San Ramon Valley officials joined executives from Standard Communities at a currently vacant lot on Alcosta Boulevard on Wednesday for a groundbreaking ceremony marking the kickoff of construction on a 100% affordable senior housing project.
Aspen Wood is set to be a 300,000-square-foot senior community with 123 residential units on 1.4 acres at 900 Alcosta Blvd. in San Ramon -- open only to seniors making between 30% and 60% of the median income.
Sean Carpenter, director of development for Standard Communities, noted that his company had gotten involved after plans for 95 luxury units at the currently vacant property were approved but failed to materialize.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Carpenter said Standard became involved in discussions to shift the project to affordable housing, given the drastic shift in economic conditions at the time.
"With the state density bonus, we were able to add an additional 23 units automatically to make the deal palatable, and then we went through a massive process of working with the state ... to get funding for these 123 units," Carpenter said.
To speed the process along, Carpenter said that Standard sought to clear all other hurdles and potential obstacles ahead of time
"We had a deal that was shovel-ready, ready to go, that we could put in the ground as soon as we received that funding," Carpenter said.
As a result, construction on the project is set to be complete, and units available to qualified applicants, by next year.
Carpenter said that many had expressed their surprise at seeing a project with 100% affordable housing move forward in San Ramon.
"One of the things I kept hearing from a lot of the political folks say is 'this is 100 percent affordable, we don't see that a lot here,'' Carpenter said. "(They're) surprised that we were so dedicated to doing affordable housing."
Standard is based in Los Angeles and New York, and is aimed at fostering partnerships that facilitate the development of affordable and sustainable housing. Carpenter said that while the need for affordable housing transcends regional and state borders, California and the Tri-Valley in particular are in particularly dire need of solutions.
"The need for affordable housing in the state of California is massive," Carpenter said. "It is the No. 1 concern in any city or town that I go into in California, but the Tri-Valley in particular because land costs are so expensive."
Carpenter noted that for those with moderate to high incomes, an additional $20,000 in housing costs per year might be considered something like a "resort fee." But he emphasized that this is less and less reasonable. For example, the lowest income seniors housed at Aspen Wood would have incomes of approximately $30,000.
"The need for affordable housing is two-fold," Carpenter said. "We need lower costs so we need subsidies, but we also need our political partners … to realize we've got a problem here, and if we don't fix this we're going to see some real real problems as we go into a recession economy."
San Ramon Mayor Dave Hudson was among the elected officials at Wednesday's ceremony, along with Danville Mayor Newell Arnerich and Danville Councilmember Robert Storer.
"This is the first step in the right direction that many cities better copy," Hudson said.
While he acknowledged that affordable housing projects can be controversial, Hudson emphasized that he and other elected officials are tasked by the state with addressing the existing housing crisis and preventing future problems.
In San Ramon, Hudson noted that in particular, failing to provide affordable housing would worsen the staffing shortages plaguing local businesses and companies.
"These people are needed for jobs," Hudson said. "The restaurants that you're looking at could probably use two or three more workers. If you don't keep places open it's going to be more expensive."
Carpenter said while he couldn't reveal details yet, he believed that other Tri-Valley officials shared Hudson's sentiment and that Standard was eying future deals with potentially two other municipalities in the region.