The affordable housing portion of the West Davis Active Adult Community (WDAAC) project has generated some criticism from the opposition to the project, believing that the affordable housing component carries with it no assurance that the units will get built and represents an insufficient contribution from the developers.
The Vanguard this week sat down with affordable housing developers David Thompson and Luke Watkins, who explained the concept of their affordable housing project and addressed some of the concerns.
David Thompson explained that when they first started sitting down with developer David Taormino, considering the existing affordable housing requirements about three years ago, they figured that to be about 56 units for a project of this size. Mr. Taormino, David Thompson explained, had wanted to do at least double that amount. And they came up with a mechanism whereby they could put 150 units on the site, which was nearly three times the amount they were originally required to provide.
Mr. Thompson explained that the need for housing for seniors in Davis is well known and fairly large.
He pointed out that there are four major senior affordable housing sites, and also a number of smaller sites. The largest are Kennedy Circle (75 units), Shasta Point (68 units), Eleanor Roosevelt Circle (ERC)(60 units) and the CHOC (Community Housing Opportunities Corporation) Project (30 units).
For those four projects, the waiting list is about 441 people. For ERC alone, it’s 224 people. That means the waiting list is just about double the number of people served.
“It’s a shame,” David Thompson explained, noting that he has staff at Eleanor Roosevelt who spend a sizable amount of time simply answering calls from people wanting to move there, whom they cannot possibly accommodate. “We spend an inordinate number of hours dealing with the lack of affordable housing for seniors.”
The model that they are proposing at WDAAC is similar to the model they have at ERC. He explained, “The model that we have is the first one in the county where we built in social services onsite with the staff member to assist residents.”
“That’s more than meeting the need that was required of us,” he said.
“We are very very busy, doing extra work for people,” he said. “Its pretty consuming. We don’t mind doing it, but it’s a higher level than we anticipated taking care of.”
ERC serves mostly low to extremely low income residents, many of whom are on Section 8 vouchers. Residents on average earn less than $13,000 a year, or around $800 per month. That would be an unlivable wage if they could not find affordable senior housing.
“It has worked really really well,” he said. “Quality of life at ERC is excessively better than what it was for its residents.”
ERC was so successful that the project was exported to Dixon. They were granted five acres of land to do it. They have done two phases so far – first 60 units, then 54 units, and now 44 units next year will be phase 3.
With over 100 projected units, there are a lot of things they will be able to do at WDAAC. One big thing is to solve the food security problem. “We have begun to figure out how to solve the food problem,” David Thompson explained. “That’s the biggest problem. They have been working in Davis with groups like Farm Davis, Yolo Food Bank and STEAC (Short Term Emergency Aid Committee) to deliver meals to the seniors.
He noted that Senior Meals on Wheels provides a lunch at the senior center, and he believes because of the size of the site at WDAAC combined with the folks living across the street at Shasta, there will be enough folks to have a second lunch provided at WDAAC.
David Thompson and Luke Watkins are a bit perplexed at the concern that the project might not be built.
Mr. Thompson explained, “I have been doing housing for 40 years and I’ve built everything that I’ve taken on.”
He said that, “There is a lot of our own capital at stake when we do these things. We would lose a lot of money if we every didn’t build something.”
There is a penalty if they end up applying for funding and then not producing the housing. In fact, David Thompson believes they would no longer be able to do affordable housing if they reneged on a project.
Luke Watkins noted that part of the ability for them to get funding relies on an evaluation of their experience meeting deadlines, and if they fail to produce, that will be a negative reflection on their ability to do housing in the future.
He, too, pointed out, “We’ve never not completed a project.”
As we noted last week, there is no financial incentive for the Taorminos to not have the affordable housing built. They simply donate the land and the affordable housing developers work on getting the funding and building it.
Luke Watkins has a different take on Redevelopment Agency (RDA) money and the availability of funding.
“Funding is always an issue,” he said. “But we are in the most funding rich era for affordable housing despite the loss of redevelopment money.”
He notes that, while RDA has disappeared, the governor has created a number of alternatives. AB 32, for instance, is generally known to require projects and communities to meet greenhouse gas and efficiency standards, but it generates funding that goes to affordable housing. About $250 million per year.
He and David Thompson, in the first round of that funding, won two of the grants and their projects got about $20 million out of the first $250 million given out.
He pointed out, in fact, there is so much other money coming through that, even after the shift away from RDA, there is plenty of available money. “RDA was only a small piece of the funding anyway,” he explained.
Funding is a process. He explained that, basically, you keep applying for different grants until you have enough funding to do the project. Mr. Watkins believes it will probably take about seven sources of funding by the time they are done. The first money will be from the Multi-Family Housing Program (MHP).
There are a few advantages that they have. One is that David Taormino is planning to have the access and roads for the entire project done in the same phase, so the infrastructure and roads will already be place. They are planning to do the project in two phases, so they will only need the financing for the first 75 units at the start.
In any case, neither David Thompson nor Luke Watkins, who have been doing affordable senior housing for 40 years, are anticipating a problem.
A few other points which they addressed – one is that, contrary to some who have argued that this is a bad spot for housing, they disagree. While it is true that the project is far from the downtown, they point out that many seniors do not want to go downtown. That is not where a typical senior wants to be, with the young people and the lack of services there.
What seniors need is access to things like a grocery store, a doctor’s office, and a pharmacy, and they want the ability to walk to those locations.
“We are glad to be next to a hospital,” David Thompson stated. He noted perhaps more important is the close proximity to the Davis Community Clinic, where more than 20 percent of their patient load are seniors.
“Getting back and forth to doctors’ appointments is a big deal,” Luke Watkins stated. “To be able to walk is great.”
Moreover, it is close to both Safeway and CVS. They don’t even have to cross Covell Boulevard to do so. However, they point out that the barrier of Covell Blvd. has been overstated. “You press a button, it stops traffic and they cross the streets.”
They believe suggestions of an undercrossing are actually disadvantageous for seniors who might have to walk with the assistance of walkers and would prefer to be visible in case of problems.
They also addressed the issue of the compensation by the developers. The dedication is over 4 acres of land and 3.7 acres of net land, after factoring in streets. They estimate that the value of that land is close to $1 million per acre, meaning the total contribution is more than $4 million.
They also note that Sterling, for instance, had to pay money because the 38 units of affordable were not sufficient to meet the affordable housing requirements, so they had a combination of on-site and in-lieu fees, whereas WDAAC will have all of its affordable units on site.
Sterling has not done anything beyond the basic affordable housing requirement, whereas WDAAC will have more than 20 percent of all the units set aside in the land dedication as affordable units.
Is this enough for voters to approve it? They will get to vote on the project on the November ballot.
—David M. Greenwald reporting