Dorado Seniors Apartments in Buena Park, Calif., looks more like a luxury resort than a senior housing community. But what makes the project even more appealing is that the Dorado provides attractive, affordable housing for seniors in one of the nation's most expensive housing markets, Orange County.

Real estate investment firm Simpson Housing Solutions teamed up with the city and county to develop the Dorado. The project is built on a 2.5-acre site that was once a deteriorating strip mall. Simpson Housing negotiated buyouts of the shopping center's tenants and property owner. Simpson Housing also had to gain community support and comply with the city's requirements for density, design, infrastructure, and affordable rents.

Units at the Dorado Seniors Apartments interconnect and all have access to a central courtyard.
Units at the Dorado Seniors Apartments interconnect and all have access to a central courtyard.

Dorado features 150 apartment units at a density of 62 units per acre, and serves the low-income spectrum of the seniors housing market: The renters are 55 and older, earning from 30 percent to 60 percent of the area's median income. Monthly rent averages $674.25, a stark contrast to average market-rate rents of about $1,300 in Orange County. The average square foot per unit is 644.

As an urban infill project, it was critical that the development meshed well with its mature environs. Irvine, Calif.-based architectural firm KTGY Group designed the Dorado with a Mediterranean appeal to elicit a resort-like feel. To soften the structure's massing, there are elevation variations facing different sides. For example, there are four stories that face the street and two stories in the rear overlooking existing single-family homes.

Dorado was designed as an independent living community promoting a healthy lifestyle. Michael Costa, Simpson Housing's president, says the goal was to provide a quality, affordable place to live, while promoting physical and mental health. The community offers on-site education classes, computer and Internet training, health and wellness classes, recreational activities, transportation and community service programs. Amenities include a media room, business center, kitchen, fitness center, pool and patios, and card and game rooms.

Completed in October 2006, the project was 100 percent leased within two months.