By Morgan M. Hurley | Editor
CHW’s North Park Senior Apartments an exciting addition to their inventory
When Sue Reynolds first took over as CEO of the nonprofit Community HousingWorks (CHW) in 1997, the builder-owner-development organization managed 300 affordable apartments in San Diego County, with a staff of 13. Two decades later, they’ve grown to 65 employees and an inventory of 3,000 apartments statewide; a total of 35 communities with 30 of those located in San Diego County.
These affordable housing communities serve low-age families, seniors, the disabled and the homeless — in general, people who live on fixed incomes.
“Typically, single parent is a very common family profile for us, or a family with very young children where the ages are such that with the low wages, it doesn’t make sense for both people to work,” Reynolds said. “Every family is only a divorce away from needing affordable housing, because it is just rough to make it on your own.”
Each development CHW either builds or acquires to refurbish becomes by design a community for its residents. Onsite support services include learning centers with after-school programs; financial, cooking and fitness classes for the parents; life coaching; and other services.
Even the organization’s vision on its website is affirming: “We believe with a stable home, powerful tools, and community support, people can move themselves up in the world.”
Come January, CHW’s latest development, the North Park Senior Apartments — the first one marketed as LGBT-affirming and currently in its final stages of construction — will begin accepting its first tenants.
The complex is located at the northwest corner of Texas Street and Howard Avenue, one block south of El Cajon Boulevard. It too will have support services for its residents, which will be managed onsite by the Senior Services department of the San Diego LGBT Community Center in Hillcrest. Services will be focused around continued independence and health so the residents can age in place.
The facility will include a garden patio and a community space that has access from the street where she said they plan to host events that are open to the greater community. Once residents get settled in, a grand opening will be scheduled, possibly in February or March.
While Reynolds assured that CHW does all they can to make each of their apartment communities as accepting and inclusive as possible, this particular project has been an exciting and satisfying evolution.
“My joke about it is that when I was a young lesbian sitting around with my friends joking about the ‘old dykes home,’ I never really thought I’d get old and I certainly never thought I’d be building it,” she said. “It is a special privilege. Every community we build has a special story, but this one is special in a personal way.”
Because the development was marketed as LGBT-affirming, everyone who applied knew, without a doubt, that they would be surrounded by neighbors from the LGBT community, and they would have to be supportive of that.
The obvious expectation is that most of the residents of the North Park complex will be LGBT seniors, but CHW could not reverse discriminate by stating it would only accept applications from the LGBT community.
“It is illegal to discriminate against folks based on their LGBT+ status, and you can’t have it both ways,” Reynolds said. “It is really pretty simple. We won that years and years ago through (former state Senator) Sheila Kuehl and other LGBT state legislators — we won those protections and those protections need to be enforced.
“If those protections were really working people would not be longing for this so much. Because you might be able to protect yourself from landlord discrimination but you can’t protect yourself as easily from neighbor attitude,” she said.
To emphasize the inclusiveness of their other communities, Reynolds said they have a mixed-race lesbian couple living in a Lakeside complex and a transgender military veteran living in a Fallbrook development.
“As an owner, it’s all about creating the friendliest community we can manage to create but certainly [North Park Senior Apartments] is going to feel different and special,” she said.
Once residents get moved into one of CHW’s communities, they tend to stay put as long as they can, so there is less turnover than most. While it is CHW’s goal to better the circumstances of each resident, no one will be pushed out; in addition, Reynolds is not a supporter of wait lists.
Residents got into the North Park Senior Apartments by way of a lottery and 500 people were chosen. The wait list is currently closed and may not reopen again for years.
“Some folks make their wait lists open constantly, but particularly for senior communities, we are going to a system of not keeping them open, because I think it keeps people up at night,” Reynolds said. “I think it’s unkind.
“If I have 3,000 people on a wait list for North Park Seniors, I’ve just increased the worrying and the loss of sleep at night for thousands of people, and most of them don’t have a real chance of getting in,” she said.
A resident of San Diego for 28 years, Reynolds has been in a relationship with her now-wife Allison for 29 years. They got married in the first window of opportunity in 2008 and live between Hillcrest and Mission Hills.
She first became concerned with the housing conditions of the less fortunate as a teenager working with a minister who ran a community development program in her home state of Ohio and decided to make it her life’s work.
“I got mad at the conditions that people were living under,” Reynolds said. “I got inspired by the people I met who were struggling through poverty in some pretty inspiring ways. And I was hooked. I’ve been doing housing and community-related work ever since I got out of college.”
CHW has two more senior developments in the wings and in time would be open to shepherding in another LGBT-affirming complex. Reynolds said several other cities within the state are watching closely and interested in doing what San Diego has done.
The need for affordable housing has always existed, Reynolds said, but it was never as “desperate” as it is today. She said that 50-percent of San Diego renters are paying too much of their budget towards housing and it is “squeezing out” income they could be spending elsewhere. This impacts the economy.
“If it’s happening to that many people it can’t be their fault,” she said. “It’s taken us decades, literally, of public policy decisions that were not forward-thinking about this, to get us to where we are today. It’s going to take incredible leadership by folks like our mayor and City Council and the governor and state legislators every year for a number of years to get us out of it.”
Next fall, Reynolds said there will be a statewide bond issue on the ballot that would allow CHW to build thousands of affordable apartments throughout the county. For now, however, she’s focused on the quality of life of the residents in her current communities.
“Once folks are home with us, they are home,” Reynolds said. “The stability of the home is the beginning of so many things. I want to be part of people’s health, not their worry.”
How you can help
As a nonprofit, Community HousingWorks is always looking for ways to offset their costs. The North Park Senior Apartments cost $28 million to build, most of which came from grants and low-interest bank loans, but maintenance costs and support programs incur other financial demands.
Their biggest fundraiser of the year is Dream Builder in October, but on Nov. 28, Giving Tuesday — a global day of giving and philanthropy — you can designate CHW as your benefactor. Their theme is “Transforming Communities” and you can follow updates on their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter or subscribe to their newsletter. You can also donate directly to them on their webpage. In addition, CHW is always looking for volunteers to help with their support programs and classes, and with 30 communities, there is sure to be one near you.
For more information about Community HousingWorks, or to check for availability in any of their community properties, visit chworks.org.
— Morgan M. Hurley can be reached at email@example.com.