Demolition cranes in February made quick work of the 48 below market rate family and senior housing units on the 1200 block of Willow Road, clearing the way for construction of 90 new apartments for lower-income seniors.
On May 5, MidPen Housing Corp., a nonprofit builder of "below market rate" housing, hosted a "wall raising" for elected officials to see framing going up for the new structure christened Sequoia Belle Haven.
The apartments that were torn down used to be part of the Gateway housing complex in the 1200 block of Willow Road. Another part of the complex, in the 1300 block of Willow Road, has 82 apartments for lower-income families and seniors.
Built in the 1960s, Gateway had a total of about 130 apartments, with 48 located on the 1200 block Willow Road. In 1987, MidPen Housing bought the entire apartment complex and rented them to lower-income families and seniors at prices that were below the market rate.
By 2011, plans to rebuild the apartments began to take shape, Nesreen Kawar, project manager of the development, said. It was decided that the first to be rebuilt would be the 1200 block apartments, and that when rebuilt, they would be dedicated exclusively to lower-income seniors.
By separating seniors from families, designs and services can be tailored to each group, said Lilli Lew-Hailer, senior project manager at MidPen.
It wasn't until 2013, when Menlo Park updated its housing element, that the city rezoned the property to allow for the building of more affordable apartments.
By then, the apartments had become "truly obsolete," Matthew Franklin, president of MidPen Housing, said.
Construction on the 2.26-acre lot is expected to be completed and ready for occupancy in spring 2017.
Of the 90 apartments planned for the site, 86 will be one-bedroom and four will be two-bedroom units, ranging in size from 513 to 705 square feet. There will be a fitness center, computer lab and a community room with a kitchen. An outdoor courtyard and walking path are planned.
To qualify to live there, residents must be 62 years or older and make no more than $49,200 for a two-person household, which is 50 percent of the area's median income.
In a second phase, MidPen representatives hope the family building can also be rebuilt to add an additional 36 units that are now allowed. The site is currently undergoing a feasibility study, said Beth Fraker, a spokesperson for MidPen Housing.
Loans to finance the construction of the $43.2 million project came from public and private interests:
● $5.10 million from the city of Menlo Park
● $1.69 million from the San Mateo County Department of Housing
● $890,000 from the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco
● $25.09 million from Wells Fargo with a permanent loan of $9.2 million.
The remainder, roughly $2.12 million, is from MidPen Housing Corp., according to Ms. Fraker.
Public loans will be repaid with remaining cash flow left after paying annual operating costs, and the Wells Fargo loan will be repaid over 35 years, Ms. Fraker said.
Public officials at the wall-raising event included Warren Slocum, president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, and Rich Cline, mayor of Menlo Park. They commented on how quickly the project seemed to be moving.
The compressed timeline, Mr. Franklin said, is because the residents of the 48 apartments previously on the site have been temporarily relocated for the duration of the construction, and MidPen Housing wants to resettle residents as quickly as possible. The seniors who lived there will be given the first choice to return.
Avideh Yaghmai-Samardar, supervisor at the Menlo Park Senior Center in Belle Haven, said some of these seniors are living farther away now, making it more challenging to get to the senior center. "But even with (distance) being a barrier, they make it to the center at least once a week for programs and events," she said.
Seniors carpool to the senior center together or take the midday bus through Menlo Park.
It can be challenging to take seniors out of their element and away from the environment they're used to, she said. However, she said, many are "excited about the idea of beautiful apartments being built for them."
Go to the MidPen Housing website or call 650-356-2900 for more information.