San Marcos, Calif.—When The San Elijo Hills Development Co., a master developer inexperienced with affordable housing, faced new inclusionary housing rules on its latest development, it turned to Bridge Housing Corp. for help.

That partnership resulted in one of the largest affordable housing projects here, with nearly a third of its units consisting of three bedrooms. Not only that, but Bridge Housing was able to offer very low rents on all the units for families with incomes ranging from up to 25 percent to no more than 60 percent of the area median income.

The project is the $35 million, 204-unit Copper Creek Apartments, one of the first affordable housing projects built under the city’s inclusionary housing policy adopted in 2000. Its one- to three-bedroom units range in size from 642 square feet to 1,023 square feet; 68 of the units are three-bedroom.

Copper Creek broke ground in 2003 and was completed in March 2005.

“This [project had] one of the most vexing sets of challenges we’ve faced and we took a lot of twists and turns,” said Brad Wiblin, director of Bridge Housing in Southern California.

The nonprofit developer helped advocate a change in the low-income housing tax credit application scoring criteria to include a balanced community category that gives inclusionary affordable housing a better chance to win tax credits.

However, there were still not enough tax credits to pencil out the project at first. “It’s such a large project,” said Wiblin. “Our request was too big so [the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee] skipped over us. We had to downsize our project to compete in the 9 percent tax credit competition.”

Bridge Housing had to form two limited partnerships and split the development, even though it’s built as a single complex, into two phases. This way, it was able to apply for both the 9 percent tax credits and the 4 percent tax credits with tax-exempt bonds.

Financing for Copper Creek included $6 million in tax credit equity for the 9 percent tax credit phase and $10 million in tax credit equity for the tax-exempt bond phase, both from Union Bank of California. The master developer also donated the land valued at $7.3 million.

Being close to nearby community amenities helped Copper Creek get an edge over other tax credit applications. “Sometimes, affordable housing gets quietly tucked back in the corner of a community, but here we achieved equal footing,” said Wiblin. “To be a vibrant community, you need a range of incomes there.”

All residents will have access to free education services, including a homework club, computer tutoring, and homeowner workshops. Bridge Housing also coordinated with the San Marcos Boys & Girls Club to organize on-site after-school activities for the children.

“What makes Copper Creek interesting compared to suburban projects is that the master developer selected a site adjacent to a traditional, dense town center with schools and parks,” said Wiblin. “It’s highly visible and has great access for the residents. In part, it’s what helped finance the project.”