300 homes next to Travis AFB have been sitting empty for a decade, now advocates want to turn them into affordable housing

FAIRFIELD, Calif. (KGO) — As California grapples with the growing housing crisis, affordable housing advocates are hoping to put to use 300 homes that have been sitting empty in Solano County for a decade. But they’re hitting roadblocks from both the city of Fairfield and their next door neighbor Travis Air Force Base.

One big hurdle? The base controls the water for the development, and they won’t agree to turn it on.

“This is a classic case of ‘NIMBY-ism,'” Anthony York with the Affordable Housing for Hundreds Coalition told ABC7 News. “It’s just this time the ‘NIMBY’ neighbor happens to be the U.S. Air Force.”

The story itself is a little more complicated and goes back decades. But there are indeed 300 homes sitting empty next to the base and housing advocates want to know: Why can’t they be used?

“It’s a little crazy that you’ve got these assets, these homes, just sitting there, not being utilized,” said Jim Dobbie, the Executive Vice President at Hunt Companies, which built the homes. “And over the past decade, the housing crisis in this part of California has just gotten worse and worse and worse.”

The housing development is known as the Georgetown Project. It was built by Hunt in the early 1990’s as housing for airmen working on Travis Air Force Base. When the contract expired in 2010, the families living at the property moved into new housing on the base, and ever since then the homes — including the playground and basketball court at the development — have just been sitting unused and empty.

But a new plan could change that. Hunt has committed to renovating the 300 homes on their own dime and turn them into affordable housing units, including roughly 15% reserved for veterans. Dobbie said they have told the base they will pay for the water and sewer and even pay to renovate the water pipeline going through the base. But no luck.

“The ironic thing is that the pipe we need them to turn on that brings the water to Georgetown, we built and gave to them back in 1989,” Dobbie said.

If safety is a concern, they said they have also offered to build and fortify a safer barrier between the housing development and the base. “Every time we try to be responsive, they kind of move the goal post,” he said.

In a statement to ABC7 News, Capt. Amanda Farr, Chief of Public Affairs at Travis Air Force Base, said, “Travis AFB and the city of Fairfield share an enduring relationship dating back to WWII. The Georgetown Housing area lies within the city of Fairfield, and the installation respects the city’s autonomy to make the decision on how to permit and develop its own land.”

As demand for affordable housing continues to rise amid the COVID-19 pandemic, planning groups estimate the Bay Area needs to build 700,000 units.

ABC7 News reached out the city of Fairfield, which says they are also not supporting the project. The city has raised concerns about the development being in a food desert and far from a school bus stop. They also point out the only access road to the development crosses a railroad freight line, which could lead to inadequate public safety response times.

“The City of Fairfield is very supportive of quality affordable housing projects,” city spokesperson Bill Way said. “Travis AFB has indicated they will not turn on water. Even if they did, the project still suffers from inadequate public safety response times. In fact, the only access road to the development crosses a railroad freight line.”

Way said the city of Fairfield has recently broken ground on another housing development nearby that would provide 190 units of affordable housing.

Assemblyman Jim Frazier, who represents Fairfield, supports renovating the Georgetown Project. He said while the city’s concerns are valid, he believes there could be solutions if they were willing to come to the table to discuss.

“How do we get to yes?” Frazier said. “This is a gold mine. This is the World Cup, the Super Bowl, all wrapped up in one. And it’s a chance to put families in shelter.”

Capt. Farr with Travis Air Force Base did not give a specific reason the base would not turn on the water, but did say, “the Department of Defense does not routinely provide utility services, such as water, sewage or electricity, to private, off-base entities for non-U.S. Government affiliated ventures.”

Dobbie said he sent the base examples where this has happened, and pointed to a contract Travis Air Force Base has with the City of Vallejo to provide water to the neighboring schools.