Construction of projects aimed at reducing California's population of homeless people is gaining momentum, with major projects in the Los Angeles and San Francisco regions breaking ground or in planning as a result of recently passed legislation that facilitates development of needed affordable housing.  

In Los Angeles, where more than 60,000 individuals are estimated to be suffering from homelessness, projects like Weingart Tower will help. The 19-story project, which broke ground last month in LA’s Skid Row district, will be the city’s largest and tallest affordable-housing development, offering 278 units of permanent housing. 

“This project is badly needed for people at the very low end of the income scale,” says Kevin Murray, president and CEO of the Weingart Center Association, the non-profit company developing Weingart Tower. “The average permanent supportive housing project for homeless is around 50 to 75 units, so we tried to go big and provide 278 units, and help put a dent in the crisis.” 

Weingart Tower is one of the first large-scale projects supported in part by the City of Los Angeles’ $3.5-billion Measure H and the County of Los Angeles’ $1.2-billion Measure HHH to provide both housing and services to address homelessness. 

The sustainable project, aiming for Green Point Gold Certification, is a collaboration between the Weingart Center and Chelsea Investment Corp., a leading affordable housing developer. The architectural concept was developed by Joseph Wong Design Assocs.; the project architect is AXIS/GFA Architecture + Design. 

Emmerson Construction is serving as construction manager-at risk, and Project Management Advisors (PMA) is the owner’s representative for project management. Swinerton Builders is the general contractor. 

Murray, a former California state senator, says Weingart Tower will be completed in December 2023, and next summer his team will break ground on a second phase of the project — a 12-story tower that will include 104 supportive housing units. 

Another large Los Angeles project is 3rd and Dangler, a 78-unit affordable housing community developed by National Community Renaissance (National CORE). The $46-million transit-oriented project, which broke ground Sept. 30, is adjacent to the Metro Gold Line and two bus lines. 

A grant from the California Strategic Growth Council (SGC) provided $23.8 million for the development and the Los Angeles County Development Authority (LACDA) provided land, $6.7 million in affordable housing trust funds, and 39 project-based vouchers to subsidize permanent supportive housing for residents formerly experiencing homelessness.

“There is a dramatic need for housing for the more than 66,000 unhoused people on the streets of Los Angeles,” says David Grunwald, senior vice president for National CORE, Los Angeles Region. “While the 3rd and Dangler development only creates 39 permanent supportive housing units for homeless Angelenos, it will help the local East LA community house some of its most vulnerable residents.”

When complete in 2023, the development will provide 20 studios, 49 one-bedroom units, and eight two-bedroom units, each affordable to individuals and families earning under 60% of the area median income. Thirty-nine of the apartment homes will be reserved for individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness.

Grunwald says developments like this “pave the way for future housing for the homeless. As community members see folks moving off the streets into housing, sentiment builds for future projects.” 

Murray agrees, adding that developers can be encouraged by such projects. 

“Normally, developers are afraid of things like a difficult permitting process, but the good news for someone that wants to do a project like this is that it's now been done and there is a feeling among the people at the city doing the permitting, approval and entitlements, that we need this kind of housing,” says Murray. “They were problem solvers rather than bureaucratic impediments.” 

In San Francisco, the city announced Oct. 6 that it will acquire three buildings for permanent supportive housing (PSH). The buildings will add 237 new units, helping the city surpass its 50% mark for its overall goal of creating 1,500 PSH units by July 2022. To date, the city has acquired 714 PSH units during Fiscal Year 2021-2022, say officials. 

The three sites will provide residents with professional property management and onsite support services. The properties include a 52-room motel formerly known as the Mission Inn, a 25-room hotel formerly known as the Eula Hotel, and a 160-unit building formerly known as the Panoramic. 

Projects should also get a boost from housing supply legislation signed last month. 

California Senate Bill 8 stands out most among Gov. Gavin Newsom’s suite of recently signed housing bills, says Ken Lowney, president and CEO of Oakland-based Lowney Architecture. SB 8 extends the Housing Crisis Act (SB 330) for an additional five years, streamlines the project approval process and prevents downzoning. 

“A major hurdle for projects in California and for municipalities is that they get bogged down by hearings and environmental reviews, so any legislation that cuts down on uncertainty is helpful,” says Lowney. “SB 8 streamlines the approval process, which means projects can move through quicker and get to market faster. Supportive housing developments are heavily reliant on schedules. If they become mired in lawsuits or face too much community opposition, funding for these kinds of projects will dry up and disappear.”

Lowney Architecture is currently planning the Depot Community Apartments in Hayward, Calif., which will break ground next fall. The project includes 125 affordable studio apartments for households earning less than 60% of the area median income, with a portion of the units earmarked for affordable housing at as low as 20% of the area median income. The program mix includes support services for special needs households, including persons experiencing chronic homelessness.