Seniors Housing Re-opens

LA QUINTA, CALIF.—National Community Renaissance recycled a blighted 92-space mobile home park into an 80-unit sustainable affordable housing development, with the help and the vision of the city of La Quinta.

The city acquired the property in May 2004 after protracted negotiations, with hopes of preserving the community's supply of affordable housing and creating an infill project better suited to the existing community of single-family homes in a sustainable way. It turned to National CORE to help make its plan a reality.

Just four years later in May 2008, Vista Dunes Courtyard Homes opened and is said to be the largest affordable housing project to receive platinum certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Homes program.

Normally National CORE incorporates green elements into its new developments, but Alfredo Izmajtovich, vice president of acquisition for National CORE, says Vista Dunes is “green on steroids.”

One of the biggest goals was to create cost-savings for the residents.

Photovoltaic solar panels are installed on every dwelling to produce an average 430 kilowatt-hours per month, which reduces residents' electric bills by approximately $730 a year. Tankless water heaters are used to produce ondemand hot water, and each unit has low-volume shower heads and dualfl ush toilets.

Also, a number of efforts were included to keep the homes cooler in this desert community. The homes are oriented to minimize solar gain during the summer, with deep overhangs shading south-facing windows and landscaped trellises shading western-facing walls; open light wells with operable windows serve as thermal chimneys to draw rising heat from the inside; radiant barrier roof sheathing reflects up to 50 percent of the sun's radiant energy; and the flooring is concrete.

Property managers train new residents on how to use the sustainable elements in their units, recycle, and get the most savings out of the energy-efficient features.

“It's been very enlightening for most [residents]. And a lot of them try to see how much they can save. [In July], one resident had an electric bill that was $8,” says Sperry Maxwell, construction manager at National CORE.

The development also served as a good model for both the developer and the city. “It was a great learning experience for us,” says Izmajtovich. National CORE now only uses tankless water heaters on new construction and incorporates them into rehabs when they can. And the city of La Quinta has adopted a green building ordinance and building practices.

For other developers considering sustainable building, the first step is to hire a good team, Izmajtovich advises. He says it's crucial to get an architect and a contractor on board who have experience and understanding of green building as well as a city partner who is supportive of what you're doing.

The $38.2 million development serves residents earning 50 percent, 45 percent, and 30 percent of the area median income. It was financed with 4 percent low-income housing tax credits syndicated by Hudson Housing Capital, La Quinta Redevelopment Agency Housing Funds, and a permanent loan from U.S. Bank.

National CORE also worked with its nonprofit affiliate, Hope Through Housing, to implement an after-school program for residents as well as other services.