Bernard André

Leigh Avenue Senior Apartments is home to a special population—seniors who were homeless for a year or more.

Originally conceived as a traditional affordable housing development, nonprofit First Community Housing (FCH) revised its plans in order to meet the needs of seniors who are chronically homeless in Northern California’s Santa Clara County.

FCH originally purchased the vacant land in 2008, but the economic downturn came right after the purchase, and the state’s redevelopment agencies, a major source of funding, were also dissolved. This delayed the organization’s plans, but FCH didn’t give up on the site.

“Leigh Avenue was a long time in the making. I remember working on the entitlements for this site almost 14 years ago,” says Geoff Morgan, president and CEO of the nonprofit organization. “Now that Leigh is finally open, we are housing some of San Jose’s most vulnerable citizens, 63 households of formerly unhoused older adults. This community is safe, environmentally friendly, and thriving.”

A survey found that approximately 12% of the area’s homeless population was 61 years or older, an increase from 9% in 2017.

Bernard André

Leigh Avenue Senior Apartments is a permanent supportive housing development, meaning that in addition to providing affordable homes, it offers robust on-site support services to help residents flourish. This includes gardening, healthy food access, and digital literacy programs provided by FCH’s Community Impact Team. In addition, Abode Services provides case management and other services.

The four-story building includes laundry, a computer room, and community rooms along with a large outdoor courtyard with community gardens at the second floor, an outdoor terrace at the fourth floor, and living roofs with pollinator gardens. Taking cues from lessons learned on a prior project, the team added pet relief and dog wash stations to accommodate residents’ pets, which have been especially important for seniors and people experiencing homelessness.The project, which features photovoltaic panels to power the building’s common areas, is designed to meet LEED Platinum standards and is a pilot for the Healthy Building Network’s HomeFree Initiative, which seeks to improve the health of affordable housing residents by using healthier building materials.

As the state faces a severe drought, Leigh Avenue uses high-efficiency fixtures to save water, one of the strategies that has helped the project realize a 62% reduction in indoor and outdoor water consumption from baseline, according to the development team. Located within 1,550 feet of a light-rail station, all individuals housed receive a free annual transit pass to encourage use of public transit.

FCH utilized several funding sources for the project, including low-income housing tax credits and funds from a Santa Clara County affordable housing bond.