Cities Work to Build Affordable Homes For California’s Senior Residents

Brian J. Heaton is communications specialist for the League and can be reached at

As California’s population continues to grow, so does the challenge of providing affordable housing for families with very low, low or moderate incomes. Making such homes available for seniors is equally difficult.

Many of California’s elder citizens are on a fixed income or require special services, complicating the search for safe and affordable housing. Despite these challenges, a number of cities and developers are striving to create affordable communities specifically for seniors.

“The big issue is there just isn’t enough affordable housing for seniors to live in, especially in urban areas,” said Dr. Laverne R. Joseph, president and chief executive officer of the Retirement Housing Foundation (RHF), which has developed various affordable senior properties during the past few years, including Angeles Plaza, a 1,093-unit community in Los Angeles. Case in point: Angeles Plaza currently has a waiting list of more than 1,700 people.

Other Successful Senior Communities

Town Center Senior Manor in Yuba City

A senior housing development built in 1997 had a profound effect on the growth experienced in Yuba City. Town Center Senior Manor sparked a redevelopment movement in the city’s downtown core.

“The construction of Town Center Senior Manor really encouraged investment in the area,” explained Laura Duncan, deputy city manager of Yuba City. “The neighborhood became a work center and employment base.”

“The Town Center Senior Manor provides a beautiful setting for comfortable, convenient living for residents, and is an attractive addition to our Town Center redevelopment area,” added Yuba City Council Member Karen Cartoscelli.

The 28-unit affordable housing community is age-restricted to tenants age 60 or older, with all residents making 80 percent or less of the area median income. The development is also located in the heart of downtown Yuba City, giving residents easy access to services.

But it’s the aesthetics that still have people raving about the community almost 10 years later.

“Many people often associate ‘affordable housing’ with low quality, and this is anything but,” said Rebecca Flores, housing programs analyst for Yuba City. “I still get comments about how nice it is.”

Duncan agreed. “We decided to put a little more care into the design and how it related to the neighborhood,” she re-called. “Going forward, we didn’t want to have Town Center Manor looking ‘low cost, low quality.’”

In addition, the development is much more than just housing; it serves as a true community for its elder residents. Managed by the Yuba City Housing Authority, there are various programs and social events to bind those who live at Town Center Manor together.

Some of the more popular events are game and movie nights in the community. Thanks to preplanning, residents have their own private gardens.

“Architects designed garden space so that residents could grow their own gardens in the courtyards,” Duncan explained. “The healthy activities really keep the residents connected to one another.”

Livermore’s Heritage Estates

The City of Livermore is also proud of its affordable senior housing; in particular, the 250-unit Heritage Estates. Offering both congregate and assisted living services, the development was completed in May 2004 and includes 103 units set aside for low- and very low-income seniors.

To build Heritage Estates, a brownfield area that was contaminated by arsenic was cleaned up, and noise from the adjacent rail line was mitigated by construction of a sound wall running the entire northern border of the project site.

The result is a vibrant community close to shopping and medical facilities. Due to Heritage Estates’ success, an independent 130-unit senior apartment community is currently being planned on a neighboring site. This new community will work in unison with Heritage Estates, as residents of the independent apartments will be able to access recreational facilities within Heritage Estates. In addition, residents will receive priority for moving into Heritage Estates when a unit is available.

Gateway Santa Clara

Gateway Santa Clara is another affordable senior complex that originated from a redevelopment project. Once an underused infill site, a .42-acre area was transformed into a community of 42 affordable apartment homes for seniors located on El Camino Real in Santa Clara.

Given the property’s small size, non-profit corporation EAH Housing faced the daunting task of reconciling high quality design with cost efficiency objectives required for the development’s financial feasibility.

“We are eager to replicate this success when confronted with a similar challenging situation,” commented EAH Housing President and Chief Executive Officer Mary Murtagh.

In collaboration with GSC LLC, Thacher & Thompson Architects, the City of Santa Clara and Segue Construction, EAH created a single building with an exposed, central passageway around the 42 units. This innovative yet cost-saving design ensures generous amounts of natural light for all units and promotes a feeling of openness around the building.

Gateway Santa Clara is open to seniors who are over the age of 55 and whose incomes are between 45–60 percent of the Santa Clara area’s median income. The development also includes a spacious community area, observation room, computer room, laundry facilities, parking and storage area for every resident.

