By Vince Meehan
Father Joe’s Villages, in partnership with Chelsea Investment Corporation, announced plans to create 273 affordable homes by building a mixed-use residential tower Downtown at the corner of 13th Avenue and Broadway. These units are intended to house low- to moderate-income families, including people who have experienced, or are at risk of, homelessness.
Deacon Jim Vargas, president and CEO of Father Joe’s Villages, said this is a major step in a program called the “Turning the Key” initiative — a five-year plan to produce 2,000 permanent residences for at-risk people.
“In this time of crisis, it remains clear that the true end to a person’s homelessness is a home,” Vargas said. “Here in California, our homelessness crisis is really a housing crisis, and providing affordable housing has got to be a priority.
The 14-story high-rise is designed by local award-winning architectural firm Joseph Wong Design Associates. The property developer, Chelsea Investment Corporation, plans on beginning construction in 2020, and completing the project by 2022.
“As a family-owned and operated company, we see the need to invest in innovative housing development that will allow more of San Diego’s most vulnerable families to find stability,” said Jim Schmid, CEO of Chelsea Investment Corporation. “This mixed-use approach at 13th and Broadway means we are able to get creative to meet the needs of the community.”
The building with also feature a new Head Start Center, which will provide free, comprehensive early-childhood education and health services to low-income children from birth to the age of 5.
“For the families and individuals who move into these apartments, access to the support they need right in the same building means they can maintain stability and avoid experiencing homelessness again or prevent it altogether,” Vargas added.
Vargas joined Father Joe’s four years ago and comes with a combination of professional and spiritual skill sets that work together to make him uniquely qualified for his position.
“I started with a corporate background, working as a vice president for Citibank/Citicorp in Manhattan. Then, I moved to San Diego to become the vice president and chief human resources officer at The Copley Press, Inc. when they owned the Union Tribune,” Vargas said.
After the Copley’s sold the UT, he left corporate life to pursue a spiritual calling and went into full time parish ministry at Mary, Star of the Sea Church in La Jolla, as an ordained deacon where he still serves today. Then, he was asked to head up Father Joe’s and he accepted. His corporate experience helps him handle the large budget that now comes with leading the largest homeless provider in the San Diego area. And his ministry experience serves as a spiritual counter-balance to deliver the dignity and humanity that is required when serving the homeless
To ensure that families and individuals can remain in their affordable apartments for years to come, Father Joe’s Villages will coordinate supportive services for residents such as medical care, vocational training and counseling. A new fire station will also be built adjacent to the housing property.
As part of the Turning the Key initiative, Father Joe’s and Chelsea Investment Corporation will also break ground on a new affordable-housing unit at 14th Avenue and Commercial Street. This will happen later this year in addition to renovating recently purchased hotels located throughout the San Diego region to create more affordable housing.
Vargas looks forward to being a part of the solution to helping end San Diego’s homelessness crisis. But with an estimated 9,000 homeless in the San Diego area, he knows he has a lot of work to do in securing additional funding from local, state and federal grants, as well as reaching out to philanthropists. Vargas noted that his background helps him navigate the unique challenges that come with running Father Joe’s and credits his ministry with being the guiding factor that helps him the most.
“It isn’t that I’m the president and CEO of Father Joe’s Villages who happens to be a deacon,” said Vargas. “It’s that I’m a deacon and my ministry is that of president and CEO.”
—Vince Meehan can be reached at email@example.com.