Energy-Efficient Affordability

The apartment building Trinity Place provides energy-efficient housing for chronically homeless seniors

By Camille Manaloto

Established in 1987, Studio E Architects has footprints throughout the Southwestern United States. The architecture firm led by principals Eric Naslund, John Sheehan, Mathilda Bialk and Maxine Ward, specializes in projects that range from private residences, mixed-use, civic and urban planning projects.

Additionally, Studio E Architects has been the brains behind over 500 affordable homes, including low-income rental apartments, Trinity Place. The energy efficient project is located in the Mission Valley neighborhood of Grantville, just north of Downtown San Diego.

“While the office also has a solid portfolio of schools and higher educational projects –  affordable housing remains a passionate interest of the firm,” said Sheehan.

In collaboration with Allgire General Contractors as the builder, and non-profit Wakeland Housing as the developer and owner, Studio E Architects helped bring Trinity Place to life. With planning dating back to 2017, the building opened up in September 2021. The 74-unit (ranging from 340 sq. ft. to 420 sq. ft.) apartment building was intended for formerly unhoused seniors aged 55 and up who have chronic health needs. 

“Trinity Place is unique in that it not only gives these seniors a safe place to live, but also offers wraparound supportive services designed to help them live stable, independent lives,” said Ken Sauder, Wakeland’s President & CEO, in a news release.

To qualify, residents must demonstrate financial need. Qualifying seniors are generally referred here through various social service agencies involved in battling homelessness, according to Sheehan.

“While the office also has a solid portfolio of schools and higher educational projects –  affordable housing remains a passionate interest of the firm.” -John Sheehan, Principal, Studio E Architects

Wakeland was also joined by a second local non-profit in Saint Paul’s Senior Services for Trinity Place. The organization offered valuable input during the design and remains connected to the project by offering on-site, all inclusive care for the residents, otherwise known as PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care) for the Elderly.

“If you are living under the bridge or living in the park, you cannot be worried about your diabetes or your heart disease. But moving into a beautiful place like this, with support from the agencies that are here to support and to serve, these people can turn their lives around, get their health under control, get their medical conditions taken care of, and that’s what we are here to do at St. Paul’s PACE,” said Cheryl Wilson, CEO of St. Paul’s Senior Services, in a release by the San Diego Housing Commission.

Other programs, PATH (People Assisting the Homeless), Alpha Project Home Finers and CRF Senior IMPACT, provide comprehensive supportive services to the residents.

Trinity Place is certified as a GreenPoint Rated (GPR) Gold building by Build It Green, another non profit that promotes healthy, energy and resource efficient buildings in California. The apartments achieved a total of 110 points, which fall under the Community, Energy, Indoor Air Quality/Health, Resources and Water categories.

With a focus on Solar Photovoltaic (PV) production, durable cladding and roofing materials, low-VOC interior paints and flooring, water efficient fixtures and landscaping, Trinity Place achieved ENERGY STAR for Homes and Indoor airPlus certifications that added to the project’s GPR total.

One of the inspirations for the apartments was overcoming the design challenge of making a purely residential project feel at-home on a busy commercial street for its residents. Mission Gorge Road, where the project is addressed, is a commercial corridor through the neighborhood lined with small strip centers, gas stations and used car lots.

“Rather than be in denial of the setting – the building takes its  place amidst the hustle bustle by presenting a bold, high-contrast and colorful (from certain views) face to the neighborhood,” said Sheehan. “The site had a significant slope as well as an unattractive urban alley at the rear. The  ‘folded’ facades along the two streets give every studio apartment a bay window – affording views to more desirable vistas like the mountains to the east and riverside  bluffs to the West.”

Outdoor spaces were intended to be created away from the noise and traffic, while a portion of the site is reserved for a green space/dog park. Considering the sloped site, project planners decided that it would be best to accommodate a partially below grade parking level.

As far as financing sources, this project was made possible by a construction loan and tax credit equity investment by Wells Fargo, as well as an acquisition loan from the Low-Income Investment Fund. Additionally, a permanent loan from California Community Reinvestment Corporation, along with funding from the San Diego Housing Commission, Civic San Diego, The CalHFA Special Needs-Housing Program and the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco.

With affordability and the urge to go green remaining a focal point for housing, Studio E Architects and Trinity Place both display examples of being able to move both of those initiatives forward in hopes of becoming the blueprint for future projects. 

“Creating safe, dignified and  life-affirming homes for the vulnerable and the challenged is work that (Studio E Architects) care deeply about,” Sheehan said.

Camille Manaloto is the Editor of Green Home Builder magazine. She can be reached at camille@builder.media.