By Kendra Sitton
A $2 million investment into affordable housing means a 190-unit development at the City Heights Transit Center on the border of City Heights and Normal Heights is one step closer to breaking ground. Mission Driving Finance, the San Diego Foundation and Alliance Healthcare provided a collective $2 million initial pre-development investment into the project being put forward by Bridgedeck Partners LLC. Since it can be difficult for affordable housing projects to find investors, this initial investment should help the development find investors to complete the $80 million project.
The funding allowed Bridgedeck Partners, made up of local affordable housing developers Naturally Affordable Housing and The Hampstead Companies, to acquire the final parcel on the edge of Normal Heights needed for the project. The first parcel was purchased a little over a year ago after winning a bid with the City of San Diego, according to David Iwashita of Bridgedeck Partners.
The development will fill two empty lots beside the bridge above SR-15. The location has been the site of community advocacy for decades that already resulted in the deck and transit plaza. When CalTrans extended the 15 freeway 2.2 miles into City Heights, 4,000 people living in the freeway’s path were displaced. The community fought for changes to the initial plan, which would reduce pollution and improve public transit options, according to UCSD urban studies professor Jim Bliesner. A major concern of citizen activists was that the freeway broke down community cohesion and split a neighborhood in two.
Iwashita has dedicated his career to improving this area because of his family’s own experience with displacement. His family was interned during World War II in Arizona. When the Japanese people returned to San Diego, many could only find places in the old redevelopment areas in Southeast San Diego.
“When it goes back to eminent domain and these old redevelopment areas, and why they’re so near and dear to my heart, is because of cycles of different pain that occurred in those areas,” he explained.
City Heights remains housing stressed to this day. The finished project will be reserved for people earning between 50 and 60% of the area median income. The units come in a variety of sizes from studios to three-bedroom apartments. Many affordable housing projects only include small units so multi-bedroom options will be particularly helpful for low- and very low-income families according to Sarah Lyman, Executive Director of Alliance Healthcare Foundation. Its location next to public transit foregoing the need for a car is also attractive to families.
“Housing is one of the primary social determinants of health and it’s critical that we continue to grow as an active contributor to affordable housing solutions,” Lyman said.
The project will receive funding from the city, county and housing commission. Bridgedeck Partners particularly credited current County Chair Nathan Fletcher and Councilmember Stephen Whitburn for their support. Past city councilmembers Georgette Gomez and Chris Ward helped with the development as well.
“San Diego needs to have affordable homes for everyone. This project is a perfect example of what we need—housing that is accessible to transit and financially within reach for low-income and working San Diegans. I look forward to seeing more projects like this come to District 3 and throughout all of San Diego so that we can ensure housing opportunities for all,” Whitburn said in a statement.
A challenge in creating affordable housing is the many types of funding that need to be managed – from tax credits to affordable housing deals to grants and loans. Permits and government approval processes add another layer of difficult.
“It’s like playing seven-dimensional Sudoku,” said Laruen Grattan, co-founder and chief community officer of Mission Driven Finance.
“We were delighted to be able to use finance as a tool for change and help structure this $2 million engagement combined across our firm, the San Diego foundation and Alliance Healthcare Foundation in order to get that crucial early capital that allows senior lenders, construction financing, permit financing time to come forth,” she continued. “Because we want to see great projects like this – hundreds of units of affordable housing right on a transit corridor.”
While the path to creating affordable housing projects is still extremely complicated and difficult, recent state laws and changes in local that allow dense infill housing near public transit were essential for having this project move forward.
“I don’t know if the work is going to be easier in terms of getting projects approved but at least there’s a pathway now. And there’s projects that you can build by right now that you could never ever build two or three years ago,” Iwashita said.
— Reach Kendra Sitton at firstname.lastname@example.org.