Orinda, California: Monteverde Senior Apartments’ Design Accommodates a Steeply Sloped Site
Orinda, California, is a small city in the San Francisco Bay Area’s Contra Costa County, where residents on fixed incomes have difficulty finding affordable housing. About 40 percent of Orinda’s 700 renter households spend at least 30 percent of their income on rent. In 2014, a new senior affordable housing development, Monteverde Senior Apartments, opened in the city. Demand for the apartments, which are targeted to very low- and extremely low-income residents aged 62 and over, was so great that 1,000 people applied for the development’s 66 units. Nonprofit developer Eden Housing and the design firm DAHLIN Group have won numerous awards for Monteverde’s design, including the 2017 American Institute of Architects (AIA)/HUD Secretary’s Award for Excellence in Affordable Housing Design. The award recognizes the developer’s deft solution to the steeply sloped site, which was achieved without sacrificing accessibility. Inclined walkways link the development to a neighboring park and other community amenities. The award also praises Monteverde for fitting in visually with the surrounding environment even while achieving a greater density than is found in much of Orinda, which is zoned primarily for single-family homes.
Award-Winning Design on a Steep Grade
The four-story building is on a 1.4-acre site, nestled in a hillside with a 17 percent slope descending to Orinda Way. The building’s 3 wings contain 66 one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartments ranging from 617 to 717 square feet. Seven units are set aside for people earning 30 percent of the area median income (AMI), 14 units are for those earning 40 percent of AMI, and 45 are for those making 50 percent of AMI.
Design elements within the building and in each apartment facilitate independent living and aging in place. Common facilities include a library, computer lab, exercise room, salon, community room, and lounges. Five percent of the apartments comply fully with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, and 2 percent comply with ADA standards for residents with sight and hearing impairments. The rest adhere to universal design standards, and Eden Housing will provide ADA-compliant modifications when needed to enable residents to remain in their apartments.
The development features sustainable materials and equipment that conserve resources and reduce Eden Housing’s operating costs. These features include solar photovoltaic and thermal heating systems and ENERGY STAR® appliances. Conservation-oriented site features include drought-tolerant native plants and high-efficiency irrigation. The DAHLIN Group used construction materials with recycled content, and to promote healthful indoor environments, the designers selected paints and flooring that emit low levels of volatile organic compounds. Monteverde achieved gold certification in the GreenPoint Rated New Home Multifamily certification system through these and other measures, including being located within walking distance to public transit.
The site’s 40-foot change in elevation presented a difficult design challenge, particularly because Monteverde is home to seniors who may have impaired mobility. The developers made use of two level areas on the site that remained when the city’s former library was demolished. Using the preexisting pads minimized excavation and grading costs and, says John Thatch, senior principal and director of design at the DAHLIN Group, “responded to existing conditions in a natural way.” The pads accommodate the building’s main floor, including the main building entry, and a nearby courtyard. An accessible path links the building to the onsite parking garage, an adjacent park, and a bus stop on Orinda Way.
In response to community concerns that the building would be too large, the building is stepped back so that only a small portion of its fourth story is visible from Orinda Way. Despite worries raised during the review of the 47-unit-per-acre development, the community is pleased with the result, says Drummond Buckley, planning director for the city of Orinda. “It’s been a valuable exercise for Orindans to be able to see what density actually looks like in a location like this,” says Buckley. The development’s design has been lauded outside of the city as well; in addition to the AIA/HUD Secretary’s award, the project received several prizes, including the 2015 Gold Nugget Grand Award in the category of Seniors Housing Community, Active Adult/Independent Living.
Developing a Highly Desirable but Deed-Restricted Site
Monteverde provides senior housing near Orinda’s downtown, which a city housing needs assessment recommended in 1999. The development is adjacent to the Orinda Community Center and Community Center Park. Across Orinda Way from the development are a supermarket, post office, and other retail shops. Public transit is nearby as well, with a local bus stop in front of Monteverde and a Bay Area Rapid Transit station within walking distance.
