Estrella Vista – Housing Insecurity Has a Trickle-Down Effect
October 15, 2020
Estrella Vista is an affordable mixed-use multifamily community located between Emeryville and Oakland less than a mile from the MacArthur BART station near several bus lines, hospitals, schools and retail.
EMERYVILLE, CA—Newly completed Estrella Vista is an affordable mixed-use multifamily community located between Emeryville and Oakland. The transit-oriented development is the culmination of a partnership between public and private organizations such as the cities of Emeryville and Oakland, Alameda County and Oakland Housing Authority, which collaborated to provide much-needed affordable housing.
“Housing is health. The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the importance of housing and the role it plays in our overall public health and well-being,” said Libby Schaaf, mayor of Oakland. “Estrella Vista symbolizes what can be accomplished when you work together for the common good.”
Located less than a mile from the MacArthur BART station at 3706 San Pablo Ave., Estrella Vista is near several bus lines, hospitals, grocery stores, restaurants, schools and entertainment.
“Being located near transit, employment, shopping and services allows families an opportunity to live near where they work and brings vitality to the neighborhood and the community at large,” said Christian Patz, mayor of Emeryville.
High housing costs leave low-income families with little left over for other important expenses, leading to difficult budget trade-offs. Affordable housing increases the amount that families can put toward other important household needs and savings for the future.
Moreover, having stable affordable housing has a positive impact on both families and communities when those residents gain economic stability. Access to affordable housing provides critical stability for housing-insecure families and lowers the risk that vulnerable families will become homeless.
“Estrella Vista is 100% occupied by nearly 250 residents who are mainly working families, seniors, veterans, people with special needs and the formerly homeless,” Welton Jordan, chief real estate development officer at EAH Housing, an affordable housing nonprofit organization, tells GlobeSt.com. “We also have several apartments dedicated to people with physical, hearing and vision impairments and HIV positive residents.”
There are 87 rental apartments which include studios, one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom units ranging in size from 569 square feet to 1,572 square feet. Rents range from $590 to $2,002, which is at the 20 to 60% area median income level. At the top end, 60% of annual median income for a family of four living in Alameda County is $78,300 (100% is $119,200), according to Alameda County’s Housing and Community Development Department.
“Affordable housing is vital to ensuring our neighborhoods provide opportunities for everyone,” said Jordan. “It is fundamental to the sustainability and success of our society.”
Studies show that housing instability has serious negative impacts on child and adult health, can jeopardize children’s performance and success in school, and contribute to long-lasting achievement gaps. Quality affordable housing helps create a stable environment for children, contributing to improved educational outcomes, and can improve health by providing stability, freeing up resources for food and healthcare.
Designed by KTGY Architecture + Planning and built by JH Fitzmaurice General Contractors, the goal was to design the residences around four outdoor spaces geared to serve families at different life stages. A central courtyard offers play equipment for children, while the Zen garden, outdoor sky deck and adult overlook offer space for young adults and parents to retreat. Other community features include a community room, computer learning center, fitness center and on-site laundry facilities.
“Executing the unified vision of various public and private stakeholder groups, the goal was to provide affordable, quality homes for families in Alameda County near transit, jobs, hospitals, grocery stores, restaurants, schools and entertainment,” Jessica Musick, associate principal in KTGY’s Oakland office, tells GlobeSt.com. “The site was formerly a brownfield due to former auto repair uses onsite and was transformed into a high-quality affordable housing indistinguishable from market rate.”
Estrella Vista implements environmental features such as photovoltaic solar panels, a solar water heating system, low-flow plumbing fixtures, energy-efficient appliances and lighting, water-efficient landscaping, and an emphasis on recycled materials. Additionally, Estrella Vista includes electric vehicle charging stations and a bicycle storage area.
Energy-efficient improvements reduce the long-term operating costs of subsidized multifamily buildings. This helps to stabilize the portfolios of affordable housing providers, preserve the affordable rental housing stock and protect tenants from instability.
Energy costs can contribute substantially to the overall financial burden of housing and can make housing unaffordable for many families. And, building health greatly impacts the mental and physical health of the occupant.
Estrella Vista’s energy efficiency not only increases its affordability due to the reduction in energy costs but also can improve the health outcomes of low-income families, particularly children at risk for asthma. This in turn can contribute to better school performance by reducing asthma symptoms and missed school days.
“Its sustainable design/LEED Gold certification and close proximity to employment, services and education further increase its affordability for residents who have few affordable housing options, especially for larger families,” Musick tells GlobeSt.com. “Walk Score rates Estrella Vista’s location as a Walker’s Paradise (90 Walk Score) and a Biker’s Paradise (94 Walk Score). The live/work/shop/play environment minimizes commuting and lessens pollution.”
Estrella Vista’s development costs were $64 million. More than a dozen organizations contributed to the financing including the cities of Emeryville and Oakland, Alameda County, Oakland Housing Authority, Housing Authority of the County of Alameda, California Community Reinvestment Corporation, California Department of Housing and Community Development, California Municipal Finance Authority, California Tax Credit Allocation Committee, California Debt Limit Allocation Committee, Federal Home Loan Bank and Wells Fargo Bank, which provided both tax-exempt bond lending and Low Income Housing Tax Credit equity.
As with many affordable housing providers, EAH Housing had to modify its resident services and change property management operations to incorporate COVID-19 safety measures. The property management offices are closed to the public but EAH Housing has increased the cleaning of communal areas to multiple times throughout the day, issued PPE to all onsite personnel and integrated COVID-19 safety precautions into how it responds to maintenance and service requests.
“Due to COVID-19, we had to modify our resident services program and focus our efforts on lessening the impact of COVID-19 on the Estrella Vista community,” Jordan tells GlobeSt.com. “We help our residents with things such as food security, distance learning and bridging the digital divide.”
EAH is doing this in several ways. First, there are weekly food distributions. EAH provides residents with assistance when applying for CAL Fresh, unemployment or other support services. Second, EAH provides free WiFi and in the near future, will be setting up a digital literacy program made possible by a grant from the California Public Utilities Commission. Third, EAH Housing also worked with children and parents this past summer for a distance learning program in addition to encouraging residents to participate in the 2020 Census and register to vote.
EAH Housing is working on six new affordable housing developments in the East Bay, Jordan says.
“This past summer, we were selected by the Emeryville city council to develop a new 68-unit affordable housing community at 4300 San Pablo Ave.,” Jordan tells GlobeSt.com. “In Oakland, we are working on a 53-unit family housing development at 500 Lake Park Ave. We are also working on two new developments in Hayward and two in Richmond.”