Best Affordable Senior Housing Design 2019: Sustainable, Mixed-Use Project Transforms a Downtown Core

A senior housing community has become a linchpin in the revitalization plan for downtown South San Francisco, California — but the project almost did not come to pass.

Rotary Terrace is an innovative public-private partnership led by HumanGood Affordable Housing on an urban infill site which connects residents to services and jobs, built with sustainability and reducing greenhouse gases in mind, the inclusion of design nods allowing residents to age in place longer and community space that is open to the public for use.

But construction was threatened at different points by factors beyond the development team’s control, and the team got very creative with its value engineering to keep the project on track and in keeping with the development team’s original vision.

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Rotary Terrace’s forward thinking architecture and design, commitment to sustainability and the development team’s creative solutions to funding helped it win the 2019 Senior Housing News Architecture & Design Awards’ “Best Affordable Housing” category.

The concept

The seeds for Rotary Terrace were planted in 2012, HKIT Architects Principal Paul McElwee told Senior Housing News. Oakland, California-based HKIT was the architect and designer of record for the project, and has a longstanding relationship with the lead developer on the project, Beacon Development Group.

Based in Seattle, Beacon is the in-house developer for Pleasanton, California-based HumanGood, which ranked eighth on the 2019 LeadingAge Ziegler 200 list of largest nonprofit senior housing operators, and owns and operates a total portfolio of 77 affordable and low-income communities, serving over 10,000 residents across the western United States.

Beacon partnered with the Rotary Club of San Francisco on the project. The Rotary Club is very active in the community and boasts a robust membership. It also developed a neighboring low-income apartment community, Rotary Plaza, which was in need of renovations. One of the contingencies of Rotary Plaza securing the necessary refinancing package to fund renovations involved setting aside some of the proceeds to developing a new community.

Around the same time, the city of South San Francisco was about to launch a downtown revitalization plan intended to increase density from single-family homes to multi-unit buildings with maximum 70-foot heights, and showed the Rotary Club several sites including two surface parking lots which were available, as the city was building a public parking garage across the street.

Additionally, an adjacent, city-owned third lot that was formerly single-family homes was included, McElwee said.

Affordable senior housing served as a perfect complement for the existing Rotary Plaza, and the Rotary Club needed a developer with senior housing experience. Enter Beacon, which brought its development expertise as well as experience to putting together construction pro formas through creative financing mechanisms such as low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC), Beacon Vice President Cindy Proctor told SHN.

“[Building] affordable housing is not for the faint of heart,” she said.

The development team worked with the city and the Health Plan of San Mateo County (HPSM) to include design features for seniors at various levels of care acuity, including the visually and hearing-impaired. Rotary Terrace uses high-color and value contrast to better define room shapes. Flooring and carpeting were chosen to differentiate rooms as well as provide an enhanced level of security. Rotary Terrace is equipped with an emergency call system so that residents can alert management of emergency situations, and all residents receive supportive living services.

Eight of Rotary Terrace’s 80 units were set aside for participants of HPSM’s Community Care Settings pilot, which serves seniors either living in skilled nursing facilities or those at risk of migrating to one.

Courtesy of HKIT Architects, Credit: Russell Abraham
Rotary Terrace’s outdoor courtyards use the building’s walls to provide a lee, protecting residents from the area’s high wind gusts.

Residents live on Rotary Terrace’s second through fifth floors. The ground floor contains a dedicated senior space, offices for the Rotary Club, and a community room that can be leased out to the public for events. Amenities include a 7,500-square-foot rooftop terrace and two landscaped courtyards where the building’s walls serve as a wind break, providing residents with protection from the elements.

The development team went above and beyond to make Rotary Terrace as sustainable as possible. Solar energy is used to preheat water and provide electricity to common areas. An onsite stormwater system was installed for landscaping, and demand-based recirculation controls are used to move hot water throughout the building. High-efficiency LED lighting fixtures include sensor controls that activate when movement is detected. The building envelope includes high-efficiency mechanical, electrical and plumbing. High efficiency windows are installed throughout.

The construction

The development team broke ground on Rotary Terrace in late 2017, but it took years of negotiations to reach that point. Neighbors were concerned about the building’s height and the amount of shade it would produce, there were complaints about losing parking, and there were scores of public hearings to determine Rotary Terrace’s environmental impact, Proctor told SHN.

The city of South San Francisco’s design review commission and city council ultimately decided that the benefits to the greater community outweighed the environmental impact, and gave Rotary Terrace the green light in mid-2016.

While that was happening, Beacon’s efforts to secure financing for the project was impeded by uncertainty over whether private activity bonds such as low-income housing tax credits would be affected — if not eliminated — by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Prior to the act’s passage, Beacon received $1.10 in LIHTC value for every dollar in credits it bought for its developments in the San Francisco market. For Rotary Terrace, Beacon underwrote a LIHTC value of $1 per credit, which was conservative given the uncertainty over the bill.

Uncertainty over the details of the law also constricted lending at a time when Beacon was working to secure financing for several projects, in addition to Rotary Terrace.

Solar photovoltaic cells help power Rotary Terrace’s common areas and amenities.

“Nobody knew where the corporate tax rate was going to end up at. Nobody knew how to value the tax credits. And so we lost several million dollars of equity. We almost lost the project,” Proctor said.

Eventually, Morgan Stanley stepped forward with bridge financing to cover most of the lost equity, which allowed the project to move forward. But Beacon still had to go back to local officials for additional funding, and Beacon asked HKIT to remove some of Rotary Terrace’s signature features, in the hopes that they could be re-added as construction progressed.

“This makes the end product even more amazing, because we were able to manage our contingency and add all of these kinds of innovative pieces back in,” Proctor said.

The completion

Rotary Terrace filled a need for affordable senior housing in South San Francisco. When it opened in late 2018, HumanGood had amassed a waitlist of 500 people interested in renting. HumanGood has not done a post-occupancy satisfaction survey for Rotary Terrace yet, but it is something that the operator will consider, Proctor told SHN.

Rotary Terrace is an exceptional example of urban infill development, Direct Supply Aptura Managing Partner Chris Frommell — one of the SHN Awards judges — told SHN.

“This allowed [Rotary Terrace] to be near other amenities and public transportation. Folks living here have access to the building and it remains affordable,” he said.

Frommell was especially impressed by the architecture team’s use of natural light, which aids residents suffering from visual impairment and assists with residents’ circadian rhythms, and praised the team’s designing the building’s walls to serve as a wind break for the courtyards.

“[Rotary Terrace is] one of the few [affordable housing] projects with this much sustainable design baked into the construction. It was thoughtfully done. That is hard with urban infill projects,” he said.

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