What was for decades was part of the City Heights site of a Ford car dealership has become home to low income families and elderly renters in a combined project that its developers hope will become a model for others throughout San Diego.
“The need is great, demand is high,” said Paul Downey, CEO of Serving Seniors, a nonprofit agency that partnered with Chelsea Investment and Price Philanthropies to build the two low-income projects that share the same site and many of the same amenities, including a town square that is open to the general public.
The Harris Family Senior Residence and Mid-City Family Apartments at the northeast intersection of El Cajon Boulevard and Fairmount Avenue opened in November with all of the project’s combined total of 195 apartments already filled.
The $49 million Mid-City Apartments at 4340 44th St. has 78 apartments – 33 two-bedroom apartments and 45 three-bedroom apartments.
The $36 million Harris Family Senior Residence – named after the late Howard and Iris Harris and their children – has 117 one-bedroom apartments.
The Harris family are longtime contributors to Serving Seniors and Price Philanthropies donated the nearly 1.8-acre site of the project.
“This intergenerational affordable housing development is the achievement of a collective vision to improve the quality of life in City Heights and along El Cajon Boulevard in particular,” said Robert Price, president of Price Philanthropies Foundation.
The overall project was designed by Rob Wellington Quigley Architects based in East Village and Studio E Architects, based in Bankers Hill, designed the Harris Family Senior Residence portion.
Mid-City Family Apartments and Harris Family Senior Residence are separate five-story buildings, but they’re connected by walkways and other features including a community garden and a trellised courtyard between the two buildings meant as a place where tenants can interact.
“While it’s two distinct buildings, it is one large community,” Downey said.
“It means that the seniors aren’t going to be isolated in their apartments,” said Jerry Harris, who grew up and went to school in City Heights.
“It’s great that this place can be repurposed for something that is really going to be helpful to so many people,” Harris said. “It’s just a great model for the future.”
Special care was taken in designing the Harris Family Senior Residence to include elements that pay special attention to the needs of an older population.
“We designed it to be senior friendly,” Downey said.
For example, Downey said that stoves in the apartments are higher than normal so tenants don’t have to bend over to use them, bathrooms have handrails throughout rather than just in tubs or showers, and doors in the corridors are brightly colored to make it easier for people to find their way.
Downey said it took seven years to arrange financing, get the required city permits, and actually build Mid-City Family Apartments and Harris Family Senior Residence.
“It speaks to the challenge of developing affordable housing,” Downey said, adding that “it just takes that long to grind through the process, to line up you funding, your tax credits, and get all the necessary permits from the city.”
“It’s a significant issue when we talk about the need for affordable housing,” Downey said. “The process needs to be streamlined.”
CEO: Paul Downey
Headquarters: East Village
Business: Nonprofit providing housing, meals and other services to seniors
Social impact: Provides housing, meals, and a variety of social services to senior citizens.
Notable: Serving Seniors was established in 1970 under the umbrella of Catholic Charities.