Money from affordable housing grants helps revamp local parks, including these shade structures.

How Parks are Funded by Affordable Housing

Since the establishment of a state program that donates money to cities and counties for parks when affordable housing communities are built, California has received more than $20 million in funds.

Two years ago, a state program in California was resurrected that gives money to cities and counties for parks when affordable housing communities are built in their area. Since then, more than $20 million has gone into parks across the state. Sacramento County has received $388,050 and Yolo County also received $196,250 – just two examples of how this program can provide funds to communities in the state.

Thanks to developments by Mutual Housing California, two parks recently got upgrades – Freedom Park in North Highlands and Community Park in Davis. The North Highlands Recreation and Parks District (NHRPD) received a $149,550 for the construction of Mutual Housing at the Highlands, and the City of Davis received $196,250 for the construction of New Harmony.

“While cities and counties could have kept the money for their own use, we opted to send money to the local park district,” said Judy Robinson, Principal Planner at the Sacramento County Department of Planning and Community Development. “We felt that if the improvements could go into a park that is close to the community, everyone wins.”

“It is wonderful that the whole community will enjoy these improvements to Freedom Park, and that they are made possible by an investment in nearby affordable housing,” said Phil Serna, County of Sacramento Supervisor, District 1.

“The grant is big money to a little district,” said Chuck Bernardi, Interim Administration and Park Superintendent at the NHRPD. “The picnic shelters and stage were not something the district would have been able to put in without it.”

With the funds, staff at the NHRPD was able to install the final shade structures for the five picnic areas at Freedom Park.

“We had five pads reserved for picnics, but were only able to put shelters over three of them,” said Bernardi. “Now, we can complete the other two.”

Staff also put in a stage with the grant. “That really finished the park,” Bernardi stated.

North Highlands is an unincorporated community in Sacramento County without a city hall, town square, or an urban center. Bernardi believes that Freedom Park could fill that void. “With the new stage, the climbing wall, and playground, the park is becoming more of a destination point for the whole community,” he said.

“This is smart policy on the part of the state, definitely a win-win,” said Rachel Iskow, Mutual Housing Executive Director. “It creates incentives to build affordable housing by rewarding community resources for amenities such as park to local areas that have housing for all income levels in their neighborhoods.”

With the grant, the City of Davis has received enough funds for the building of New Harmony. The staff will also be renovating the Rainbow City Play Structure at Community Park, which is a wooden structure that was built by volunteers two decades ago. The structure is currently in need of repair and does not meet current Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

"Davis applauds California for recognizing the importance of integrating new housing with an entire community,” said Joe Krovoza, City of Davis Mayor. “New Harmony will provide access to affordable housing for families, seniors, and persons with disabilities, while the associated grant will renew Rainbow City as a beloved community asset. Thus, both housing and community are concurrently advanced."

The rebuilding process also involves community input and feedback. City officials hope to have the structure completed in 2014. Any grant money left over will go to Community Park. New Harmony is expected to open in February.

Founded in 1988, Mutual Housing California develops and operates well-designed rental housing for modest-income households. The communities have 2,750 residents.

Through Mutual Housing’s focus on leadership, the nonprofit also provides training and mentoring as well as educational programs, community-building activities, and services for residents and neighbors. For more information, visit

About the Author

A former journalist, Dell Richards has more than 20 years in the field of journalism and public relations.

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