Bello said.
She had moved in with her mother while the complex was being rebuilt.
“Thieves were always taking something and it was really dark before," she said. "Now, the lights are automatic and it’s all lit up. It feels good. It feels good to be back.”
Fresno Housing Authority Resident Coordinator Irma Garcia said life will get even better at the housing complex, as services such as workshops, potlucks, after-school programs, Zumba and wellness education will take place at the community room.
“Before, they didn’t have a community room, so we just want to provide services and get them to become self-sufficient or even run some of the programs and volunteer," she said. "The computer lab will be where the kids can do homework and during the day, the adults can learn how to use the computer, make a resume and job hunt. And they have a gym on the other side.”
Garcia said she’s especially excited, since she’s from Selma and now gets to help bring such services to the new complex.
“I already recognize some of the residents as people I went to high school with or people I see in town or at church all the time. They’re already volunteering to help,” she said.
Gigi Gibbs said the complex is an example of how much public housing has changed over the decades. Gibbs is a community development manager with Fresno County Department of Public Works Department.
“Public housing and affordable housing has come a long way from the tenement housing of the 1960s," she said. "If people in New York could see what we’re doing, they’d really be impressed.”
Gibbs explained that funding for the new Selma housing complex was made possible through a federal program called HOME that started in the early 1990s.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website states the HOME Program provides grants so states and localities can partner with local nonprofits and fund the building, buying, and/or rehabilitating of affordable housing. This housing is either for rent or home ownership. HOME also provides direct rental assistance to low-income people.
Prince said since the programs are under consideration at the federal level and have had their funding reduced every year for the past 10 to 20 years, he’s concerned that monies will dwindle to make such housing possible.
Gibbs said that Fresno County has received approximately $40 million in HOME money since the county’s program started in 1992.
“Without this program, there aren’t a lot of resources available from governments to get involved in the development of affordable housing,” she said. “It’s really important to know these projects are a public-private partnership in funding. That’s what makes it work. It’s not all one source that can make these quality buildings happen.”
Gibbs estimates more than 2,000 households have been directly assisted across the county with the HOME funds and indirectly, more than 3,000 households have been helped.
“This includes 1,600 first-time home buyers who got help with a down payment,” she said.
Along with Selma, other nearby cities such as Fowler, Kerman, Kingsburg, Mendota, Reedley and Sanger have partnered with the Authority to build such projects.
With 877 units already developed, 105 are currently under construction and six more are in the planning stage, Gibbs said. Thus, more than 1,000 affordable units have been developed in Fresno County using the HOME money.
“It really makes a difference when we see this federal money being used in our communities because we all pay our federal taxes and we’re seeing the bang for all the taxes that we pay,” she said.
The completion of such housing complexes is especially needed in the current tight housing market, Gibbs said, as they are typically filled before they’re even completed.
“The housing prices in California are through the roof and even in Fresno County there’s not a lot of supply of housing," she said. "There’s really not a supply of affordable housing. We only hope these programs will continue to be funded and we’ll be able to do more projects in the future.”
Selma Mayor Mike Derr was among local officials commenting at the grand opening. He appreciated that Shockley’s name continue to be honored at the housing development.
“I think it’s a great honor for us to be part of a program that’s named after a Selma resident who earned the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War II. Never take that for granted. That’s a big deal,” he said.