New affordable housing complex opens to veterans and other homeless

Twelve years after it was conceived, an affordable housing complex has opened for low-income veterans and others facing homelessness in Old Pittsburgh.

Over the years, the planned Veterans Square apartments at 901 W. Los Medanos St., have been supported and criticized. Because of its prime downtown location, but at the grand opening on Wednesday, one couldn’t help but hear the awards.

“I am so grateful,” Don Drewer, the new resident, said in an interview before the grand opening where she was a featured speaker. “It’s hard to believe I have a place of my own.”

Droyer, a Danville native and former homeowner in Pittsburgh, said she had a hard time after a divorce and medical problems stemming from an accident years ago, while her parents died last year, leaving her with little support. Over the years, she’s lived with her boyfriend’s mother, sister and most recently in shelters in Concord and Richmond before applying for the Veterans Square apartment, for which she pays 30% of her disability income.

“I am in a really nice area in the middle of the city,” she said, adding that security measures help keep residents safe.

Close to restaurants, bus services, and the Pittsburg Center BART station, Satellite Affordable Housing Associates’ Veterans Square features solar thermal systems and other green features, as well as room for a community garden. The three-story building houses 28 one- and two-bedroom apartments, ranging in size from 575 to 783 square feet, with a manager on site.

“Satellite Affordable Housing Associates is thrilled to continue our work to serve veterans and end veteran homelessness in Contra Costa County,” SAHA CEO Susan Friedland said in a statement. “Affordable homes for veterans are urgently needed across the county and state. According to the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, more than 10,000 veterans currently experience homelessness in California alone. We can change this.”

The Pittsburgh housing project targets people who earn 30% to 50% of the area’s median income, which is $87,900 for a family of one in Contra Costa County, according to officials. Working with referrals from several agencies, the Pittsburgh Housing Authority has offered 29 Veterans Yard coupons to low-income residents who need housing.

Nineteen of the apartment will serve homeless veterans through HUD’s Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program.

The remaining ten apartments are allocated to others who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

The $19 million Affordable Housing Partners Housing Project began in November 2020 and has been funded through a variety of sources, according to one of the major lenders.

Housing Trust Silicon Valley has provided a low-cost loan to the project through grants received by the Apple Affordable Housing Fund. In recent years, the tech giant has donated $150 million to support new housing projects in the Bay Area such as Veterans Square by providing loans to qualified developers.

“Our mission is to provide safe and affordable housing solutions to those in need,” Noni Ramos, CEO of The Housing Fund, said in a statement. “Grand editorials like this are very exciting because they represent a new beginning for those who have served our country with courage.”

Other sources of funding include the City of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Housing Authority, the California Department of Housing and Community Development, the California Tax Credit Allocation Commission, the California Debt Limits Allocation Commission, Contra Costa County, the Raymond James Tax Credit, Chase, and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Julie Mawald, chief financial officer of Housing Trust Silicon Valley, said in an interview that the developer put in place a complex network of funding for the apartment project and contacted the nonprofit to secure a portion of the funding needed to build the Veterans Arena.

Although Veterans Square is one of the smallest of the nearly 600 veteran housing projects that Housing Trust Silicon Valley has helped realize, Mahowald said it’s a good size for people to get to know and help each other.

“It’s on the smaller side, but being small, it can become a close-knit community and people can keep an eye on each other,” she said.

Drewer said that being on the second floor facing downtown allows her to watch the comings and goings around her from her safe house.

“It’s hard to believe, I worked so hard to get to this point,” Droer said, noting that she had been on waiting lists before but had not been offered an affordable apartment. “It is very refreshing. It is very cool.”

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