Terraza Palmera at St. Joseph’s, a below-market housing complex built on a historic site, is giving Oakland’s long-struggling Fruitvale neighborhood a new infusion of vitality. The complex at 1272 26th Ave. also is helping meet an acute affordable-housing need in Oakland and the rest of the Bay Area, where the surging economy has pushed apartment rents and home prices ever higher.
Terraza Palmera completes an ambitious two-phase project by the San Francisco-based affordable-housing nonprofit BRIDGE Housing Corp. that has lasted the past several years on the landmark site of the former St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged, a Georgian Revival red-brick structure built in 1912 and operated as a convalescent residence by the Catholic religious order Little Sisters of the Poor.
The project not only preserved the historic building but also revived it as the St. Joseph’s Senior Apartments, which provides 84 units for low-income seniors as well as 3,200 square feet of commercial space. On the same property is Terraza Palmera, which has 62 rental units for underprivileged families—58 in the newly constructed complex and four in rehabilitated structures.
“What it has turned into is really an intergenerational campus that allows people to live, work and play here with families and seniors [and will be] a vibrant place for many generations to come,” BRIDGE President and CEO Cynthia Parker said during a grand-opening celebration for Terraza Palmera on June 18. “Breaking ground and actually having seniors move into the first phase of the campus was particularly heartwarming, and then now to see families move in and be part of this new stage is even more so, because it really fulfills the vision of the community and allows us to celebrate what’s so important about affordable housing in Oakland.”
The restoration of the St. Joseph’s campus has garnered a 2014 Design Honor Award for Historic Preservation from the San Francisco chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The redevelopment was cited as a successful public-private partnership model and for converting a dilapidated landmark property into a significant public good by providing affordable housing, neighborhood revitalization and the adaptive re-use of historic structures.
The architectural firm Van Meter Williams Pollack, with offices in San Francisco and Denver, designed both the senior apartments and Terraza Palmera, while the James E. Roberts-Obayashi Corp., based in Danville, served as the general contractor. Financing came from various public and private sources, including the City of Oakland, Union Bank, the Northern California Community Loan Fund/Lower San Antonio Community Development Fund, and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund.
The $31 million Terraza Palmera phase built a four-story structure with earthy green tones and ground-floor brick masonry, which ties into the adjacent 1912 building. It also features a solar thermal water system, large planters outside, entry stoops, a spacious community room facing a courtyard garden and sunlit lobby areas with seating.
Terraza Palmera’s units are affordable to families with annual incomes between $27,600 and $55,200 for a four-person household, or 30 to 60 percent of the area median income. Monthly rents range from $486 to $1,291, depending on the family’s income and apartment size.
For tenant Faiza Ayesh, Terraza Palmera allows her family to afford a nice, safe home. “The place we used to live in was not family friendly,” Ayesh said. “It wasn’t clean. My daughter got lead poisoning living there. BRIDGE Housing gave us an opportunity, so I can raise my kids in a clean area [and] not have to worry about the environment I live in.”
At Terraza Palmera, Ayesh lives with her husband and their two young children in a two-bedroom apartment for $584 a month. The market rent for that kind of apartment elsewhere in Oakland would nearly wipe out her family’s income of $1,500 a month, she said. “Paying $1,200 for a two-bedroom rent and living off of $300 for the rest of the month, [there’s] no way you could make it with two kids.”
Terraza Palmera continues rejuvenation efforts in an ethnically diverse neighborhood that has battled crime, blight and poverty over the decades. The area’s resurgence in recent years includes the development of the Fruitvale Transit Village, which opened in 2003, and integrated retail, housing and public transportation.
Although the neighborhood has seen more than its fair share of challenges, Oakland Councilmember Noel Gallo said, “This area is an area that is developing and is developing really fast. You have families in these neighborhoods that are trying to bring Oakland back to where it used to be, where not only can we compete on the business end of it, but we can have a quality neighborhood [where] we can raise our families and we can continue to grow.”
Terraza Palmera has also been touted as an example of how affordable housing can be done despite obstacles such as the 2008 recession and California’s budget-cutting move in 2012 to dissolve redevelopment agencies, which provided funding for neighborhood rehabilitation projects.
“It was very, very dicey to figure out whether or not this project would even get off the ground—whether it would get beyond just the acquisition stage to start moving forward with phase one much less to be standing here today celebrating the completion of phase two,” said Jonathan Klein, senior vice president of Union Bank, which provided the acquisition loan to BRIDGE to purchase the St. Joseph’s site in 2006. “Groups like BRIDGE demonstrate the perseverance this requires.”
Klein also pointed out that funding for affordable housing in the state received a $1 billion boost in June. Voters statewide approved $600 million for veterans’ affordable housing, and about $400 million is coming from other programs.
“I’m never going to stand up here and tell you developing affordable housing is going to be easy. It’s never going to get easy,” Klein said. “But it requires this kind of persistence in the face of really steep odds to really make this happen.”