HAYWARD, CALIF. - Sara Conner Court is an affordable housing development that achieved multiple goals when it opened its doors in 2006.

It cleaned a contaminated site, uplifted its neighborhood, set a new standard for green building, and became home to 57 families.

Developed by nonprofit Eden Housing, Inc., Sara Conner Court is located in Hayward, Calif., in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is the first new affordable rental housing built in the city in 10 years.

The development represents a creative solution to a challenge that many communities face—the reuse of small, substandard commercial sites.

With developable land becoming increasingly scarce, Eden Housing turned to reusing a blighted property that had been occupied by a milk and juice processing plant, gas station, and dry cleaner. The site had substandard soil conditions and the presence of toxins.

Eden Housing remediated the environmental problems, making way for the brownfield to become the site of a new green building. Sara Conner Court is one of the first developments to be certified under a new regional green building-rating system. The development is designed to be at least 15 percent more efficient than required by state building standards. The apartments’ gas-fueled hydronic heating systems allow the water heater to do double-duty, providing hot water to the faucets and heating apartments. Rainwater that runs off the parking areas and the building roofs drain to bioswales, which help break down contaminants and reduce the flow of water into the storm drains.

Furthermore, the development boosts the neighborhood, creating a nice transition between single-family homes and a major commute artery.

Developers are increasingly being asked to do infill projects on smaller sites, and Sara Conner Court is a model of how it can be done, said Linda Mandolini, Eden Housing’s executive director.

The development is named after the late Sara Conner, an active community volunteer and an Eden board member for more than 30 years.

The city’s housing element reports that it must produce 194 affordable units annually to keep up with demand. Sara Conner Court makes a significant contribution toward this goal, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the annual goal.

The development features a mix of one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments to meet the needs of many working families. Ten percent of the units are aimed at residents earning no more than 30 percent of the AMI; 10 percent are at 40 percent; 50 percent are at 50 percent of the AMI; and 30 percent are at 60 percent of the AMI. Rents are 20 percent to 60 percent below market rents.

Resident services include after-school programs for children, financial literacy education, parenting classes, and computer instruction. The $20.8 million development received local support, including a $4.5 million HOME loan and $287,000 in CDBG money from the city. The Hayward Redevelopment Agency also provided a $1.8 million loan.

The California Tax Credit Allocation Committee awarded $8.6 million in federal LIHTCs and $3.2 million in state credits. Enterprise Community Investment, Inc., was the syndicator. The permanent lender was the California Community Reinvestment Corp. Silicon Valley Bank was the construction lender.

Additional project information, as provided in application by the nominator.

Q. Why does the nominated project deserve to be recognized based on the award criteria of this contest?

A. Sara Conner Court, developed by Eden Housing, deserves recognition because it meets many of the award criteria. We would like to highlight the following award criteria that this project meets:

  • It adds to the affordable housing stock of the city of Hayward, Calif. and improves the social and economic fabric of the community.
  • It serves as a catalyst for community revitalization in the Mission Boulevard Corridor because it involved the reuse of a blighted, substandard, deteriorated, contaminated commercial site into a vibrant housing community.
  • It employs innovative sustainable and energy efficient technologies and sets a new standard for green building. With the support of grants from Alameda County, the Home Depot, and the Enterprise Foundation, the project is one of the first developments to be certified under a new Bay Area green building rating system called GreenPoint.
  • Through community collaboration it will provide outstanding social services for the residents. The project is located in the South Hayward community, home to the South Hayward Neighborhood Collaborative, a social service network formed to improve the community and economic access for its residents. Eden Housing, the project sponsor, is a member of the Collaborative and will be partnering with other members to bring a wide array of services to our residents including after school programming for the children and financial literacy and other important employment and life support for our families.
  • It received widespread community support from the city of Hayward, Alameda County, and the state of California. Beyond the support of elected officials and funding sources, the project was well received by the immediate neighborhood and was approved with no opposition during the land use approvals stage.
  • It is a creative solution to the challenge that many communities face—the reuse of small, substandard commercial sites. What was once a hodgepodge of underutilized or abandoned commercial structures is now home to 57 working families and an asset to the neighborhood.

Sara Conner Court was developed by a limited partnership formed by Eden Housing, Inc. Founded in 1968, Eden is one of California’s oldest nonprofit housing development corporations. Since its inception, Eden has developed nearly 5,000 units of affordable housing in the Bay Area and the Central Valley. In addition to its development company, Eden has two operating affiliates, Eden Housing Management, Inc. and Eden Housing Resident Services, Inc., which together provide property management and resident services programming to Eden-sponsored developments.
The project exemplifies solutions to a common challenge that older cities face in the revitalization of small urban infill sites—reusing a blighted, substandard commercial site that is also contaminated. Eden’s solution for this site literally transformed brown to green. Not only is Sara Conner Court one of the first GreenPoint rated projects in Alameda County, it revitalized a brownfield site previously occupied by a milk- and juice-processing plant, gas station, and dry cleaner. The prior uses, particularly the dry cleaner, resulted in a site with substandard soil conditions and the presence of toxins. Eden’s work to develop affordable housing on the site resulted in a complete remediation of the site, making it an asset instead of a liability for the community.

Eden is working with its tax credit investor, Enterprise Social Investment Corporation, and its underlying investor Bank of America to use a brownfield tax incentive that allows the cost of the cleanup, which is not allowable in tax credit basis, to be entirely expensed in the first year rather than over the usual five years. Although the investor has not yet committed to utilizing this tax incentive, Eden will have provided education on a new tool that investors can consider valuing in future brownfield redevelopments.

In the development of Sara Conner Court, Eden was committed to creating a community that goes beyond safe, attractive, and affordable, to be environmentally friendly and healthy. Sara Conner Court was one of the first developments to be certified under a new Bay Area green building rating system called GreenPoint. To achieve this rating, the development team improved environmental performance while maintaining affordability by focusing on fundamental strategies such as solar orientation, natural ventilation, energy efficiency, durability, and healthy materials.

Q. How does this project represent an innovative solution to a specific development challenge?

A. The Bay Area is essentially built out, and there are very few vacant sites available for the development of new housing. The lack of available land not only pushes land prices to high levels, it requires creative reuse of sites that might not be considered housing sites. Logical candidates are smaller, substandard or blighted commercial sites that no longer provide a useful asset to communities. Sara Conner Court offers a model for reuse of smaller urban infill sites that can be replicated in other areas. The redevelopment of the site as affordable housing allowed the community to leverage specific affordable housing resources that would not be available to market-rate developments—redevelopment affordable housing set-aside, HOME, and community development block grant funds—that made it possible to accumulate funding to clean up the contamination on the site. Finally, the project goes beyond the funding thresholds for green building and offers an example of how developments can be green without incurring inordinate expense.