Violeta McCloskey was homeless before moving into her apartment in a seniors’ affordable housing community near Tahoe Park in 2011.
She had lost her home to foreclosure and was living in her SUV. To cope, she treated her asthma and brushed her teeth every morning at a nearby bingo hall and relied on McDonald’s for free coffee.
A decade later, McCloskey, 70, a former cook and grandmother of five, said she’s put much of the stress and anxiety of living on the streets behind her, but she doesn’t would never forget him.
“I’ve come a long way,” McCloskey said in her Broadway Senior Center apartment where family photos adorn the walls and her cats Lola and Boo Boo roam.
“I have a house, a roof over my head and I have enough food,” she added. “I really, really care about this house and I don’t want to lose it.”
McCloskey said it took her nearly two years to secure her subsidized apartment. But for thousands of low-income seniors in the Sacramento area, there are few, if any, affordable housing options to choose from.
The critical lack of affordable housing for seniors in Sacramento
There is a statewide shortage of affordable senior housing, but the local deficit is alarming. UCLA researchers found that more than 82% of low-income seniors in the Sacramento area struggle with rental costs, the highest of the seven regions analyzed, according to a 2018 study. study.
“I can’t express the concern I have that we don’t have enough affordable housing in general and especially with the older population,” said Kendra Lewis, executive director of the nonprofit. non-profit Sacramento Housing Alliance, which promotes affordable housing. .
“The baby boomer population is increasingly aging,” Lewis added. “They’re getting to the age where they really can’t work anymore, which is very much related to how you pay your rent and your mortgage. So we have to work even faster.
A report released in May by the nonprofit California Housing Partnership found that Sacramento County is short of nearly 60,000 affordable housing units for its lowest-income tenants, though it did not break down needs by age.
Additionally, the report found that renters in the county must earn more than double the state minimum wage of $31.25 an hour to afford an average two-bedroom apartment, compared to nearly $27. dollars per hour in 2020.
Affordable housing researchers and advocates say the gap between seniors’ fixed incomes and soaring rents will likely widen, further compounding a serious problem for seniors.
“They are at the mercy of these landlords who keep raising the rent every year. They’re overpriced,” said Eugson Wong, president of the Wong Center, a Sacramento nonprofit focused on senior housing.
New senior residences on the horizon
With the rumble of diggers, construction crews dug trenches this week for a maze of underground gas, water and power lines on 7th and F streets in Sacramento. In two years, the 2-acre site will be home to the Wong Center Senior Apartments, a 150-unit affordable senior housing community, the first fully affordable housing project in the Railyards downtown development.
“From our market research and some of the research we’ve done, we know that the senior population here in downtown Sacramento is growing rapidly,” Danny Kolosta, project manager at Mutual Housing, said during his visit. of the construction site. “We know a lot of seniors, they live off Social Security or other types of passive income, so we wanted to tailor the affordability of this project.”
To qualify for an apartment, renters must be 55 or older and have an income between 40% and 60% of the Sacramento County area median income. Rents will make up around 30% of a household’s income, according to Mutual Housing. The company is not yet accepting applications.
More than just a place to live, the seniors’ complex will be designed to meet the socialization needs of tenants. There will be a 4,000 square foot community space with a kitchen, outdoor courtyard, barbecue area, bocce court and garden beds, according to Mutual Housing.
Lewis of the Sacramento Housing Alliance called the project “perfect for the housing crisis we find ourselves in.”
“I think what’s really important about these apartments is that it’s about a community,” she added. “Often, the elderly are isolated, they are alone. This is the place where they won’t be alone.
To ensure residents can get to medical and other appointments, the apartment community will partner with transportation companies, said Roberto Jimenez, executive director of Mutual Housing. The housing complex is a few blocks from the site of the future Kaiser Permanente Medical Center campus at the Railyards.
A residential hub in the Railyards
For decades, municipal leaders have planned to build housing, jobs and entertainment options on the 240-acre Railyards site north of the city centera mostly inactive site that served as the city’s historic railroad and employment centre.
This vision came closer to reality when construction began in 2020 on the first project at the Railyards, a 345-unit residential development called AJ, which will include 69 affordable units, according to Downtown Railyard Venture, LLC, the master developer of the site. It is scheduled to open this winter one block north of the Wong Center Senior Apartments.
The nonprofit led by Eugson Wong has contributed $12.8 million to the new senior development, where all 150 units are designated as affordable.
That money helped move the project forward, said Jimenez of Mutual Housing. The total cost of the project is $56 million, much of which will be paid for by federal low-income housing tax credits and tax-exempt bonds. The City of Sacramento provided a $3.5 million loan.
Jimenzed said local governments don’t have the deep pockets to pay for affordable housing, and “gap funding” like that provided by the nonprofit Wong Center can make a difference.
“There is land available,” Jimenez explained. “The biggest challenge is this funding gap.”
In the early 1970s, the Wong family built “the original” Wong Centeran apartment complex with a distinctive pagoda-style roof at 3 and J streets. The family sold the building in 2016 although it continues to operate as low-income seniors’ accommodation and is now known as Imperial Tower Apartments.
The new Wong Center isn’t Mutual Housing’s only senior-focused project. The nonprofit builder recently opened the 28-unit Lavender Courtyard. The site is the first affordable housing complex of its kind for LGBTQ seniors in Sacramento, and one of less than a dozen such locations in California, according to advocates. The three-story building was constructed earlier this year at F and 16th streets. The site’s first tenants arrived in May.
McCloskey, the formerly homeless woman who found housing near Tahoe Park, says she knows the value of affordable housing for seniors. “I’m so grateful to have been accepted here,” she said.
“We need more houses for everyone. Not just for the elderly, but also for the homeless,” added McCloskey. “I know how these people feel on the streets because I lived on the streets.”
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