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Salinas, California:
Sherwood Village Senior Apartments


Sherwood Village Senior Apartments is a 124-unit affordable housing project in Salinas, California developed by Community Housing Improvement Systems and Planning Association (CHISPA) of Salinas. The adaptive reuse project, which won the 2011 HUD Secretary’s Opportunity and Empowerment Award, includes the rehabilitation of three antiquated motel buildings and the construction of a new community center. Sherwood Village meets the growing demand for housing among low-income seniors and the project includes many features, from its location along a public transit route to the solar panels installed on the roofs of the structures, which embodies sustainable, resource efficient housing.

Project Context and History

The scarcity of developable land combined with the socioeconomic characteristics of Salinas drives the city’s demand for affordable senior housing. Located between the Santa Lucia Mountains to the southwest and the Gabilan Mountains to the east, Salinas sits in the heart of one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. The temperate climate and the rich, fertile soils of California’s central coast support an agriculture industry in Monterey County with 2010 production values of more than $4 billion.1 Due to the importance of farmland to the region's livelihood, most new development in Salinas is concentrated in designated growth areas established by the city’s general plan.2

The average median income in Salinas is approximately $6,700 less than in Monterey County as a whole. Approximately 50 percent of the city’s occupied units are rented, and the median income of these households is more than $37,000 less than that of households in owner-occupied units. Median household income for those over 65 years old is less than $32,000, and nearly 60 percent of the seniors who rent in Salinas meet the standard for housing cost burden, making their need for affordable housing particularly acute.3,4 Based on these factors as well as the rising percentage of elderly residents in Salinas, the city’s 2006 – 2010 consolidated housing plan called for adding 300 new housing units for low- and very low-income residents over the age of 65.

CHISPA considered the location of the motel property, and the site specifically, to be particularly attractive for several reasons. First, rehabilitating the three motel structures would cost approximately 25 percent less than new construction because of savings from infrastructure and construction costs; the average cost per unit was approximately $180,000. Second, in keeping with CHISPA’s dedication to infill housing development, rehabilitating the existing buildings would preserve farmland in the rich Salinas Valley. Choosing a site close to transit and services would benefit senior citizens while also putting CHISPA at a competitive advantage in securing financing for the project through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program; California is one of 30 states that allocate points toward LIHTCs for projects located near public transportation.5 Lastly, the senior housing development would provide Salinas with nearly half of the 300 housing units for seniors identified in its consolidated plan, and the project would restore a site in a highly visible area of the city that had lost much of its commercial viability and become a breeding ground for illicit activities.

Planning and Financing

Before CHISPA could acquire the property, regulatory and financing details needed to be coordinated to ensure the project’s successful completion, and CHISPA’s strong partnership and successful history of working with the city were critical to facilitating this process. Between 2004 and 2006, CHISPA worked with the city to coordinate zoning and general plan amendments that would allow the organization to convert the motel to multifamily housing. Working concurrently with the city’s planning and housing staff, the site’s zoning was changed from commercial to high-density residential, and housing density bonuses were allocated to the project that allowed CHISPA to maximize the development potential of the existing motel structures. Because the project was targeted for senior citizens, the density bonus allotment increased the number of housing units allowed on the 3-acre site from approximately 70 to 124. In addition, minimum open space and parking requirements were reduced because the project was well served by public transportation and close to city parks.

Once the regulatory details were finalized, CHISPA received $2.5 million in Community Development Block Grant and HOME program funds from the city to acquire the property. In a move typical of CHISPA’s innovative approach, the nonprofit developer operated the motel business after its acquisition as it coordinated the remaining financing necessary to complete the project. In total, the organization coordinated approximately $22 million to fund the project, with the majority of the financing coming from the $15.9 million dollars in LIHTCs awarded to the project from the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee.

Design and Rehabilitation

Once the initial financing was secured and the necessary regulatory components were in place, redesign and rehabilitation of the three motel buildings could begin. The challenge for the architects was to transform the former motel rooms into homes and redesign a site originally designed to attract travelers along an arterial road for permanent residential living.

