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Imperial Beach approves senior housing project (SD Union-Tribune)

November 25, 2022

The project consists of constructing two buildings. One will include 50 units of affordable housing for seniors and the second will be a community center

Imperial Beach has approved an affordable housing project aimed at helping older adults who are struggling to make ends meet.

The City Council unanimously approved a proposal to build a 50-unit senior housing development and an adjacent community center. The vote on Nov. 16 received resounding applause from a City Hall packed with older adults who underscored the need for additional housing options.

“The No. 1 issue in this country is housing,” Mayor Serge Dedina said during the meeting, which was his last before a new mayor is sworn in next month. “Having knocked on pretty much every door in Imperial Beach, it shocked me to see the poverty and conditions some of our seniors lived in.”

About 10 percent of Imperial Beach’s 26,100 residents are 65 or older, according to 2020 census data. More than 20 percent live alone, and 14 percent had incomes below the federal poverty level of $12,400. That same year, the South County city had the third-highest percentage of seniors living below the poverty line in the county, according to the census. El Cajon and National City had higher percentages.

San Diego-based Wakeland Housing and Development Co. received approval to construct a campus with two buildings on a 1.5-acre lot located at 455 Palm Ave.

On the northern side of the property, the senior homes will be built and restricted to people making 60 percent of the area median income or less. The three-story building will also include a 1,000-square-foot community room and courtyard for residents, plus 42 parking spaces.

Developers also hope to bring PACE services for the seniors who will reside there. PACE, an acronym for Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, offers health and social help for older adults, including medical and dental care, socialization programs and support for daily activities. To use a PACE program, people must be age 55 or older, be enrolled in Medicare or Medi-Cal and require nursing-home-level care.

The goal of “marrying our affordable housing for seniors with a program of all-inclusive care” is to help residents live independently, said Peter Armstrong, the vice president of real estate development with Wakeland. The company is still looking for a service provider, but has worked with other PACE providers in the region, he said.

Longtime resident and volunteer Josie Hamada said the project is “a win for the seniors and the underserved.”

“But most importantly, it is a win for the whole community because that community center that would also be built is going to serve the community,” she said, adding that the project could become a model for how to build future senior housing projects.

On the southern portion of the property, a 13,000-square-foot neighborhood center will be built to serve as the new headquarters for the local nonprofit Imperial Beach Neighborhood Center. Having a more adequate space to expand services had been a longtime vision of John Griffin-Atil, the organization’s founder.

The property had been home to the Imperial Beach United Methodist Church before it closed in 2018, according to Griffin-Atil. He had served as the pastor and then established the Neighborhood Center. The organization has provided food assistance, homeless outreach and a program that helps reunite children with their incarcerated parents.

“The center’s commitment to Imperial Beach and the community, especially the most vulnerable, is of particular importance coming out of the pandemic,” said Brian Barreto, the nonprofit’s board president.

Neighborhood Center officials said the facility will have several functions, including dedicated space for the nonprofit to continue its outreach programs. Another feature will be a community space for events and activities such as yoga and public lectures. The building will also host a young adult residency program.

“This program will provide living and training space for up to five young adults. While living on site, these young adults will learn the skills of community engagement and organizing, while providing services to residents of Imperial Beach,” the nonprofit said in a statement.

Some residents living near the property took issue with several components of the project, including that its height would interfere with their privacy. Developers said they took those concerns into consideration and believe their adjustments are sufficient. They proposed to include trees and screenings that would block views for those homes, as well as a 6-foot noise barrier.

As a resident who saw a large shopping center get built next to his home, Mayor Pro Temp Jack Fisher said he understood residents’ concerns and urged better public outreach.

Others worried that the Neighborhood Center’s expanded services could result in a migration of homeless people from outside the city.

Councilmember Ed Spriggs questioned how the nonprofit would assure that local residents benefit from the development. Nonprofit officials said that their goal is to help Imperial Beach residents and that they would market to them, but services will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis.