Structure Awards 2016 Affordable Residential Project Winner Willow Housing 605 Willow Road, Menlo Park
Everyone knows affordable housing projects are difficult to finance, but those challenges grow when developers target the lowest-income earners. The team behind the Willow Housing project in Menlo Park didn’t let that stop them. The Spanish-style project opened early this year, providing 60 units for very-low income veterans.
Getting it done required locking down funding from 10 different sources and making creative use of land. Developers the Core Companies and EAH Housing are leasing the two-acre site on the Veteran Administration’s Menlo Park campus for free under an initiative to put underused VA land to work for homeless housing.
The need is huge: The 2014 Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties’ Homeless Count estimated there are 926 homeless veterans on any given night. The VA says almost 70 percent of all homeless veterans in the region have at least one disability, making it tough to afford the area’s legendary high housing costs.
Rents at the project start at $554 for a studio, and the community includes numerous services to help with employment, health and wellness, financial planning and community building. Proximity to the VA means it’s easy for residents to obtain services there, as well.
Size: 43,760 square feet; 2 acres; 60 units
Cost: $29.5 million
Status: Completed December 2015
Financing: The two-acre site was contributed by the Department of Veterans Affairs through a no-cost, 75-year ground lease. The 9 percent Low Income Housing Tax Credit program and California state tax credits were secured in 2014, generating approximately $13 million in tax credit equity through partnerships with National Equity Fund and Silicon Valley Bank. Additional permanent subordinate debt financing was provided by the city of Menlo Park ($2.9 million), county of San Mateo ($1.2 million), and the Department of Veterans Affairs ($1.6 million).
Unique features: Early in the conceptual design process, formerly homeless veterans provided design input. Roll-in showers and fully adaptable unit designs enable veterans to age in place regardless of mobility impairments. Sound insulation mitigates environmental sound nuisances that can trigger PTSD symptoms. Interior and exterior designs were based on veterans requesting a calm, serene environment.
Tidbit: The building was situated to preserve mature oak trees, which create a serene environment for residents. Many are managing PTSD related to military service and stress associated with homelessness.
Artwork: Wall art throughout the building and a sculpture in the garden area were commissioned through the Veteran Artist Program, a nonprofit that “takes artists who are also veterans, and propels their works and careers into the mainstream creative arts community.”
Developers: The Core Companies and EAH Housing
General contractor: Core Builders
Architect: VTBS Architects
Interior design: HKIT Architects
Non-profit partner and property management: EAH Housing
Insurance provider: Bozzuto & Associates Insurance Agency
Financing: Federal and California Low Income Housing, City of Menlo Park, County of San Mateo, Department of Housing, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Equity Fund, Silicon Valley Bank