Photograph of the front façade of a five-story building with commercial space on the first floor and residences on the upper floors. Photograph of the two street façades of the five story building with two sets of solar panels on the roof extending down four stories on the side façade. Each one-bedroom apartment includes a “front porch” that overlooks the building’s courtyard. Photograph of three men sitting at tables on rooftop terrace shaded by an array of solar panels. Photograph of a man walking on a concrete path elevated above beds planted with bamboo and ground cover. Cross-section of the building illustrating air currents through the apartments that are generated by the courtyard’s cool micro climate; the drawing also indicates other sustainable features, including the rooftop solar hot water system and solar panels.

 

Home >Case Studies >West Hollywood, California: Housing for Persons with Disabilities at Sierra Bonita Apartments

 

West Hollywood, California: Housing for Persons with Disabilities at Sierra Bonita Apartments

 

Sierra Bonita Apartments in West Hollywood, a mixed-use development that opened in 2010, includes 41 one-bedroom apartments for very low-income disabled residents. Developed by the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation (WHCHC) and designed by Patrick Tighe, winner of the Mercedes T. Bass Rome Prize for Architecture, the 50,000-square-foot building was the first in West Hollywood constructed to the specifications of the city’s 2007 Green Building Ordinance. At the same time, Sierra Bonita Apartments has helped reduce blight in the city’s Eastside neighborhood. In recognition of these accomplishments, the development has won multiple local and national awards, including a 2011 Award of Excellence for Project Design from the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials and the 2014 American Institute of Architects (AIA)/HUD Secretary’s Alan J. Rothman Award for excellence in improving housing accessibility for people with disabilities.

A Building that Addresses a Broad Mandate

In West Hollywood, a city within Los Angeles county with a population of 35,000 people, approximately 14 percent of the population is disabled. That number includes people living with HIV and AIDS, which devastated the city during the peak of the AIDS crisis; nearly 10,000 West Hollywood residents died of AIDS between its 1981 discovery and 2012, although the death rate has slowed dramatically in recent years. In addition, because much of West Hollywood’s housing was built before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, few buildings in the city are accessible for people with disabilities. Sierra Bonita Apartments was meant to meet the needs of these groups, says Robin Conerly, executive director of WHCHC. Other goals for the project were to kick-start redevelopment in the Eastside Redevelopment Area, provide affordable office space for nonprofits, and accomplish it all in a building designed to be an “art piece.”

When Sierra Bonita Apartments opened, nearly 2,200 people applied for the 42 apartments, underscoring the city’s urgent need for affordable housing. All residents have HIV, mental illness, or a mobility disability, or they participate in the state’s In-Home Supportive Services program, which provides aid for independent living. Fourteen apartments are for households earning 30 percent or less of the area median income (AMI), or approximately $17,300 for a single person; 23 units are for those earning up to 50 percent of AMI ($28,800 for a single person); and 4 are for those earning up to 60 percent of AMI ($43,600 for a single person). One apartment is reserved for the building manager. Current rents range from $382 to $1,070 per month. Project-based vouchers lower the rent for 32 units, and rents for 3 apartments comply with the state’s low-income housing tax credit allocation limits. Residents of five units have housing choice vouchers, and one tenant receives assistance from the Shelter Plus Care voucher program.

An Environmentally, Socially, and Economically Sustainable Building

Tighe integrated sustainable components throughout the building’s design. Most noticeable are two photovoltaic arrays on the building’s southwestern façade. The panels fold over the building’s roof to create a canopy for terraces that the residents share. The solar panels provide all of the power for the building’s common spaces. Similarly, a solar water heating system on the roof serves the entire building. All the residential units feature energy-efficient appliances. These environmentally sustainable components also reduce rents, a bonus for tenants living on limited incomes.

Other environmental components include native and drought-tolerant landscaping such as bamboo, which forms a lush, massive forest around the building’s courtyard. These plants create a microclimate with an average temperature that is 10 degrees cooler than outside the building. The roofless courtyard is also integral to the building’s design for cross-ventilation; hot air in the apartments, exchanged with the cooled air in the courtyard, rises up and out of the building, diminishing the need for costly air conditioning. In addition, the building is located in the heart of West Hollywood and is within walking distance of public transit, shops, doctors’ offices, and other services. At Plummer Park, a half-mile away, the city runs a comprehensive senior center that offers fitness and education classes, counseling, and case management. The park also hosts a weekly farmer’s market where residents can buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

Opportunities for social interaction are another critical component of the building’s design, says Tighe. Residents enter their apartments through the courtyard, which he calls the heart of the building. Each apartment has a “front porch” facing the courtyard to provide opportunities for social interaction. In addition to the two rooftop terraces, other shared amenities for residents include rooms for storage and laundry, as well as a community room at ground level.

