CANOGA PARK, CALIF. - Tierra del Sol tackles two critical issues at once—housing and education. The trail-blazing Los Angeles development features not only 119 units of affordable housing, but also a charter elementary school that has more than 400 students this year.

Tierra del Sol, which attracted more than 2,000 applicants for its apartments, has been chosen best family development by Affordable Housing Finance readers this year.

It is the latest project by New Economics for Women (NEW), the nation’s first economic development corporation created and operated by Latina women.

Located in Canoga Park, one of the poorest areas in the San Fernando Valley, the project was built on an abandoned five-acre site that was once a city-owned maintenance facility.

The $25 million housing development set many firsts on its way to becoming reality. Opened in July 2005, Tierra del Sol features a mix of unit sizes, including three five-bedroom apartments to accommodate large families. The project is believed to be the first low-income housing tax credit development in the state, and perhaps the nation, with five-bedroom apartments. Tierra del Sol is targeted to families with incomes topping out at between 30 percent and 60 percent of the area median income. Monthly rents range from $306 to $936.

The project includes a 3,500-square-foot family resource center that features a computer room, multipurpose room, several offices, and a conference room. Services include case management, English as a second language classes, financial literacy courses, and parenting programs.

The development’s most unusual aspect is the school, which provides another way to serve the area’s families. The idea goes back about six years to a time when the school district was not in a building mode, said Bea Stotzer, president of NEW’s board.

The nonprofit worked closely with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), showing district officials that it had the land and the will to build the project and help reduce overcrowding at nearby campuses. Close collaboration was key, because LAUSD had never done a deal like this before, according to Stotzer.

The housing helped ease the way for the campus because school district authorities could see that NEW had much of the housing financing and structure in place, she said. And the nonprofit agreed to sell the 24-classroom school to the district, which would lease it back to NEW for $1 a year.

Called the NEW Academy Canoga Park Charter School, the facility enrolled 435 kindergarten through fifth-grade students in September 2005. At capacity, the school, which includes a full-size gym, a library, cafeteria, kitchen, and underground parking, will have 520 students.

NEW had to create separate entities to develop the school and the housing. It also had to carefully segregate the costs and coordinate the public and private teams working on the development. One of the key steps NEW took was to bring the different parties together in the same room, so everyone had a clear understanding of the overall project and what was needed. As a result, different contractors working on the housing and the school could work out any issues, said Stotzer.

The architect for the apartments was Don Empakeris, and the architect for the school was Hak Sik Son. The ambitious project, which cost a total of $55 million, will also include a two-story, 15,000-square-foot community center that is in predevelopment.

The apartments were financed with 4 percent housing tax credits and tax-exempt bonds from the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee and the California Debt Limit Allocation Committee. Hudson Housing Capital provided about $7.9 million in tax credit equity through two funds. Prudential Financial Social Investments was the sole investor in one fund. The second fund was one in Hudson’s series of Los Angeles Revitalization Funds targeting investments in Los Angeles and its surrounding communities. Investors in this fund included Wells Fargo Community Development Corp., Wilshire State Bank, City National Bank, Hanmi Bank, Center Bank, Nara Bank, Cathay Bank, and United Commercial Bank.

In addition to issuing the bonds, the Los Angeles Housing Department provided a loan of about $6.2 million through HOME and city housing trust funds. The Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency provided another $1.8 million loan through Community Development Block Grants. The California Department of Housing and Community Development contributed a $6.3 million loan from its Multifamily Housing Program. The Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco provided $595,000 through its Affordable Housing Program from member Western Financial Bank. U.S. Bank purchased the tax-exempt bonds on a private-placement basis and provided a $13.7 million construction loan.

Tierra del Sol recently won a Charles L. Edson Tax Credit Excellence Award in the metropolitan/urban category.