Green features at Rio Vista Apartments include reclaimed water irrigation, solar water heating, and a rooftop garden.
Gary Krueger Green features at Rio Vista Apartments include reclaimed water irrigation, solar water heating, and a rooftop garden.
Gary Krueger

Los Angeles — Abode Communities teamed with an unlikely partner—the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) —on its latest affordable housing development.

The partnership has led to the creation of the new Rio Vista Apartments, the first joint-use affordable housing development on LAUSD surplus land.

Located in the city's Glassell Park neighborhood, the development may be the first of several affordable housing deals involving the district and an example for other large public landowners.

“It is a unique relationship with LAUSD,” says Robin Hughes, Abode president and CEO. “Hopefully, we can use it as a model to talk with other school districts about how to use their surplus land.”

Because both Abode and LAUSD were entering uncharted waters with the joint-use project, it took two years to negotiate a final agreement.

Built on property that was a parking lot for the staff of a neighboring elementary school, Rio Vista features 50 two- and three-bedroom apartments for families earning up to 30 percent and 60 percent of the area median income.

Abode has a 66-year ground lease for its share of the site. In addition to designing and developing Rio Vista, the firm built a shared garage that is used by residents and replaces the old school lot.

The school district is building an early education center that is expected to be completed later this year.

“One of the challenges was how to take the complexities of affordable housing finance and all the regulatory requirements and connect it to the education code,” Hughes says. “It impacted how we negotiated the land agreement.”

Because of the multiple housing and school requirements, the early education center was separated from the housing. Hughes says this was done in a way similar to creating air rights rather than subdividing the parcel.

She sees the housing, the elementary school across the street, and the future education center working together. That was also a key point for the school district, says Krisztina Tokes, LAUSD director of planning and development.

“The district was looking at a creative opportunity to use land in a way that would have a community benefit and would benefit the school district,” she says.

In addition to providing shared parking, Abode is opening the doors of the housing development's community room to the school to use for meetings and other events. Rio Vista residents will have an opportunity to use a playground and enroll their children in the early education center.

Three more affordable housing projects on LAUSD land are in predevelopment, according to Tokes. Abode Communities is looking at re-teaming with the district on one of those projects, a deal in the Hollywood area.

The partners celebrated the opening of Rio Vista in January. The nonprofit received roughly 400 applications for the 50 apartments.

The $28.4 million housing development was financed with several sources, including $12.2 million in low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) equity from U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corp. (CDC) and a $2 million permanent loan from the U.S. Bank Community Lending Division.

“Leveraging the important work of Abode Communities and LAUSD via the LIHTC program maximizes the benefit to the community, providing both real estate opportunities for affordable housing in an increasingly tight market and education resources for those in need,” says Sebastian Glowacki, vice president at U.S. Bancorp CDC.

Key Financing

$12.2 MILLION in low-income housing tax credit equity from U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corp.

$4 MILLION in a Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) development contribution

$2.9 MILLION in LAUSD ground lease

$2.6 MILLION from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund administered by the Los Angeles Housing Department

$2.6 MILLION from Proposition 1C (urban fill) from the state Housing and Community Development Department, which paid for a portion of the parking, sitework, off-site work, and associated design and permit fees.

$2 MILLION permanent loan from U.S. Bank Community Lending Division

$1.3 MILLION in Tax Credit Assistance Program funds from the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee

$490,000 from the Affordable Housing Program of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco through U.S. Bank

$105,122 from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's solar incentive program for solar panels

$69,191 in deferred developer fees

$29,589 from the California Solar Initiative

Catholic Healthcare West provided $500,000 and the California Community Foundation provided $750,000 in predevelopment loans.