Among high-rise condominiums selling for more than $500,000 each in downtown San Diego, an apartment complex opened in April that caters to a different crowd.

After two years of planning and design, the nonprofit Catholic Charities of the Diocese of San Diego is opening the Ninth & F Apartments. It will offer 24 units of permanent refuge for women who are homeless or fighting drug and alcohol abuse.

“It's the first project of its kind for us,” says Shannon Rockcastle, the director of special projects for Catholic Charities, adding that the $6.9 million project is in great demand. “Already, our waiting list is double the number of units.”

The four-story, wood-framed building was designed by San Diego-based Studio E Architects, which recently won an American Institute of Architects Citation for its design of a similar housing project in San Jose, Calif.

“Working on these kinds of projects is so satisfying, because you know you are meeting a real need,” says John Sheehan, a principal of Studio E. “You are designing a home for somebody who could really benefit from a safe, cheerful place to try and make a second start.”

The project includes 18 one-bedroom and alcove/studio units and six two-bedroom units connected by courtyard to an existing homeless women's day center and counseling facility.

Sheehan says the design challenge was blending the project into its surroundings, which are undergoing a gradual revitalization from a rundown warehouse district into a mix of high-end multifamily housing properties above commercial and office buildings.

“We combined brick with other elements in the design to make it fit into both neighborhoods,” he says.

–Erin Massey