Multifamily Projects Targeting Very Specific Residents
By Michelle Hoffmann
Prior to renting a third-floor studio at San Diego’s newly renovated Hotel Churchill in August, Luis Milan, a 56-year-old US Navy veteran who served in the Gulf War, had been homeless since losing his job as an electronics technician in April 2013. The historic landmark built in 1914 operated as a traditional hotel for years, but the San Diego Housing Commission redeveloped the property in 2011. Funded by federal, state and city sources and grants, the $20.6M revamp now houses 72 furnished rental studio units—56 for military vets, eight for foster and transitional youths ages 18-24, and eight for ex-convicts—an effort to support the city and SDHC’s 1,000 Homeless Veterans Initiative’s goal to house 1,000 area vets by March 2017.
Before he got the 323 SF unit with a kitchen and private bathroom and on-site support services provided by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, Luis spent many days in the local library and long nights looking for shelter. Today, the former electronic warfare technician who served in the military for 18 years, is settling in, looking for work, taking a continuing-education course and dreaming big. “I didn’t have much to offer before. But now that I have this place, I can get a job and may even be able to meet someone and get married in the future,” he says.
SDHC SVP of real estate Michael Pavco says when the Commission acquired the Churchill in 2011, it considered the best use of the site. “We identified that at that point in time, between 1,000 and 1,600 homeless veterans were out on our city streets every night. Given the local need...we thought this would be a unique use of the resources,” he says. Smart plan. As of Nov. 9, the seven-story Hotel Churchill was 100% leased.
Brooklyn’s 145-unit Ingersoll Senior Residences and the 82-unit Crotona Senior Residences in the Bronx will be the region’s first LGBT-friendly elder housing communities when they open in summer 2019. Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) is at the helm of both; partnering with BFC Partners in the $45M Ingersoll project and HELP USA to build the $38M Crotona community. SAGE CEO Michael Adams (pictured) says New York has long had interest in LGBT-friendly elder housing, but it became more feasible with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to include the segment in NYC’s affordable housing plan. The need is there. According to SAGE, the US LGBT population age 65 and older is expected to double to 3 million in 2030 from about 1.5 million in 2016. The developments will be open to all seniors age 62 or older who meet income requirements, but they’ll include LGBT-specific programming that highlights Pride Month Celebrations, book clubs and art resources.
José Albino, executive director for GRIOT Circle Inc, a Brooklyn-based group that works with senior LGBT communities, says his team will partner with SAGE to support outreach at the new sites. José has worked in senior housing for 20 years and says hyper-specific properties provide more than four walls and a roof. “For the LGBT community, the trust level and the psychology of these developments is important. I am an openly gay man of color, a Latino, so I intrinsically understand the issues. And a lot of the people who will be served by these projects have been subjected to racism and homophobia. Many live alone and don’t have families. So to live in a community where there are people like you and you don’t have to go back into the closet or live in fear is wonderful,” José says.
Michael says local communities benefit from access to additional units of affordable senior housing, typically in short supply. Both NYC developments will house a ground-floor senior center with support services available to residents and the area’s senior communities. “Because the model of LGBT elder housing is evolving to include more services on-site, the community gets the added benefit of bringing much-needed services into the neighborhood,” Michael tells us. José agrees: “To have a space where you are celebrated and there are supportive services and case managers and activities is huge.”
Developers in DC have identified the need for supportive housing for grandparents caring for related children.
Capital One Community Finance Team VP of originations Desiree Francis says the firm partnered with the DC Housing Finance, Agency Mission First Housing Development Corp, nonprofit Golden Rule Plaza and Henson Development Co to start construction in April on Plaza West, an $89.7M, 223-unit multifamily development with 50 units reserved for low-income grandparents caring for younger children.
The grandfamily component will have a separate family entrance and a ground-floor facility with a library, a fitness room, a kids’ room, parenting and academic classes, physical and mental wellness resources, food assistance and on-site offices for social service support staff.
“Studies show that supportive housing helps people to stay in their communities, have a better quality of life, and stay connected either with local senior centers or doctors or family and friends,” Desiree (who's also working on an LGBT-focused office project on the West Coast) tells us.
"The challenges of raising grandchildren are significant, but when economic resources are limited, access to affordable housing and comprehensive support services are critical. This development offers both while being ideally located in an amenity-rich area, close to shopping, transit and schools," says Sarah Constant, managing director for Mission First HDC in DC. Plaza West will deliver in May 2018.
UK developers are embracing a unique model that caters to people with autism. Last week, the former Rivers Edge Hotel at Gateshead, London, opened the Vault, the first respite-care facility modeled on a hotel. Respite care is typically a short-term stay at an assisted living center. The Vault, a £2M redevelopment project in conjunction with the St. Camillus Care Group, provides accommodation for people with autism (with or without learning disabilities), allowing caregivers to take a separate break, and giving young people with autism a chance to experience their own holiday of sorts, says Vault Centre manager Holly Kelleher.
“This is about dignity. Most respite facilities look like care homes. But we thought it would be wonderful to have a place where people can go for respite accommodation that looks and feels like a hotel; where they can have their own suite and their own key and choose their own meals from a menu and get to do some activities,” Holly tells us. The Vault’s American-style diner is now open, and its hotel rooms will welcome guests on March 1.
But the Vault has a secondary component. It also serves as a training facility for people with autism and learning difficulties who want to work in hospitality and related industries.
“The team at the Vault consists of job coaches who train people in the various opportunities provided by a hotel such as catering, maintenance, housekeeping, reception, bar skills,” Holly says. “The aim of the Vault is that every paid employment opportunity offered in our business is filled by a person with autism or disabilities if possible.”