After two years of construction, a 14-story affordable housing project in downtown San Diego has opened on schedule and on budget.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta Villa, located at the corner of 14th and Commercial streets, represents the first new construction undertaken as part of Father Joe’s Villages’ Turning the Key initiative.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Feb. 10, with Auxiliary Bishop John Dolan blessing the new building. Residents were able to move into their new homes beginning in early January.

Deacon Jim Vargas, president and CEO of Father Joe’s Villages, expects the building to be fully leased by the end of March.

Through its Turning the Key initiative, which was announced in early 2017, Father Joe’s Villages set a goal of introducing 2,000 affordable housing units in San Diego through a combination of new construction and the acquisition and refurbishment of local motels.

Deacon Vargas recalled an encounter he had with two of the building’s future residents while it was under construction. The deacon had been about to lead a tour of the site, when he was approached by an “elated” man and his daughter. The man shared that he and his daughter had been approved to live at Saint Teresa of Calcutta Villa.

“He told me that he was so happy that he would be able to provide a home, finally, for his daughter,” said Deacon Vargas. “It more than warmed my heart. It brought tears to my eyes.”

Deacon Vargas said that Saint Teresa of Calcutta Villa “fills a very real need within the community.”

He explained that San Diego has the fifth-largest homeless population in the United States, and the average market-rate studio apartment here can range from $1,500 to $2,000.

When the Turning the Key initiative was first announced, he said, there were “naysayers” who thought the focus on affordable housing was “misguided,” given the immediate need of taking people off the streets and how long it can take to create new affordable housing.

Deacon Vargas said that Father Joe’s Villages continues to offer more homeless shelter beds than any other homeless services provider in the county and that creating affordable housing helps to free those beds for homeless individuals still sleeping on the streets.

“Housing is what breaks the cycle of homelessness,” he said.

Full story at The Southern Cross.