Affordable housing for the lowest-income residents is in high demand and low supply in many American cities. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, more than 580,000 people experience homelessness on any given night.
The lack of low-cost financing is a significant—but not the only—barrier to the developers, municipalities and non-profit housing groups trying to provide these highly affordable options.
In New York and the District of Columbia, for example, funding is competitive and limited, leaving developers fighting for low-income housing tax credits, tax-exempt bonds and other state and federal subsidies.
Some relief could be on the way. In May, President Joe Biden released his Housing Supply Action Plan, which is intended to address the shortage of affordable housing and create additional programs to meet the needs of the lowest-income residents.
Among other initiatives, Biden plans to realign federal financing for affordable multifamily projects, restructure the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program and increase the supply of affordable housing units in the next five years.
Aside from financing, another crucial part of closing the gap in affordable housing is collaboration. When community-based organizations are involved in the process more thoughtfully designed affordable communities can result.
The following projects represent what determination and teamwork between stakeholders can accomplish.
Going A Few Steps Further
Heroes Landing, Santa Ana, Calif.
Heroes Landing is a 75-unit, permanent supportive housing community for veterans developed by Jamboree Housing, a California-based affordable developer that delivers housing and support services to low-income communities.
The city of Santa Ana provided financing and vouchers for Heroes Landing’s permanent residents, which earn 30 percent of area median income. Residents pay anywhere from $50 to $669 in monthly rent based on their income.
The city has invested in more than 200 permanent supportive housing units and has an additional 200 in the pipeline. “Combining the housing-first model with permanent supportive housing and with wraparound support services is an efficient, cost-effective solution for our homeless veterans,” said Judson Brown, housing division manager with the city of Santa Ana. Brown added that the city is allocating funds and providing incentives for more that will provide large family units for extremely low-income families.
Formerly called Santa Ana Veteran’s Village, Heroes Landing is the second major project for people experiencing homelessness in which the city of Santa Ana has invested.
Principal Planner for the City of Santa Ana Ali Pezeshkpour said the project received strong community support because of early outreach and engagement with members of the community.
Heroes Landing received funding from nine different sources, including Union Bank, the city of Santa Ana, The Home Depot Foundation and the Orange County Community Foundation. The project is LEED Gold-certified and features other sustainable elements, including Energy Star-certified appliances, water-efficient and low-flow toilets, photovoltaics to power common areas, and low-VOC interior paint and carpeting.
Aside from the housing component, Jamboree chose to also address the unique needs of veterans, including health care, employment services, legal assistance and behavioral health support. A 4,500-square-foot community center accommodates these on-site supportive services and the Heroes Landing Veterans Collaborative.
The development includes nearly 10,000 square feet of active open space designed to foster engagement and build community. Project architect Architecture Design Collaborative designed a three-story, U-shaped building with a courtyard. Principal Chris Weimholt said his team intended for the property to have an abundance of open, exterior spaces, including more intimate outdoor space and areas for self-reflection.
“Given the places our residents are coming from mentally and physically, we wanted to include that, and we knew we could do this in a U-shaped courtyard-style building,” Weimholt said.
The outdoor space is split into different zones and includes a community garden, a half basketball court, reflection walking paths, an interactive art structure that simulates rainfall, an outdoor lounge, bicycle rack installations and a dog run.
Indoors, amenities include laundry facilities, a pet spa, a fitness center and a community center with kitchen and activity rooms. The community kitchen also serves as a food collection and distribution area, where donated food is distributed to residents. Common spaces are decorated with murals representing each branch of service.
“The murals resonate with everybody and give a sense of pride for military folks,” said Richard Owens, senior program manager at Jamboree Housing.
The lounge area of the community center is deliberately furnished with comfortable couches and décor that reflects earth tones, enticing residents to want to spend time there, Owens explained.
Unit planning also accounted for what residents had experienced before coming to Heroes Landing and were designed to support service and the healing process. Residents move into a furnished apartment with the appliances and furniture they need, and each resident also receives a welcome starter kit with household items, including kitchen supplies, bedding, curtains and laundry baskets, among other things. “These are folks coming from homelessness, so we want to make sure we provide the best environment for them to excel and having a furnished apartments as well as a welcome kit, gives them the best possible start,” said Roger Kinoshita, Jamboree Housing’s vice president of real estate acquisitions.
History Making Continues
Nevins Street Apartments, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Nevins Street Apartments is a 110,000 square-foot, $72 million affordable and permanent supportive housing community in downtown Brooklyn. The project was developed by the Institute for Community Living and completed in 2022. Formerly called Stepping Stone Residence, the 129-unit project was completely retrofitted and had an additional 10-story building erected behind the original structure.
The community consists of 60 percent supportive housing and 40 percent affordable housing. The permanent supportive portion of 78 units is intended for at-risk populations, including persons with mental health or substance abuse concerns and people who have aged out of the foster care system. The remaining 51 units are for residents earning 60 percent of area median income.
Originally built in 1913 by the YWCA as a residence for 225 single women, the historic property was designed by famed Brooklyn architect Frank Freeman.
ICL decided to convert the property from community living to independent living for at-risk populations, along with an integrated space that provides residents with mental health services skills development and physical health and wellness support. The developer utilized the LIHTC program for the development and also benefited from the support of local council members, New York City and New York State and the community.