Even though the city, which owned the property, had designated it as a potential site for affordable housing, the East Bay Municipal Utility District held a deed restriction to the property that limited its use to a public benefit, and affordable senior housing did not qualify. Woody Karp, Eden Housing’s senior project developer, persuaded the utility district board that private, nonprofit affordable housing for seniors was indeed a public benefit. The city, which owned the site, agreed to this interpretation and provided the land to Eden Housing at no cost. The city also supported Eden Housing’s development by rezoning the site as a multifamily district, which allows senior housing facilities at a density of up to 38 units per acre. Because state law allows affordable housing projects a density bonus, Monteverde was permitted a financially feasible density. The city also adopted a new parking standard for multifamily senior housing, requiring 0.5 spaces per apartment along with spaces for staff and guests, resulting in 43 total parking spaces.
Development costs for Monteverde totaled $23 million, which includes demolishing the former public library and remediating the asbestos and lead paint (table 1). The largest source of funding came from 9 percent low-income housing tax credits, which generated $10.7 million. Other funding came from private loans, the city, HUD, and other public agencies. In addition, Monteverde provides project-based vouchers for all residents so that they pay a maximum of 30 percent of their income toward the rent.
|Low-income housing tax credit equity||$10,711,000|
|HOME Investment Partnerships Program loan||2,040,000|
|Community Development Block Grant funding||2,050,000|
|City of Orinda||2,050,000|
Future Affordable Housing for Seniors
According to Buckley, affordable housing advocates continue to express interest in additional senior housing near Monteverde Senior Apartments. Eden Housing is currently building two projects elsewhere in Contra Costa County. One is a 63-unit mixed-use project in the city of El Cerrito, which will include a senior center. Another project, in the city of Richmond, will provide 79 units for low-income seniors. The project’s financing includes money from California’s Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program, which promotes transit-oriented development using proceeds from the state’s cap and trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
U.S. Census Bureau. n.d. “QuickFacts: Orinda city, California.” Accessed 21 November 2017; U.S. Census Bureau. American Factfinder. n.d. “Orinda city, California: Selected Housing Characteristics, 2011–2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates.” Accessed 21 November 2017; DAHLIN Group. n.d. “Creating Connections in Affordable Senior Housing.” Accessed 21 November 2017; Eden Housing. 2014. “Orinda Senior Apartments: Frequently Asked Questions.” Accessed 21 November 2017; Interview with Woody Karp, senior project developer, Eden Housing, 30 October 2017; DAHLIN Group. n.d. “Monteverde Senior Apartments.” Accessed 21 November 2017; American Institute of Architects. 2017. “2017 AIA/HUD Secretary’s Awards: Monteverde Senior Apartments.” Accessed 21 November 2017; Correspondence from Drummond Buckley, planning director, city of Orinda, 16 November 2017.×
DAHLIN Group. n.d. “Monteverde Senior Apartments.” Accessed 21 November 2017; Correspondence from Woody Karp, senior project developer, Eden Housing, 17 November 2017; American Institute of Architects East Bay. 2015. “Project Profile: Monteverde Senior Apartments.” Accessed 21 November 2017; Interview with Woody Karp, 30 October 2017.×
Interview with Woody Karp, senior project manager Eden Housing, 30 October 2017; Correspondence from Woody Karp, 4 December 2017; Document provided by Woody Karp.×
Interview with Woody Karp, senior project manager Eden Housing, 30 October 2017; Document provided by Woody Karp; Build It Green. n.d. “About Build It Green.” Accessed 26 November 2017.×
Correspondence from John Thatch, 13 November 2017; American Institute of Architects. 2017. “2017 AIA/HUD Secretary’s Awards: Monteverde Senior Apartments.” Accessed 21 November 2017.×
Interview with Drummond Buckley, 1 November 2017; DAHLIN Group. n.d. “Monteverde Senior Apartments.” Accessed 21 November 2017.×
Interview with Woody Karp, senior project developer, Eden Housing, 30 October 2017; Interview with Drummond Buckley, 1 November 2017; Correspondence from Drummond Buckley, 16 November 2017.×
Interview with Woody Karp, 30 October 2017; Interview with Drummond Buckley, 1 November 2017.×
Interview with Woody Karp, 30 October 2017.×
Interview with Drummond Buckley, 1 November 2017; Interview with Woody Karp, 30 October 2017.×