Jose Mireles and his wife, Diana, have lived in Lamont for decades. Throughout their time living in the rural community, they have had multiple family members stay with them due to a lack of affordable housing. At one time, they converted their garage into a living space for their daughter and her husband to stay in while they saved enough money for their own place.
This type of housing is not all that uncommon in Lamont. Residents of Lamont say it has been neglected by the government and developers for decades. You can see the signs of that strain in garages converted into bedrooms, sheds rigged with air-conditioning units and plywood tacked onto the sides of houses in make-shift additions. That’s why the Jose, the president of Comite Progreso de Lamont, and Diana, the treasurer of the organization, have advocated for more affordable housing in their community. The two have helped bring Mountain View Village complex to Lamont.
“We haven’t had great news like this in Lamont for awhile,” Miguel Sanchez of Comite Progreso de Lamont told the crowd at a groundbreaking ceremony on July 18.
Lamont hasn’t had any new affordable housing complexes in over a decade, officials say, which is why residents are excited for the new affordable 40-unit apartment complex — powered by solar energy, surrounded by new bike lanes, sidewalks and a bus stop.
The ceremony, marking the beginning of the $7.5 million construction project, took place on the empty lot of land at 11316 Main Street. Community groups that pushed for it, like the Comite and the Lamont Boys and Girls Club from the grassroots, were joined by representatives TJ Cox, Rudy Salas and Melissa Hurtado and Kern County Supervisor David Couch.
“Affordable housing is a huge issue up and down the state and that’s true here in Kern County,” Couch told the crowd at the ceremony. “Even though we think of Kern County as being an affordable place to live, that’s becoming more difficult as time goes by.”
The Mountain View Village development will include 40 two-bedroom apartments, and rent will be set at $398 to $667 per month. The units will be available to residents whose income is less than 50 percent of the average median income. In Lamont where many residents work in agriculture and retail, incomes are very low.
The kitchens will be fully equipped with a refrigerator, dishwasher, stove and microwave. The floors will be vinyl plank wood, and communal amenities include laundry facilities, a clubhouse, a picnic area, a playground and a space for community agencies to provide services on site.
Sanchez told South Kern Sol that seeing this project come to fruition feels like the voice of the community is finally being heard. He hopes that this project will be a stepping stone for more projects like this in the community.
“It seems to me we are living in a different era in Lamont,” Sanchez said.
Jose and Diana have not only been advocating for more affordable housing in their community, but they have also been asking for basic infrastructure — sidewalks, parks, and economic development.
“I used to call it a ghost town because nothing used to be done here in Lamont, but now in the past few years, we’ve seen some changes,” Jose told South Kern Sol from his home in Lamont. “It seems to be working. Now they’re paying more attention to us.”
An Emphasis On Sustainability
Kern County’s Housing Authority is the developer on the project, but it was the state’s Strategic Growth Council that was the financial linchpin in making the project a reality through an $8.2 million grant.
“This Strategic Growth Council is focused on disadvantaged communities,” explained Troy Hightower, an independent consultant retained by the development team. “That has made a difference.”
Other funding for the project came from the county — about $1 million from the County HOME program — and PNC Multifamily with about $4 million.
To obtain that funding, developers had to demonstrate the project would be sustainable — and they did.
There will be electric vehicle charging stations on site, and the units are designed to be zero net energy with typical household use, thanks to solar energy, according to Stephen M. Pelz, executive director of Kern County’s Housing Authority.
Mountain View Village was able to make an especially strong case for sustainability in part because of all the infrastructure that will be built around it, including new sidewalks, a new bus stop, van pools and bike lanes.
The county and Caltrans will be working together to revamp the infrastructure alongside Edison Highway by building sidewalks, so residents aren’t forced to walk on the shoulder of Edison Highway.
And thanks in part to Caltrans, there will also be new infrastructure for bikes. The goal is to encourage more residents to cylce: there will be 21 bike storage lockers on site, and Bike Bakersfield will periodically be holding “bike rodeos” to teach bike safety classes to residents on site.
Kern Transit will also be adding a new bus stop on its local route in front of the complex, and residents will pay a reduced fare for bus tickets. The new stop will be sheltered from the elements and powered by solar lighting so that it’s lit at night, Hightower said.
Mountain View Village will also be a hub for the state’s CalVans program. Van pools will take workers to major employers, like Grimmway Farms, Tejon Outlets and Bolthouse. The van can swing by to pick up workers nearby who don’t live at the development, too.
Hoping For More Development
Community members hope this is just the beginning of more development in Lamont — a town they say is in desperate need of it.
There has been a lot of disputes between government officials and locals over whether the community is growing. One of the most high-profile examples was Kern High School District’s decision to pass over Lamont as a location for its newest high school.
Data projections in Lamont and surrounding areas have always been suspect, Hightower said.
“It’s purposely not evaluated properly,” Hightower said. “There have always been anomalies in that area with the data.”
Residents on the ground, like Diana, agree. She has noticed it in thoroughfares where she needs to wait longer and longer to cross.
“We’re living right here, and we know it’s growing,” Diana said. “They cannot come here and tell me it’s not growing. You notice right here, even just in the traffic.”
The number of housing units haven’t increased, but housing prices and the number of families staying together has, according to Jose Gonzalez, the president of the Lamont Chamber of Commerce.
A fixer-upper in Lamont can go for as much as $160,000, which is a lot of money for anyone and certainly for agricultural workers who make up the base of the community, Gonzalez said. He has seen two or three or four or five families piling into homes.
“People try to do what they can with their income,” said Gonzalez, who helped provide space for the early meetings that ultimately led to the development.
“They say, ‘Nobody stays in Lamont.’ Well, how are people going to stay if there are no houses?” asks Jose.
But successes along the way like the Mountain View Village or even just a street that finally gets curbs, sidewalks and gutters have helped Jose and Diana become optimistic about the future of the town.
Jose tells the people of Lamont to not be afraid to advocate for themselves: “Go out and speak and things will get done. There will be changes.”
South Kern Sol is a youth-led journalism organization in Kern County. In their stories, reporters shine light on health and racial disparities in under-served communities across Kern. For more stories by South Kern Sol, head to southkernsol.org.