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Harlan: Don't ignore current residents for sake of new ones

July 14, 2012|By Jeffrey Harlan

Over the past two weeks, Costa Mesa's seniors earned two important, but relatively silent, victories.

First, the City Council approved issuing $37 million in tax-free bonds for the renovation of the 269-unit Bethel Towers for low-income seniors. Second, the city's Planning Commission agreed to extend for another year the entitlements for a 53-unit affordable senior housing project on Baker Street near the Corona del Mar (73) Freeway.

Retaining and developing affordable senior housing in this difficult economy is no small feat. Harper's Pointe — the Baker Street project the council approved in June 2010 that already received one extension to assemble its financing — illustrates the daunting task of developing senior housing in Costa Mesa.

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The primary challenges are the paucity of available land and the complex financing structures — usually a combination of low-income housing tax credits and investor capital managed by various partnerships — to pull together a project. Moreover, with the dissolution of municipal redevelopment agencies, cities are no longer sources of potential funding or other resources.

And even much-needed projects like these face community opposition. Complaints about traffic, noise, incompatibility with the adjacent uses and inconsistency with a broad neighborhood vision (SoBECA, in the case of Harper's Pointe) have been offered as possible grounds for rejecting project proposals.

But there's an incredible demand for affordable senior housing here and throughout the county. USA Properties Fund, the Harper's Pointe developer that specializes in senior and family communities, noted that turnover for affordable senior housing projects is typically only one to two units per year. Moreover, the waiting list for this type of project in Costa Mesa can be between seven and 40 years.

According to the 2012 Community Indicators report prepared by the Children & Families Commission of Orange County, the county's population is aging at a faster rate than the state and the nation. Over the last census period (2000-10), the county's median age rose from 33.3 to 36.2 years. The large generation of baby boomers (those born 1946-1964) is nearing retirement age, and account for a quarter of Orange County's population, a 5% increase since 2000.

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