By Nancy Amdur
A grand opening will be held Feb. 18 at the Core Affordable Housing recently completed 60-unit residential development on the Menlo Park campus of the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System.
The $18 million project at 605 Willow Road offers a mix of studio and one-bedroom apartments geared for extremely low and very low-income veterans. It sits on two acres at the edge of the VA campus, providing convenient access to health care and services offered there and at the nearby Palo Alto VA site.[contextly_sidebar id=”HnoOR0iVHlRDlnjDur9ZocqMqKH6IYNP”]Financing the project was a challenge as predevelopment occurred after the state dissolved redevelopment agencies, previously a key funding source for affordable housing.
“We had to figure out from scratch how to finance it, because the typical process was no longer available,” said Chris Neale, vice president at The Core Companies.
Funding for Willow Housing came from 10 different sources, including a $2.86 million subordinate loan from the city of Menlo Park along with county funds and low-income housing tax credits, said Darci Palmer, project manager with Core Affordable Housing, an affiliate of the San Jose-based Core Companies. The Department of Veterans Affairs donated the land on a long-term ground lease through the federal BURR Initiative, a Congressional effort to end the nationwide housing crisis among veterans. San Rafael-based EAH Housing is the managing general partner on the project and the property manager.
Demand for Willow Housing units was high with residences oversubscribed, said Palmer, who also is the Core Companies’ development manager for affordable housing. With multifamily housing prices in Silicon Valley on the rise for the last several years, there is a strong need for affordable housing in the community.
“VA Palo Alto has been tireless in working to end veteran homelessness in our region, but as the region has grown, rents have soared, and little supply has been added,” Palmer said. “It leaves vulnerable populations behind. High quality, affordable housing near jobs and health care is absolutely necessary.” The project aims to house veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
In 2014, Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties’ Homeless Count estimated that on any given night, there are 926 homeless veterans in the two counties combined, according to a VA Palo Alto Health Care system news release. Additionally, nearly 70 percent of homeless veterans in the counties reported having at least one disability – including post-traumatic stress disorder or physical disabilities – often resulting from their military service.
“The Core project was an opportunity to partner with a great affordable housing developer and make use of the property that the VA owns,” said Jim Cogan, housing and economic development manager for Menlo Park, adding that it can be difficult to find land in the area to develop affordable housing.
Affordable rents at Willow Housing range from $581 to $775 per month for 450-square-foot studio or 630-square-foot one-bedroom units, Palmer said.
Units are partially furnished and include a full kitchen stocked with necessities such as plates, pots and pans. The ADA accessible development’s amenities include a gym, outdoor barbecue and patio, media room and an on-site laundry. The project was designed by San Jose-based VTBS Architects to create a “serene” living space, Palmer said. The interior design by Oakland-based HKIT Architects features a color palette of blue and cream. Interior art includes pieces purchased from professional artists who are veterans. One unit is reserved for an on-site property manager, who also is a veteran. Offices for support services staff also are included.
Overall the property design melds with other Menlo Park apartment communities and provides a “residential dignified feel” that people can be “proud to call home,” Palmer said.