ICL was all too familiar with the struggle to find two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments in the community for families within the support housing system.
“As their family grows, their family dynamic changes so that was an important aspect to us,” said Nikant Ohri, executive vice president & CFO with ICL.
A mixture of floorplans was the best approach to meet the needs of different residents with the all-round goal of creating a better living environment for all individuals.
Community spaces were designed with everyone in mind. Laundry facilities and a gym were added. A large community room serves the dual purpose of encouraging residents to gather and hosting community meetings or events, such as birthday or anniversary parties. Another space has a full kitchen for hosting cooking events. A bike room was an essential amenity because of the development’s downtown location, where more people use public transportation vs. owning a vehicle.
Dattner Architects faced the difficult task of making the building entrance and lobby meet ADA requirements. The building featured the classic pre-war, multiple-staircase entry to get to the first floor. This was a particularly important consideration because of the ambulatory issues of individuals aging in place. And, since ICL already served residents within that population, it was a priority for the firm.
Ensuring the building had healthy airflow was also high on the list, along with building efficiencies, including solar panels and high-efficiency boilers. Units were located to maximize daylight, while a variable refrigerant flow HVAC system was chosen to cool and heat the building efficiently while not damaging the facade design.
Dattner installed windows that allow for both sunlight and air. The developer worked with Bright Power, the energy management company to install 198 solar panels, which is the equivalent of 71.28 kilowatts. Bright Power estimated annual savings of $12,810 at a rate of 14 cents per KWh.
The 110-year-old building has a history of being modified for the public good. Sometime in the early-to-mid 20th century, 20 feet by 20 feet was shaved off the building on the Schermerhorn Street side to allow for an underground train line.
The first thing that stood out to Dattner Architects Principal John Woelfling was the building’s irregularity. “It was asymmetrical,” Woelfling said. “The entry points in the building were off from where we would have thought it would be.”
Because the property was eligible for landmark status, the architectural team had to consult with the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and New York’s State Historic Preservation Office before altering the building. Approvals for the retrofits that Dattner presented were permitted, provided it retained some of the building’s historic features and reincorporated them into the building addition.
Another complexity in this project was integrating the new building with the retrofitted one. Dattner ultimately added two floors to the original structure in addition to the new 10-story building erected on a parking area, with the two buildings sharing a common core. The goal was building-wide accessibility starting from the entrance.
“Sometimes it’s overwhelming, but then when you get to that end point and see the difference that it makes in not just one person’s lives but 121 families’ lives—I look forward to that every morning,” Woelfling said.
The building’s first-floor commercial space has not yet been leased. ICL’s first choice for a tenant would be a business that can enrich the community.
Putting Community First
Max’s Landing, Miami
Max’s Landing is part of a traditional master plan neighborhood development in Miami’s West Kendall submarket. Housing Trust Group purchased the 2.7-acre site in March 2019 and completed the project in June 2021. The mixed-use project needed to blend with existing multifamily and single-family communities that were already part of the middle-income neighborhood.
“Our site was the last piece of the puzzle, so we had to work within context,” said project architect Ivo Fernandez, principal at Modis Architects.
The three-story community comprises ground-floor retail and residential on the second and third floors. The building design also had to incorporate specific architectural elements to meld in with the existing development and adapt to limitations such as building height. Developers achieved this seamless integration with a low-scale, Spanish colonial design that complemented the neighboring market-rate properties.
One of the challenges with fitting into the master plan neighborhood was that the parking also had to mirror the other properties. Project architects maximized space in other areas, such as the space behind the ground-level amenity areas, to accommodate the required surface parking while still delivering the intended number of units.
Developers got creative with the site symmetry, and the result was a somewhat geometrically-shaped building. The team of architects took advantage of the building’s unique angles to provide additional interior space for residents by adding den space to some units or making the bedrooms slightly bigger.
Max’s Landing is dedicated to residents who earn between 30 percent and 80 percent of area median income, with rents ranging from $625 to $1,723. Units were also designed in a way that maximized space, such as blended living room and dining room spaces. “We tried to optimize every single inch in the units to create a very streamlined design,” said Fernandez.
One standout amenity is the multipurpose room with kitchenette that was designed to be connected to the outside and features an open layout with generous natural light. Other community amenities include a package locker room, a media room, electric vehicle charging stations, a business center and a fitness room. Residents also have access to programs that cover literacy training, employment assistance and financial management.
Jason Larson, senior vice president of development at Housing Trust Group, said he and company president & CEO Matthew Rieger expected the project to lease up quickly after completion, given the lack of affordable housing in West Kendall and surrounding areas.
One element that differentiated Max’s Landing from HTG’s other developments was the larger commercial component of 11,388 square feet on the site’s ground floor. HTG’s principals purchased the commercial space for nearly $2 million with the intent of creating a commercial condominium. There are currently seven bays for retail tenants.
The target tenants for the retail space are neighborhood businesses, such as a dentist or doctor’s office, a nail salon, a dry cleaner or a local mom-and-pop shop, etc. “I think this is a perfect example of how affordable housing can fit in suburban neighborhoods,” said Larson. “It’s always exciting to build something that’s an asset to the community.”
Read the July 2022 issue of MHN.