Overall, the community cost slightly less than $10.2 million. Funding sources included $4.8 million from the Redevelopment Agency of Santa Clara, a $3 million tax credit allocation, $1.8 million from the California Housing Finance Agency and contributions from other entities.

City of Duarte’s Senior Apartments

In Duarte, work was recently completed on an 80-unit affordable senior apartment complex. Seventy-nine of the units are reserved for tenants age 62 or older (with an on-site manager occupying the other apartment). All of the apartments have one bedroom, and residents must meet the very low-income criteria of Los Angeles County.

Developed by Southern California Presbyterian Homes, the complex includes an outdoor balcony for each unit, a library/TV lounge and a variety of social activities for residents. More than 700 seniors applied for residency at the complex, and all 79 tenant units were fully occupied on May15, 2006.

The apartments were built on a vacant lot in a high profile area of Duarte. Financed primarily with funds from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program, the Los Angeles County Industry Housing Fund and the city’s redevelopment agency, the complex will be maintained for very low-income seniors for the next 40 years. After that, there is another 15-year commitment in place to keep rents at the low-income level (as opposed to very low).

San Diego Senior Housing

San Diego has also been building affordable senior housing projects. Through the efforts of a church, market-rate developer and a public agency, a four-story, 50-unit, low-income senior apartment complex called McKinney Manor is now part of the Encanto neighborhood of the city.

St. Stephen’s Church of God in Christ has more than 30 years of experience serving the Encanto area, so the church understands the needs of the community. The Related Companies, a for-profit developer, brought affordable housing development experience to the table, while the San Diego Housing Commission provided nearly $1 million in key funding along with other support.

Inspired by California Mission architecture, the apartments of McKinney Manor are reserved for seniors with incomes of 50 percent or less of San Diego’s area median income. Rents for all 50 one-bed-room units range from $396 to $810, significantly lower than other one-bedroom apartments in the area.

The development also features a variety of amenities for residents, including a garden/barbeque patio, club room, a movie/television theater, a fitness center and a computer lab.

Total cost of the project was $7.2 million. Funding included nearly $4.6 million in tax credits from the state, $927,000 from the San Diego Housing Commission, and $1.7 million from the California Community Reinvestment Corporation.

Named after Jane C. McKinney, the late wife of St. Stephen’s leader Bishop George McKinney, McKinney Manor was the first new construction apartment building to be built in the Encanto community in more than10 years. It replaced a vacant lot with an attractive, well maintained apartment building and completed the campus of St. Stephen’s, which includes a private school.

Financing Is Challenging For Developers

The cost of building affordable housing, particularly for seniors, is troublesome. As RHF’s Joseph explained, many seniors have 30 percent of their income allotted for housing, but that amount typically doesn’t cover the expenses associated with running a community.

“You simply can’t operate a building, even if it is debt-free, on 30 percent of someone’s income,” he said. “It is usually not sufficient to even pay the operating costs.”

Although there are a variety of financial vehicles available to help build affordable homes for seniors, many are seeing cutbacks in funding sources, such as HUD 202 funds. Joseph believes that the decline of HUD 202 grants has had a tremendous impact on the affordable housing stock nationwide.

“Historically, the HUD 202 money was helping build 20,000 units per year,” he recalled. “But in the past few years, less than 5,000 units nationwide have been awarded HUD 202 funds.”

Other funding methods such as tax credits are also effective, but for California, Joseph saw the Proposition 1C bond measure on the November ballot as a key tool for building affordable homes for seniors and families.

“Prop. 1C, the recently passed $2.85 billion bond measure, is a good program,” Joseph said. “The more we get the word out, the better off we’re going to be. We need to address this issue in California for seniors and families because most people do not have the income to afford a median-priced home.”

Upcoming Affordable Senior Housing Communities in California

These are some of the affordable senior housing communities currently in the planning or construction phases throughout the state.

Name City Number of Units Approx. Total Cost Est. Completion
Coronado Senior Housing  Coronado 30 $7.8 million January 2008
Long Beach Senior Housing Project Long Beach 65 (plus one manager’s unit $12 million July 2008
Montclair Senior Housing (working name) Montclair 84 (plus one manager’s unit) $15.6 million Spring 2008
Oak Park Senior Housing Paso Robles 40 $6.6 million September 2007
Plaza at Sierra Fontana 80 $18.84 million March 2008
The River’s Senior Apartments West Sacramento 120 $15.2 million Summer 2008

This article appears in the December 2006 issue of Western City
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