To accommodate the need for one- and two-bedroom apartments in buildings of varying size, the architects used five floor plans. Approximately half of the one-bedroom units were designed using the footprint of the former motel rooms. The remaining units were created by combining multiple motel rooms and reconfiguring the interior walls to create the necessary living space. The project includes 102 one-bedroom units ranging in size from 500 to 533 square feet and 24 two-bedroom units that are 720 square feet. Outside the units, the former motel walkways were partitioned with outdoor storage spaces built out from the interior walls and the rooflines were altered and extended to create private outdoor seating areas for each unit.

The community center, which was the only new building constructed for the project, was conceived through a partnership with a host of other organizations and serves as the focal point for both the social and the spatial organization of the site. Inside the multipurpose building residents can take classes, use computers, exercise in the fitness center, do laundry, and visit with friends in the lounge. On the outside, the building acts to better define pedestrian circulation and increases the privacy of the interior units by creating a focal element in the center of the site that screens the apartments from one another by limiting site-lines across the property. Other features, including a low-perimeter fence that shields the property from the busy arterial road, help define the open space adjacent to the community center and enhance the privacy for residents.

Innovation and Special Features

From its redesign to its existing operations Sherwood Village includes many “firsts” that make it an exemplary model for affordable, sustainable housing development. The rehabilitation of the motel marked the first adaptive reuse project ever completed by CHISPA and the first motel conversion to housing in the city of Salinas. By preserving the motel structures, the organization conserved natural resources — in terms of raw materials and farmland — and prevented unnecessary waste from going to the landfill. Of the construction debris removed during the rehabilitation, close to 75 percent was recycled and even the motel furniture was donated to charity. Sustainable design features were not limited to resource conservation; an onsite rain garden protects water resources by filtering the rainwater collected from the roof before it is released into the local watershed.

The operation of Sherwood Village also includes many sustainable features. The project was the first in the state to utilize the Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing program (MASH). MASH provides up-front, performance based capital for the installation of solar panels on multifamily buildings that serve low-income residents. The solar panels at Sherwood Village are used to generate electricity in the common areas of the buildings and generate approximately 105,000 kilowatts of energy annually. This translates into an annual savings of approximately $23,000 for CHISPA, which still manages the property. The installation of energy star appliances in each apartment helps reduce electricity consumption by residents and a 98 percent efficient central gas furnace ensures resource conservation in space and hot water heating.

The capital investments made in clean energy production and energy efficiency are not the only sustainable features at Sherwood Village. Through an innovative composting and recycling program — that included YouTube instructional videos explaining how to recycle and compost — tenants learned how to integrate sustainability into their daily routines. As a result of the program, approximately 9 tons of material is recycled annually that would have otherwise gone to the landfill and the program is recognized as a model for other apartment complexes in the city. The location of the project along an arterial road in proximity to a variety of services allows nearly one-third of Sherwood Village residents to live without cars. Instead, they rely on more sustainable forms of transportation, including the bus, walking, and cycling.

Experience Gained

Although the project outcome is successful, there were challenges and unexpected hurdles that had to be overcome in managing the rehabilitation. Once contractors began the work of gutting the building, they realized that some of the footings — detailed in the 60-year-old building plans and necessary to support a two-story structure — had never been poured. Soon after, engineers discovered the rear corner of the parking lot had been filled with trash and debris and had the potential to become a sinkhole if the material was not removed and the area filled with soil and re-graded. These issues were handled expeditiously and did not significantly alter the 18-month timeframe for the development or exceed the $1 million construction contingency set aside for such unanticipated costs. The ultimate lesson from these obstacles is to be nimble and decisive in responding to unanticipated challenges.

Sherwood Village has allowed many residents who had been priced out of the Salinas housing market to return to independent living in the city they once called home. The current waiting list of more than 100 would-be residents underscores the success of the project as well as the need for more innovative housing solutions that prioritize needs of residents with sustainable design features. CHISPA’s positive experience with the adaptive reuse of the motel has led the organization to consider similar adaptive reuse projects in Salinas and elsewhere in Monterey County.

  1. Monterey County Crop Report 2010, Monterrey County Office of the Agricultural Commissioner.

  2. City of Salinas Housing Element Report 2007-2014. March 2011.

  3. HUD defines “cost burdened” households as those that spend more than 30 percent annual median income on housing costs (rent/mortgage and utilities).

  4. U.S. Census Bureau. 2005 – 2009 American Community Survey, 5-year estimates.

  5. National Housing Trust. 2010. “Proximity to Transit Preference in LIHTC Program.”