Blending Housing Solutions for Youth and Older Adults: Celadon at 9th and Broadway

by Maya Brennan

Most housing challenges are about income, and income is often hard to come by at the bookends of adulthood. Youth exiting the foster care system are propelled straight into housing and labor markets that are not designed for self-sufficiency at minimum wage ($7.25 an hour federally, which converts to $15,080 annually for a full-time worker). For older adults living alone, incomes are not much higher. According to the Social Security Administration, the median income for single adults ages 65 and over was $19,656 in 2014. Low-income households trying to find shelter at market rates face dangerous trade-offs between food, health care, and housing. To prevent the challenges faced by low-income households, communities need affordable housing development and preservation.

Low-income families often need additional supportive services to attain a feasible pathway to self-sufficiency or live a healthy life. The National Youth in Transition survey found that 43 percent of youth transitioning out of foster care had experienced homelessness by age 21, and more than 25 percent had been homeless in the prior two years. Between ages 19 and 21, 1 in 4 had become a parent, 1 in 5 had been incarcerated, and 1 in 10 had a referral for substance abuse issues. The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Healthy Aging Begins at Home report found that around 70 percent of adults ages 65 and older will need long-term service and supports. More than half of adults ages 85 and older who do not live in a long-term-care setting have functional limitations that impede their ability to carry out daily activities.

Communities can serve frail older adults, youth exiting foster care, and others with significant challenges to self-sufficiency through service-enriched housing. Offering housing and supports to the most vulnerable among us is not only a moral imperative, but can also yield cost savings compared with allowing problems to worsen.

A Prime Service-Enriched Housing Location

San Diego–area housing costs are more reasonable than in the Silicon Valley area, but are still prohibitively expensive for families on limited incomes. Furthermore, rents in the area are rising as new supply fails to keep up with population growth. The pattern may look familiar: tight supply, limited new development mostly serving higher-income households, and displacement of households with lower earnings to the metropolitan fringe—leading to extremely low vacancy rates in these lower-cost areas.

A low-income household might find one of the rare vacancies along the Highway 78 corridor or in the East County area, but would need to contend with the cost and time involved in commuting back to the core to access medical or social services, find work, or pursue higher education. The area needs more affordable housing near service and employment hubs, and it needs more services and jobs in lower-cost areas.

Celadon at 9th and Broadway seems to do both. Developed by the nonprofit BRIDGE Housing, the property has 248 income-restricted apartments (plus two staff units) in the up-and-coming East Village neighborhood near downtown, along with street-level commercial space in what had been a parking lot. The apartments include 63 units for frail older adults as part of the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly and 25 units of supportive housing for youth exiting foster care or adults in need of mental health services. The remaining units offer affordability for households earning up to 60 percent of the area median income.

Over the past 30 years, the East Village neighborhood has changed from older warehouses and vacant lots to the area’s homeless services hub to its current urban mix: luxury residences, artists, entrepreneurs, and homeless services. The community seems to change block by block and lot by lot. Creating and preserving income-restricted housing and adding home-based services for vulnerable populations can allow all residents to benefit from the changes before developable land is no longer available.

The East Village is also well suited for multigenerational housing. The community’s resources meet the needs of youth and older adults, including transit, a new library, and close proximity to San Diego City College and San Diego Senior Citizen Services.

A Complex Puzzle with Multiple Benefits

Achieving BRIDGE’s vision for Celadon at 9th and Broadway—an all-in-one community of affordable housing, supportive housing, youth and senior housing, sustainability, and commercial space—required patience, expertise, innovation, and layered public support. The building combines 9 percent and 4 percent low-income housing tax credits in the state’s first vertical division of a tax credit property: floors 1 through 7 used 9 percent credits, while floors 8 through 17 used 4 percent credits. Considering the low incomes and high needs of many of the property’s intended residents, more resources were needed to make the financing work. These resources included publicly owned land, a reduced parking requirement, and low-cost financing from the California Department of Housing and Community Development Multifamily Housing Program, the state’s Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) Housing Program, the Federal Home Loan Bank’s Affordable Housing Program, and a loan commitment made before the city’s redevelopment agency closed.

The resulting building serves multiple generations’ needs and blends the old and new of San Diego’s East Village. It is a LEED Gold–certified high-rise with a rooftop garden, solar panels, secure bike racks, and a gourmet hot dog restaurant on the ground level and an affordable and supportive housing development that serves vulnerable populations who have long been drawn to the East Village to access social services. Having achieved so much in a single building, the development has attracted local, national, and international attention. The property was featured in The Edge, the magazine for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Policy Development and Research, and won the Downtown San Diego Partnership’s Alonzo Award for its sustainable design, a financing award from the National Association of Home Builders, and an Urban Land Institute Global Award for Excellence.

Some of the policies that made it possible—while offering economic and social benefits to the whole community and leveraging the skills of the public, private, and nonprofit sectors—have gone away, and others could follow. A major funding source for the property was a $22 million loan approved just before the dissolution of California’s redevelopment agencies. Other funds came from a temporary MHSA housing finance program. Unlike the redevelopment funds, when the MHSA program ended, the state’s housing finance agency created a new Special Needs Housing Program to take its place. Other essential pieces of the affordable housing finance puzzle—including low-income housing tax credits and federal block grant funds (e.g., the Community Development Block Grant and the HOME Investment Partnerships Program) that are distributed by states—still exist but are not large enough to fill community’s affordable housing gaps.

Celadon is not just a San Diego story, and it is not only a multigenerational supportive housing story. The development shows that human problems are also human opportunities. When a clear solution to local needs met roadblocks, it became a challenge for BRIDGE to navigate rather than the end of the road.

Housing problems are often income problems that need a housing policy solution. Working more hours or seeking career advancement can only do so much, especially for people who are not yet skilled workers and people who face physical and mental limitations to full-time employment. Even healthy adults with a solid job history can find their earning power stymied by a changing labor market.

To maintain the current housing supply or support the costs of new development, rents can only go so low. And to provide supports for youth exiting foster care, persons with disabilities, and frail older adults, resident service programs need reliable funds.

Through exemplary affordable and supportive housing communities like Celadon, the nation can reduce homelessness, help people address barriers to success, and create places that appeal to and serve the diversity of a community’s residents. Increasingly, policymakers and mission-driven developers have evidence about what works and how to do it. We just need the fortitude and political will to get it done.

Photo by Stephen Whalen, courtesy of BRIDGE Housing.