SAN JOSE, CALIF.—Gish Apartments, located here, provides a model for all multifamily developments, not just affordable housing projects. Built with the latest green features, the project sets a new standard for environmentally friendly design. It is the first multifamily development in the United States to earn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold certifications in two categories—new construction and homes—from the U.S. Green Building Council.

All the units are leased to tenants with incomes ranging from 30 percent to 50 percent of the area median income (AMI); 13 of the units are set aside for residents with developmental disabilities and are rented at 30 percent of the AMI.

“Having a building with superior indoor air quality is important for our developmentally disabled residents,” says Jeff Oberdorfer, executive director of First Community Housing (FCH), the local nonprofit affordable housing developer behind the project.

The mother of one resident, a young man with severe autism, recently reported that her son's behavior has improved dramatically since moving to the new community, which she attributes to improved air quality, according to Oberdorfer.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING FINANCE readers have named Gish Apartments this year's outstanding green project in the Readers' Choice Awards.

The green features begin with the ground the property sits on—a remediated brownfield site that used to be occupied by a gas station with underground storage tanks. A prior owner had removed the tanks, but careful assessment and environmental controls were necessary to ensure the apartment development would not cause any water contamination or environmental degradation.

Also of note is the site's location adjacent to a light-rail station. FCH provides residents with free annual Eco Passes to use on the rail and bus system. This reduces the number of vehicles on the road and the number of parking spaces needed, a move that freed up space and allowed for more units to be built. The transit passes are also important because many of the residents do not drive. “The project is a good model for any housing developer, affordable or not,” Oberdorfer says.

The $16.3 million project is loaded with other green features, including a rooftop photovoltaic system that cuts energy costs by 30 percent, allowing for more money to go toward building maintenance and social programs for residents.

Amenities include a community room, a play area, a computer center, financial literacy training, and afterschool programs. The Housing Choices Coalition provides services coordination for developmentally disabled residents, and case managers and other support staff are provided through the San Andreas Regional Center.

The property features a 7-Eleven store and a nail salon on the ground floor to serve residents and the surrounding community.

Hard construction costs came to about $10.7 million total and include $10 million from tax-exempt bonds from the California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA).

Permanent financing included $2.7 million in tax-exempt bonds from CalHFA, $3.9 million from the state Department of Housing and Community Development, a $2.4 million loan from the city of San Jose, and about $5.8 million in equity from the sale of low-income housing tax credits that were allocated by the state. The tax credit syndicator was RBC Capital Markets.