A transit-oriented, affordable housing development has been just the ticket to make the case for higher density in the suburban community of Vista, Calif.

Developer Community HousingWorks (CHW) built the 68-unit North Santa Fe apartments on city-owned land across the street from a Sprinter light-rail station, where residents also can catch the BREEZE bus line that travels throughout northern San Diego County.

“It really was part of a transformation in the thinking of the city,” says Anne Wilson, senior vice president of housing and real estate development for CHW. “They’ve had this train for a while, but it took a number of years before they had the courage to take the step to put more density near the downtown village.”

During construction of the development, the city received a lot of interest from market-rate housing and commercial developers. “It's proven what we always say: Affordable housing can be a real catalyst for change for a neighborhood,” says Mary Jane Jagodzinski, vice president of development.

North Santa Fe, which opened in July 2015, serves households earning between 30% and 60% of the area median income. Ten units are set aside for underserved young adults ages 18 to 24 who are aging out of the foster care system, are homeless, or are at risk of homelessness.

“It’s a real opportunity for young adults to connect with families and see what a stable family means,” says Wilson. “Hopefully, we can help them settle down, since they don’t know what stability feels like. It’s so revolutionary.”

CHW offers supportive services, including after-school homework assistance and financial fitness programs, to all residents. North County Lifeline provides additional services for the young adults.

North Santa Fe is a high-performance building, with a wealth of energy-efficient and water conservation features.

The development pays tribute to the city’s heritage and includes many nods to trains (acknowleding the Santa Fe Railroad, which began passenger and freight service to Vista in the late 1880), as well as produce that was traditionally grown in the area. These twin elements help inspire 21st-century healthful practices, including walking, using public transit, eating local produce, and not smoking.

Other features of the community, as well, reference the train motif, including a tot lot with a train play structure, public artwork resembling signal towers with railway symbols, and original passenger-train photos and Vista fruit labels gracing the interior walls.

The $20.3 million development was funded primarily with low-income housing tax credit equity and a permanent loan from Union Bank. The city of Carlsbad provided Community Development Block Grants to help solve the regional issue of transitional-age youths.