group seeks $53M
by Matthew S. Bajko
The hunt is on to find $53 million to build what project sponsors say will be the country's largest affordable housing development for LGBT seniors.
Openhouse, a San Francisco-based agency focused on LGBT elders, has plans to construct 110 units of senior housing at the 55 Laguna project in the city's lower Haight and upper Market neighborhoods. It is part of a larger in-fill development that will see an additional 330 new multi-family rental units built at what was the UC Berkeley Extension campus.
Last week, for the second time in four years, the city's Planning Commission signed off on the project. Wood Partners, the lead developer, needed to go back before the oversight panel because it changed the layout of its planned residential buildings as well the location of a community garden and other public amenities.
Officials at Openhouse have spent years laying the groundwork to build housing for the city's aging LGBT population at the site. It is estimated that more than 25,000 LGBT seniors live in San Francisco, with many lacking access to services and housing options that are sensitive to their needs.
"The unanimous Planning Commission vote is a green light to finally make this project happen," lang=UZ-CYR>Marcy Adelman, Ph.D., Openhouse's founder and a current board member, told the Bay Area Reporter after the meeting August 16. "It has taken the tireless work and determination of Openhouse staff, board, and the LGBT community and allies to make this happen. There is much to celebrate and much work still to be done."
Openhouse and its partner on the project, Mercy Housing California, can now start to apply for local and federal funding to finance their portion of the development.
The senior housing will be divided between two buildings. The renovation of Richardson Hall, a historic landmark building located at the corner of Laguna and Hermann streets, will result in 40 units plus a 2,500 square foot corner ground floor retail space. It is estimated to cost $20 million.
Next door the existing administration wing of Richardson Hall will be demolished. In its place Openhouse and Mercy plan to construct a new seven-story building containing 70 units estimated to cost $33 million.
It will also contain a 7,500 square foot senior center, with activity areas and a dining room, where the agency can provide services to residents and LGBT seniors citywide.
The majority of the senior rental units will be one bedrooms, with 11 studios and four two-bedrooms. Their size will range from 325 to 840 square feet.
Openhouse officials expect to secure funding from a variety of sources. They will be applying for funds from the local Mayor's Office of Housing, the federal U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and from a low-income tax credit financing program overseen by the state.
"We feel we have a terrific project that will be very, very competitive," said Openhouse Executive Director Seth Kilbourn. "We can now start talking about when 55 Laguna will get built and not if 55 Laguna will be built. I have no doubt we will secure the funding we need to build."
Community leaders are anxious to see the housing be built.
"It is time to get ground breaking here. It has been four years too long," said Jazzie Collins, a transgender woman with the Senior Action Network, during last week's hearing.
In the meantime, Openhouse and Mercy will be fine-tuning the design for the new building, which should be finalized next summer. The plan calls for construction to be done in phases, with the remodel of Richardson Hall completed first.
"Our intention is to begin construction on Richardson Hall in two years," said Kilbourn.
If everything goes as planned, the first residents would move into their units sometime in 2015. Jerome "Jerry" Cuffey, 60, a certified massage therapist and health educator, would like to be among them.
"I am two to three years away from retiring. I hope to do that and live in this wonderful space," Cuffey said during the Planning Commission hearing.
He said the city's LGBT seniors "really need" to have services and housing located in one central location.
"I've never seen anything like it. It is fantastic," said Cuffey.
The land will still be owned by the University of California, which has signed a 99-year lease with the project sponsors to occupy the site. Construction on the larger market-rate housing could begin later this year.
Due to pressure from neighborhood groups and housing activists, not only will the senior housing be affordable but the project will also include 50 below-market-rate units. A financing deal announced by the mayor's office just days prior to last week's hearing paved the way for Wood Partners to agree to have language specifying that it has to build the 50 units on site as part of the conditional use permit.
Mayor's Office of Housing Director Olson Lee, in a letter sent to the Planning Commission, wrote that the city, Openhouse, and Mercy Housing had come up with a financing plan to acquire the parcel for the senior housing that did not rely on Wood Partners having to pay an inclusionary housing in lieu fee.
According to Lee's letter, the senior housing project had secured a commitment for financing from a third party to cover a majority of the $6.3 million ground lease prepayment. Lee informed the commissioners that his office had budgeted to cover the remaining funds.
"We are grateful to the community and neighborhood stakeholders who participated in a process to prioritize the funding of this acquisition from other sources, and are happy that affordability at the site will be maximized," wrote Lee, who could not be reached for comment.
Tommi Avicolli Mecca, a queer housing rights activist who pushed to make the Openhouse project be 100 percent affordable and fought for the 50 BMR units to be built on site, told the B.A.R. that community leaders had also been sent the MOH letter and that "we are going to hold them to that."
Openhouse moving, city seeks applicants
In other news, Openhouse plans to move its executive offices into the LGBT Community Center, located one block north of the 55 Laguna site. The two agencies are in talks to finalize the terms of the lease.
"Our intention is to move our offices this fall to the LGBT center from the Flood Building," Kilbourn told the B.A.R. this week.
The city is recruiting applicants to serve on the newly created LGBT Seniors Task Force. The 15-member body will be convened later this year and tasked with drafting a report detailing how the city can meet the needs of LGBT seniors and aging adults.
Those persons interested in serving on the panel can download an application at http://www.sfbos.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=19462. The completed forms are due by Monday, August 27.
The Board of Supervisor's Rules Committee is expected to consider applicants at its September 6 meeting. The full board will then vote to approve the Rules Committee's picks.
It is unclear if the members will be selected in time for a forum looking into LGBT elder concerns that the Alice B. Toklas and Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic clubs are hosting Monday, September 10. The clubs' joint meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market Street.