Turner: u201cThere are 434,000 people with disabilities in Orange County.u201d

IRVINE, CA—Affordable-housing communities that cater to special needs are hard to find and yet in high demand in Orange County, Mario Turner, VP of development for AMCAL, tells GlobeSt.com. The category presents a unique opportunity for developers interested in filling this untapped niche.

As GlobeSt. reported last week, AMCAL Multi-Housing, A Community of Friends and Foundation for Affordable Housing debuted Vista Del Rio, a special-needs affordable-housing community located at 1600 W. Memory Lane in Santa Ana. The community includes 41 one- and two-bedroom units that will provide high-quality affordable housing for persons with physical and developmental disabilities.

The development of Vista Del Rio serves as a collaboration to further expand affordable housing in communities that are underserved. The joint venture has announced full occupancy of the new community, which includes on-site complimentary services and modern amenities. Some of these amenities include social-service programs designed to increase or maintain the independence of tenants with disabilities, such as independent/support living training and vocational services.

Naturally, there are different types of special-needs populations that require different housing elements, Turner tells GlobeSt.com. “Vista Del Rio is for disabled residents, including those with physical and developmental disabilities. But we also completed a 100% special-needs community in Anaheim for the homeless or formerly homeless with mental illness.”’

Turner adds that there are 434,000 people with disabilities in Orange County. “For these folks, the need for quality housing is not being met. Usually, they’re living with their families or doubling up on apartments because they’re having trouble making ends meet.”

Vista Del Rio was the first affordable special-needs community to be built in Orange County in more than a decade. The tenants are restricted to those who earn between 30% and 60% of the area median income. “Across the board, there is a lack of affordable housing, and this community is the first to target folks with a disability,” says Turner.

The focus at Vista Del Rio is on design and quality of life. Accessibility is a huge factor, with extra-wide hallways and door openings to accommodate wheelchairs and unit interiors built with this in mind. The community has a garden to allow for outdoor enjoyment without having to travel in a car, and it’s adjacent to a site where a public park is slated to be built. It also offers additional classrooms and more common space, which may not be featured in a typical development.

Turner says since there is more space that doesn’t generate income, these facilities do cost more to build and maintain. “There are a lot of components that don’t generate income, but lead to a higher quality of life. Plus, the units are larger than average.”

AMCAL is considering exploring other such partnerships. “We’re getting lots of calls from folks who would like us to go to their cities and families and be partners with them,” says Turner.

He calls Vista Del Rio “a historic event for Santa Ana. It took a lot of political will to get this done, and that was not easy and took a long time—about 10 years from start to finish. At the end of the day, there were four very strong supports that made it happen.”