Newsfront - October 21, 2005
More affordable housing for seniors on Hartz Way
For-profit builder creates 22-unit complex with private funds
by Casey Reivich
Willow Commons, a 22-unit affordable housing apartment complex at the eastern end of Hartz Way, is scheduled to open next month.
The new apartments, which have taken a year to build, will be reserved for independent seniors, age 62 and older, and developmentally disabled young adults, said builder and co-owner Robert Storer. He also serves as a planning commissioner with the town of Danville.
A percentage of the 22 units will be set aside for adults with disabilities. The apartment building fulfills all of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, said Storer.
"It would be nice if we could get Danville residents to continue to live in Danville," said Storer. "Especially disabled adults."
Being close to the restaurants and shops in downtown Danville benefits adults living with disabilities and seniors, Storer believes.
The project directly abuts Sycamore Place on Laurel Drive. Sycamore Place, an attractive 74-unit affordable housing complex for seniors, was built by nonprofit Bridge Housing in 2003. It was built almost entirely with state and federal funds, said Kevin Gailey, Chief of Planning for Danville.
Willow Commons, though designated affordable like the apartments in Sycamore Place, is owned and will be operated by a for-profit business. Gailey said it is unusual that a for-profit business would develop affordable housing, without state and federal funds.
"A lot of people ask Robert and his brother: 'Why are you doing this?'" said Gailey. "This is largely a unique effort."
Storer sees Willow Commons as an example of how affordable housing can be made viable for a private business. It would not have been possible, however, without the support of Danville and utility companies like EBMUD, said Storer.
In addition to granting Willow Commons higher density zoning, which allowed it to have more apartment units, Danville is postponing the costly building and permit fees until Willow Commons is up and running. These two fees alone total $150,000, said Storer.
"I can get the building stable before paying the fees," said Storer. "The town and builders must partner. Builders can't do it on their own." Storer praised the town for its work toward affordable housing.
"Danville is very proactive," said Storer. "We're in an area that's not affordable, and the town is trying to create niches that are affordable."
Storer also appealed to EBMUD to lower the water fee schedule. Because the fee schedule is based on actual utilization and seniors typically use less water, he lobbied to be charged at a lower rate. Danville officials wrote a letter in support of his efforts.
"He's doing the right thing here. He needs what he can get to make this a viable project," said Gailey.
Willow Commons is like any other apartment complex. It collects rent, but the rent has been designated affordable. Rents are based on a moderate rent base for Contra Costa County. Willow Commons includes studio, one bedroom and two bedroom apartments, all with different floor plans, so the rent varies, from $970 to $1,650.
There used to be six homes on Hartz Way, explained Storer. The town purchased five of the homes and sold them for $1 to Bridge Housing, an affordable housing developer in California. Those five homes were developed into Sycamore Place.
The sixth home on Hartz Way was owned by Bob Morris. Storer, along with his brother David Storer, partnered with Morris in developing the property into affordable housing.
"It seemed like a good use of property, considering we were adjacent to Bridge Housing," said Storer. "It was the natural continuation of a good idea."
Willows Common and Sycamore Place are both Craftsman in style. In order to create a sense of continuity between the two residences, the fence has been lowered from six feet to three-and-a-half feet, said Storer. He hopes the lowered fence encourages residents to socialize.
There will also be a community bocce ball court at Willow Commons that residents of Sycamore Place are welcome to use. Willow Commons has also worked out an agreement to use some of Sycamore Place's excess parking.
Willow Commons started accepting applications yesterday. For more information, call (510) 614-6200.
In addition to Willow Commons, Danville has an 80-unit affordable senior care facility in the works. Tentatively scheduled to open in 2007, the facility will be on property owned by St. Isidore Church on La Gonda Way.