MBEP Member Spotlight: First Community Housing
First Community Housing: Putting the Needs of Residents at the Center of Its Focus
Residents moving into the new Salinas Gateway Senior Apartments six years ago got so much more than keys to their new apartments.
Along with a permanent place to live, those tenants also received community, mobility and a sense of belonging.
That’s because, for the nonprofit public benefit housing development corporation that created the project, housing is just the start. The goal, says First Community Housing President and CEO Geoffrey Morgan, is to address needs that help create quality of life.
With 20 affordable rental housing developments and more than 1,400 units in the greater San Francisco Bay area and an additional 800 units in the pipeline, First Community Housing has deep roots when it comes to meeting the needs of low-income populations, including individuals, families, senior citizens and those with special needs like chronic and mental illnesses and developmental disabilities.
While each development is unique, they share commonalities, like free internet to foster learning and connection, adult education, health and wellness programs to keep residents active and engaged, and community gardens to encourage physical activity, good nutrition and a sense of purpose. Residents also have access to employment, financial, and family resources.
Transportation access — a critical component of well-being — is a cornerstone of First Community Housing’s transit-centered projects: The Salinas Gateway mixed-use development, a 52-unit, 100 percent affordable housing complex, sits at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Market Street, the gateway to downtown, so that residents can easily access public transportation and local amenities. Transportation access — a critical component of well-being — was a main consideration not only for the Salinas development but each of the 1,400-plus units created by First Community Housing since 1986. To ensure residents can access appointments, employment, shopping, and social connections, FCH provides them with free bus passes. For some residents, that can be life-changing, says First Community Housing President and CEO Geoffrey Morgan. In Santa Clara County, where the San Jose-based corporation is headquartered, it’s the largest purchaser of transit passes.
“We try to have programs and services that help people connect and stay vital,” says Morgan. “Our residents don’t have to make difficult choices about food, medicine, or housing.”
An emphasis on sustainable design choices helps lower operating expenses, improves indoor air quality, and can mean more housing units rather than parking spaces — important considerations in regions where housing costs continue to rise. From their windows, residents see a living roof planted with organic, drought-tolerant plants, which helps filter rainwater, lower the building’s heat island effect, and provides roof insulation. Designed to minimize energy use, the apartments utilize paints, finishes, carpentry and flooring with low volatile compound makeup for healthy indoor air quality.
“We’re very interested in being resident-centric in everything that we do, and we’re very interested in being innovative,” says Morgan.
Recognized for its architectural design and sustainability, First Community Housing built Salinas Gateway Senior Apartments to the highest standards of green building and design, earning it Platinum Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. the highest achievable rating in its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system.
“We’re not afraid of innovation, and we save dollars to build more housing,” says Morgan. “If you’re in an area like this where construction costs are so high, it’s nice to have options and explore different technologies.”
In Capitola, First Community Housing renovated aging senior apartments into what is now the Bay Avenue Senior Apartments, with a design focus on water conservation and improving open space. Residents of the 109-unit affordable community take pride in the building, which has won multiple awards for architecture and sustainability, and its location also offers easy access to public transportation, shopping, medical services and recreation.
Since COVID-19 emerged, First Community Housing has collaborated with Second Harvest and other nonprofits to deliver food to its senior citizens, and the community gardens and outdoor recreation have taken a backseat to community games via Zoom to keep residents safe and ensure that they feel connected and valued. FCH has also worked to boost internet speeds in several developments so that residents — particularly students who live in multi-family developments — can engage in virtual classrooms.
“Home can be a place of healing and community or it can be a place of isolation, and it depends on how much support each person has for each other in that group,” says Morgan. “We’re trying our best to make sure each person is supported.”
The nonprofit housing developer is currently looking at opportunities to create much-needed affordable housing to Salinas, Santa Cruz and Monterey. “We’re hoping to bring that expertise to the Monterey Bay in a bigger way,” says Morgan. “We respect the need to be conservative with water, we understand how beautiful it is, and we’re very excited to work in the region to serve some of the region’s most vulnerable residents.”