- Property: SEASONS at Los Robles
- Owner: LINC Housing Corp. and the City of Anderson
- Location: Anderson, Calif.
- Renovation Cost: $7.7 million
- Length Of Renovation: 15 months
- Scope of Project: New interiors and a new community building helped transform a crime-ridden complex into senior housing.
Just five years ago, wailing sirens and flashing police lights marked the scene of a massive drug bust at a dilapidated and crime-ridden apartment complex in Anderson, Calif. But that frightening scene is now just a distant memory, thanks to a dramatic turnaround initiated by the city. Today the site is home to SEASONS at Los Robles, a thriving 59-unit affordable senior housing community.
The property, then called Anderson Oak, "was a den of methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana," recalls Scott Morgan, city manager for Anderson. "Twenty percent of our calls for police service came out of this one apartment complex." The drug raid was the last straw for the city, which was fed up with the property's devastating effects on the entire area. The city knew it needed to take action, although it would be an enormous undertaking for Anderson–which doesn't even have a housing department. "We are a small city with a small staff," says Morgan.
Unable to convince the building's owner to refurbish the property, the city filed a lawsuit against the owner citing dangerous and unsanitary living conditions (cockroaches and rats ran rampant throughout the units). A year later the city settled and in 2001 won ownership of the property under its newly formed redevelopment agency.
The bank that had been financing the property agreed to provide the city with a 20-year loan with an interest rate at 200 basis points below market with no payments for a year. This gave the city time to develop a plan of action. For much-needed expertise, the city teamed up with LINC Housing, a Long Beach, Calif.-based nonprofit housing developer. "That was the best decision the city made," says Morgan. "They [LINC] have the depth of experience to take on a project of this magnitude. This was all new to us."
A Long Recovery
Shortly after acquiring the property, the city conducted a market feasibility study to determine the best use for the rundown property. Affordable senior housing quickly emerged as the clear winner. The area was in need of senior housing, plus the city council thought a senior property would help ensure the property would not revert to its previous condition, says Morgan.
The next major hurdle: piecing together adequate funding, a painstaking process that took nearly two years. The $7.7 million financing package includes federal low-income housing tax credits and a tax-exempt bond–one of the first affordable housing projects in California to take advantage of the state's new regulations, which allow for a combination of state tax credits and bond funding.
"You have to be creative and keep your eyes open for new opportunities and new ways to use existing programs," says Hunter Johnson, president of LINC Housing. "It was an extra source of money that was an important piece of the overall project."
Other key funding sources included $2.47 million from the City of Anderson, a $1.1 permanent loan from The California Community Reinvestment Corp., plus a $3 million construction loan and a $531,000 Affordable Housing Program loan from the Bank of America.
With the financing squared away, it was time to begin the eagerly-awaited renovation process. The property's six buildings were in such bad physical shape that the development team was tempted to bulldoze the entire site and start from scratch. But since the city had received some funding applicable strictly for renovation projects, the team had to keep the building's existing framework intact.
The buildings were stripped to the studs, making way for completely new unit interiors. "They say addition by subtraction; this was subtraction by addition," says James Theimer, principal architect for Trilogy Architecture, a Redding, Calif.-based company that designed the project. "We subtracted a bad drug environment by adding some improvements and refinements."
These improvements include new structural systems, such as plumbing, electrical, and roofing. Two badly deteriorated buildings were replaced with one larger building that now houses a much-needed manager's office, laundry facility, and computer/media room. Fresh landscaping plays up the site's best feature: large, mature oak trees (the property's name, "Los Robles," is Spanish for "The Oaks").
It took four years–and 40-plus meetings with the city council, the redevelopment board, and the financing authority–but SEASONS at Los Robles and its newly renovated features finally debuted in July 2005. Units are reserved for seniors 55 and older earning between 50 percent and 60 percent of the area median income.