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Tuesday, Feb 7, 2023
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St. Teresa Apartment Tower in East Village Opens for Homeless

A striking 14-story apartment building opened its doors this month to an estimated 500 people – many of whom had been calling the hard sidewalks of downtown San Diego as their home.

The $148 million St. Teresa of Calcutta Villa was completed by Father Joe’s Villages in partnership with Chelsea Investment Corp. based in Carlsbad with 407 apartments that are expected to provide permanent housing to homeless or recently homeless individuals, veterans and families.

Designed by San Diego architect Joseph Wong, the complex includes a tribute to the late Fr. Joe Carroll, and his mission to house the homeless, in the form of a pair of walkways along 14th St. from Commercial Street to Imperial Avenue. Carroll died in July 2021.

“It really is meant as a tribute to him directly,” said Bill Bolstad, COO of Father Joe’s Villages. “It is also in part an encouragement to the community to see people who are homeless as he saw them: as people, as neighbors.”

One walkway is meandering, waving back and forth, meant to symbolize how public sentiment has shifted back and forth between seeing the homeless as people who need help and seeing them as a public nuisance.

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The other is straight, “the idea being that he never wavered. … He knew what his mission was. He never wavered. He just kept going, regardless of the public sentiment,” Bolsta said.

The walkway also has four life-sized statues of children playing hide-and-seek as “a reminder that nobody began life thinking ‘that one day I’ll be homeless.’ Everybody had hopes and dreams. Their parents had hopes and dreams for them,” Bolstad said. “Inside them, whether they’re homeless or not is this inner child. Our job at Father Joe’s Villages is to restore them to a place where they try again. Like Father Joe, we like to see the person inside the person and that same potential they had as children.”

A Gateway

At 300,000 square feet, St. Teresa’s is actually two connected buildings – the 14-story tower and a seven-story building.

Named for Mother Teresa, the complex has 357 studio apartments of 350 square feet, 24 one-bedroom apartments of 570 square feet, and 26 two-bedroom apartments of 830 square feet. The apartments have full kitchens and bathrooms.

“It is to our knowledge the largest building of its kind in San Diego history,” Bolstad said. “Having almost two-thirds of the building supportive housing is really important. That means that we’re really caring for people who without this would have no other option.”

Level 10 Construction, based in Sunnyvale with San Diego offices in Carmel Valley, was the general contractor.

Ben Briggs, senior project manager of Level 10, said St. Teresa’s is “a beautiful transition right at East Village heading downtown” serving as a gateway between East Village and Barrio Logan.

“I think this building is going to be iconic for years at that location,” Briggs said. “It just rounds out that corner. Father Joe’s has that entire block.”

Of particular significance in the project is an abundance of community spaces that were built into St. Teresa’s, according to Bolstad.

The community spaces were designed to draw tenants out of their apartments to mix with their neighbors so they don’t feel isolated.

“One of the challenges we have when we bring people in from the streets is when you have very little, what you have is community,” Bolstad said.

Blending In

Although the tenants of St. Teresa’s are far different from those of nearby luxury apartment towers that dot the downtown landscape, the look of the building itself is very much in keeping with its neighbors with lots of glass on the façade to allow natural light inside.

“If anything, I think it really enhances the neighborhood,” Bolstad said. “We want to make sure that the place where we’re inviting people to live is reflective of the community. You want to blend in seamlessly, and in the downtown area, it has to have a certain look and feel. It has to be modern.”

St. Teresa’s started construction at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Briggs said that despite the challenges that the pandemic posed, the project finished ahead of schedule.

“We were on the front end of getting our stuff before it was snapped up,” Briggs said. “The challenges of COVID, the challenges of procurement were all real. Everybody involved in the job really put an effort forward to knock it out of the park.”

Father Joe’s Villages

Founded: 1950 as St. Mary of the Wayside Chapel

CEO and President: Deacon Jim Vargas

Headquarters: East Village

Business: Nonprofit agency serving people who are homeless

Number of employees: 437

Website: www.my.neighbor.org

Notable: Fr. Joe Carroll, for whom Father Joe’s Villages is named, took charge of St. Vincent de Paul Center in November 1982 and retired in November 2011. He died in 2021.

Contact: 619-466-3537

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