After each deadly and destructive wildfire of the past few years, Mary Stompe and the nonprofit she heads responded like so many others, collecting food, clothing, gift cards and money for fire survivors.
For the Tubbs and Camp fires, Stompe helped set up distribution centers to give away gift cards and other items. But fire survivors’ biggest need, she said, was not being met.
“It was clear that the No. 1 item needed was housing and not things,” said Stompe, executive director of PEP Housing, a Petaluma-based organization that provides supportive housing for seniors.
Stompe and others at PEP began dreaming of a safe, affordable housing community for seniors who had lost everything in the fires. Now, that dream is about to become reality.
PEP, which stands for Petaluma Ecumenical Properties, is under contract to purchase the Scottish Rite Masonic Center on Acacia Lane in east Santa Rosa, with the goal of building 20 studio apartments for seniors who lost homes in the wildfires. PEP Housing has put down a significant down payment, and the deal is expected to close Aug. 15, Stompe said.
“We’ve been trying to build housing since the Tubbs fire, hitting one brick wall after another,” she said.
Those efforts included placing trailers at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa and beginning talks with the county over use of a vacant building at the Valley of the Moon Children’s Home. But she said talks with the county were going too slowly, and when the Scottish Rite Masonic Center became available she jumped at the opportunity.
The site, located off Highway 12, is adjacent to PEP’s Acacia Lane Senior Apartments, a 44-unit senior housing complex that opened eight years ago. PEP purchased that property from the owners of the Scottish Rite Masonic Center, the Santa Rosa Lodge of Perfection No. 11.
A representative of the Scottish Rite Masonic Center declined to comment on the latest sale because the deal has not yet closed.
PEP’s plans for the 2.8-acre site include a complete remodel of the 20,000-square-foot main building and event center.
Stompe said space in the main building currently occupied by an auditorium and an event room could be converted to 20 studio apartments.
She said the large dining room would be converted into an event hall adjacent to the existing kitchen, which would remain the same.
That event hall, as well as planned meeting rooms, could be used by members of the community who currently use the Scottish Rite Masonic Center, she said.
“Half the building will be an event center and the other half will be senior housing,” she said.
Stompe said the housing portion of the project will be named after Linda Tunis, a 69-year-old woman who died when the Tubbs fire consumed all but a few homes at the Journey’s End Mobile Home Park.
Tunis’ daughter, Jessica, was unable to get across town to help her mother.
Jessica Tunis, who is the property manager of Acacia Lane Senior Apartments, was helping evacuate her residents on the night of the fires and wasn’t aware of how close the fire was near her mother’s home until it was too late.
She said she’s deeply touched by Stompe’s decision to name the new project after her mother. “It’s incredibly sweet and meaningful,” she said.