Approximately 3,000 square feet of commercial space, occupied by a WHCHC office, fronts on Santa Monica Boulevard. An onsite WHCHC resident services coordinator provides crisis management and “maintains a high level of awareness of how people are doing,” says Conerly. WHCHC also leases some of its space to Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, a social services agency that provides case management for residents. Specific services include assistance with budgeting, benefits counseling, mental health counseling, and referrals to food banks, legal services, and transportation services for residents who need accessible bus service.

Financing

Construction costs totaled $14.1 million for Sierra Bonita, and $4.4 million was provided for reserves for services and rents (table 1). Funding included loans from the state’s Multifamily Housing Program, Los Angeles County’s HOME Investment Partnerships program, and the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco’s Affordable Housing Program. Much of the project’s funding came from low-income housing tax credit equity.

Table 1. Financing for Sierra Bonita Apartments

Low-income housing tax credits (4%)

$6,759,690

Multifamily Housing Program

3,786,240

City of West Hollywood

4,513,089

HOME program

3,000,000

Affordable Housing Program

350,672

General partner equity

50,100

Total

$18,459,791

Reducing Blight in Eastside

Redevelopment efforts in the Eastside neighborhood stalled during the recession and following the state’s dissolution of local redevelopment agencies. But in February 2014, West Hollywood’s city council created the Eastside Working Group to prepare a community plan to guide land use, economic development, and other aspects of revitalization in the area. Private development is also gaining traction with three market-rate multifamily developments recently built near Sierra Bonita Apartments. By replacing a vacant automobile repair shop, Sierra Bonita “adds a sparkle to the area,” says Elizabeth Savage, director of the city’s Department of Human Services and Rent Stabilization. The development has reduced blight, embodied green building practices, and provided supportive housing in a way that unites environmental, social, and economic sustainability.

Source:

West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation. n.d. “Sierra Bonita.” Accessed 10 June 2015; Interview with Elizabeth Savage, director, Department of Human Services and Rent Stabilization, city of West Hollywood, 5 June 2015; Interview with Robin Conerly, executive director, West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation, 29 May 2015; West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation. n.d. “Awards and Honors.” Accessed 11 June 2015.

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Source:

City of West Hollywood. 2013. “City of West Hollywood 2013 Community Study,” 2.2, 3.41. Accessed 14 May 2015; City Council of West Hollywood. 2012. “AIDS Monument and Platform for Community,” 2. Accessed 15 May 2015; Interview with Elizabeth Savage, director, Department of Human Services and Rent Stabilization, city of West Hollywood, 14 May 2015; Interview with Robin Conerly, 29 May 2015.

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Source:

Interview with Robin Conerly, 29 May 2015; Document provided by Elizabeth Savage, director, Department of Human Services and Rent Stabilization, city of West Hollywood.

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Source:

Correspondence from Patrick Tighe, 9 June 2015; Interview with Patrick Tighe, 29 May 2015; Documents prepared for West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation in its application for the American Institute of Architects/HUD Secretary’s Housing and Community Design Award.

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Source:

Interview with Patrick Tighe, 29 May 2015; Interview with Robin Conerly, 29 May 2015.

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Source:

Interview with Patrick Tighe, 29 May 2015; Correspondence from Patrick Tighe, 9 June 2015; Documents prepared for West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation in its application for the American Institute of Architects/HUD Secretary’s Housing and Community Design Award.

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Source:

Interview with Robin Conerly, 29 May 2015.

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Source:

Interview with Robin Conerly, 29 May 2015; Correspondence from Robin Conerly, 9 June 2015; Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco. n.d. “2007 Round B Affordable Housing Program Project Descriptions,” 10. Accessed 10 June 2015; Community Development Commission, County of Los Angeles. 2007. “Loan Agreement with 7530 Santa Monica, L.P to Develop 42 Units of Affordable Multifamily Rental Housing in the City of Los Angeles.” Accessed 10 June 2015.

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Source:

Interview with Robin Conerly, 29 May 2015; Interview with Elizabeth Savage, 5 June 2015.

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