The new 14-story Saint Teresa of Calcutta Villa being built at the corner of 14th and Commercial streets will provide housing for more than 500 people. Rendering courtesy of Joseph Wong Design Associates.

The new 14-story Saint Teresa of Calcutta Villa being built at the corner of 14th and Commercial streets will provide housing for more than 500 people. Rendering courtesy of Joseph Wong Design Associates.

Construction has reached the halfway point for a $145 million downtown East Village apartment tower with a twist.

Unlike many of its neighbors, the target market for Saint Teresa of Calcutta Villa are some of the same people who may now sleep in the shadows of the steel shell of the rising building – homeless or recently homeless individuals, veterans and families.

Reaching 14 stories at 14th and Commercial streets, Saint Teresa’s will include 407 apartments meant to provide permanent housing for more than 500 people.

“When we all encounter homelessness, there’s a certain sense of hopelessness, we can’t do something about this problem. This building is designed to say, ‘Yes we can,’” said Bill Bolstad, COO of Father Joe’s Villages.

Speaking at topping off ceremonies for Saint Teresa Villa, Deacon Jim Vargas, CEO of Father Joe’s Villages, said “Through building this community of hope, we declare that no man, nor woman, veteran or family should have to sleep on the street.”

“We want to celebrate this construction milestone with a message – hope is here in East Village and in San Diego,” Vargas said. “When people who believe in the power of hope come together, that is when we truly make a difference.”

Betsy Brennan, president and CEO of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, said “We’re thrilled to see these additional units start construction knowing that they will provide another quality option by Father Joe’s Villages so some of our unsheltered neighbors no longer have to live on our Downtown streets.”

“We look forward to seeing more projects like this one come online not only in downtown, but throughout the region,” Brennan said. “The most critical resource we need to make an impact on our homelessness crisis in any neighborhood of the region is housing.”

Saint Teresa Villa is an “incredibly important” project, said Steve Russell, executive director of the San Diego Housing Federation.

In the sheer number of people it will help, it will have “a huge impact numerically,” Russell said.

Services

Saint Teresa Villa will have 357 studio apartments of 350 square feet, 24 one-bedroom apartments of 570 square feet, and 26 two-bedroom apartments of 830 square feet, said Bill Bolstad, COO of Father Joe’s Villages.

The apartments come with full kitchens and private bathrooms.

Russell said the project is particularly noteworthy for the family housing it will provide, a segment of the homeless population that isn’t always visible.

“Families typically are not sleeping on the street. They’re what we call functionally homeless. They’re living in cars, they’re bouncing between friends,” Russell said.

Designed by Joseph Wong Design Associates with Level 10 Construction based in Carmel Valley as the general contractor, Saint Teresa Villa will have lots of space for people to gather to combat loneliness, including community rooms on nearly every floor and large activity areas on the second and third floors.

People who are homeless often band together to form communities and it’s important to maintain the sense of belonging to help them succeed, Bolstad said.

Father Joe’s Villages also will provide residents of Saint Teresa Villa with social services including health care on site and its adjacent operations.

“We’re big believers in wrap-around, comprehensive services,” Bolstad said.

Russell of the Housing Federation said the social services are just as crucial as the apartments for people who were homeless.

“To make sure they’re going to stay housed, they need that support,” Russell said.

“That support can include all kinds of things. It can include folks getting on their feet financially, it can be focused on children’s education. It can be focused for some folks on more basics, just stabilizing their medical condition.”

According to Father Joe’s Villages, 97% of the people who enter its housing programs remain in permanent housing.

Pending Projects

Saint Teresa Villa is the biggest housing project to date for Father Joe’s Villages.

“I believe it’s the biggest in the region,” Bolstad said. “We think this is a really important project. If San Diego is going to address homelessness, it’s got to take these solutions to scale. If you’re going to really take this problem head on, you have to have some dense housing.”

To mark the midway mark of the construction, a huge banner was unfurled atop the building covering about four floors of the structure.

Still in the planning stages is a 273-unit apartment project in East Village at 13th Street and Broadway. A groundbreaking is scheduled for mid-2022, Bolstad said.

Chelsea Investment Corp. based in Encinitas is partnering with Father Joe’s Villages on that project as it is on St. Teresa Villa.

“We have a couple of other projects that are still in the early discussion phase,” Bolstad said, but he declined to elaborate.

The other recent development by Father Joes Villages was Benson Place, a $24.7 million project that converted a former EZ-8 Motel at 1010 Outer Road into an affordable housing project with 82 apartments for the homeless.

Benson Place was named for Judy Benson and her late husband Roger Benson, founder of Rescue Rooter.

“Benson was a little less expensive on a per-unit value but it’s much less dense,” Bolstad said.

According to the Regional Task Force on the homeless, San Diego’s homeless population in its annual Point in Time Count in 2020 was 7, 619 – a 6% drop from 2019.

The 2020 Point in Time Count counted the number of homeless found in the city over a three-day period on January.

“What we see when we look at that number is it’s trending in the right direction but at the same, there’s still a lot to do,” Bolstad said. “On any given night before the pandemic, we were service about 2,100 meals in all of our shelters and sites. At this point, it’s 2,500.”

No count was taken in 2021 yet because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Concerns

The big concern is that there will be a spike in people on the streets when eviction moratoriums that were put in place during pandemic expire, Bolstad said.

“When the rent moratorium is lifted, are we suddenly going to see an influx of new people who can’t pay their rent?”

Concurrent with topping off ceremonies for Saint Teresa’s, Father Joe’s Villages is starting a Hope Lives Here campaign to raise money for the ongoing maintenance and improvements to its housing projects and other buildings, to expand client services and expand an endowment for the services that the nonprofit offers.

“We must also invest in our proven and effective programs and existing facilities,” Vargas said. “We are committed to safeguarding our food program and housing options now and in the decades to come.”

Donors can have their name put on parts of Saint Teresa’s.

For $2,000, $3,500 or $7,000, someone can have their name on paving stone on the promenade on the14th Street side of the building.

A donation of $750,000 will put someone’s name on the third floor family courtyard.

Naming rights to other portions of the building go for $50,000 to $250,000.

Funding for Saint Teresa’s came in part through a $10 million donation from Terrence Caster and his late wife Barbara and their family. The couple founded A-1 Self Storage.

It was Terrance Caster who chose to name the project St. Teresa of Calcutta, after Mother Teresa, who founded the Catholic Missionaries of Charity.

Artwork depicting Mother Teresa will be included in the new building.

The Casters founded the nonprofit Serving Hands International in 1983 and met Mother Teresa in 1988.

Serving Hands International began supporting Mother Teresa’s work in Mexico and together, they built an orphanage and shelter for homeless in Tijuana.