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Monday, April 02, 2007

Eleanor Roosevelt Project Draws Mostly Positive Reviews, but Concerns About Lack of Transportation Remain

While it was not the grand opening of Eleanor Roosevelt Circle, yesterday was a day when the public could tour the facility. In many ways, the Eleanor Roosevelt Circle project is a remarkable one--with 60 units of affordable Senior housing, a cooperative main facility that can provide for a number of uses, and state of the art construction. A number of projects constructed by the Neighborhood Partners have drawn heavy scrutiny from many in the community, but most people seem hopeful that Eleanor Roosevelt Circle will succeed despite a few hiccups along the way.

At the ceremony yesterday, County Supervisor Mariko Yamada spoke at length about her commitment to services for seniors. Then Davis City Councilman Don Saylor spoke about his mother-in-law and her bonding in the Davis community. Both Yamada and Saylor praised the project and the facility.

However, the project has also drawn some heavy criticism in the community.

One strong critic is Mayor Sue Greenwald who complained that this project was supposed to be primarily a moderate-income project.

The Davis Enterprise quoted Greenwald as saying:
"I am very disturbed by the whole MO," Greenwald said, pointing out that the project was approved to provide moderate-income housing to seniors. "It's bait-and-switch, where we end up with a project that's all supportive housing. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but it was not planned."
David Thompson, one of the principal partners along with Luke Watkins, disputes that claim:
"Nowhere in any of the documents I have that were approved by the city is there either a mention of, description of or promise that: The project would be all “moderate income housing” or that it would be a “continuing care facility”."
Mr. Thompson sent me a number of documents used in 2002 when the City Council first approved this project and his claim appears to be accurate.

The original conception for this project however was a moderate income project as proposed by Margaret Milligan.

Mr. Thompson said that Ms. Milligan asked them for assistance beginning in 1998 however they "advised her it was not going to be economically possible to do anything without using city land in some way and if we did that we'd need to meet city standards for affordable housing." By 1999, they understood that they would have do at least half of the units as very low income.

Neighborhood Partners did make a mistake that they have acknowledged.
"We make mistakes, so I'm going to admit the mistake I think we have made," Mr. Thompson repeated to me as he told the council.
They are rectifying that mistake in part by taking Section 8 vouchers which was approved by City Council on March 21, 2007. Mr. Watkins also informed me yesterday during the tour that the 120% income housing would be lowered from $975 per month to $875. The cost of those units always seemed very high given that these are 600 square foot units.
"We definitely overlooked that someone at 120 percent income has many options in the market."
The issue of moderate income is not the only aspect of the project drawing controversy however.

As reported after my tour of the facility back in January, the issue of transportation is still of great concern.

Elaine Roberts Musser, who chairs the Senior Citizens commission, wrote a scathing letter to the Davis Enterprise yesterday.

She is not without praise of the project, remarking on the facility itself. She also said both in person and in writing that she thinks the Social Services Coordinator is an excellent position and that it is very important to have someone who can help the seniors, especially those who are frail or will become frail. The support of this individual can help many of the disabled seniors live more independently.

On the other hand, the transportation issue is of concern to both Ms. Musser and myself. Quite frankly, while the bus system does pick people up across the street on fifth and drop them off in front of the Police Station, the feasibility for seniors is less than desirable. That is a long walk for many of the seniors who are in poor health. Moreover, merely getting to places in Davis requires changing buses, never mind the difficulty of going to Sacramento or West Sacramento for some of the service needs.

The facility needs its own bus that the seniors can use. When I spoke to Mr. Thompson and Mr. Watkins back in January they cited the difficulty with getting a bus as a tremendous expense and certainly one can appreciate that. To be honest, this is not merely a complaint with Neighborhood Partners, I think the County and City need to step up and help subsidize such a transportation. Then again, I think the city is a bit wary at this point of paying more expenses for the Neighborhood Partners who are unfortunately involved in a rather ugly law suit on another of their projects, DACHA (Davis Area Community Housing), where they are actually suing their tenants.

However, it is clear that this is a concern that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Ms. Musser and I both observed Stephen Souza nearly getting hit by a car that was not paying sufficient attention in the roundabout, and as Ms. Musser noted, Mr. Souza moves a great deal faster than a lot of the seniors. Frankly this is too nice a project to have an issue of transportation bring it down, but this clearly needs to be resolved.

Dr. Michael K. McCloud was the key note speaker and at one-point he joked that it was time for Eleanor Roosevelt II, David Thompson turned to me horrified at the notion and made sure that I would mention this by telling me that I should not quote him. I think problems and concerns aside, and they are legitimate ones, that most hope that this facility will succeed because this community needs more senior housing and more affordable housing. Hopefully some of the past problems that have beset the Neighborhood Partners projects have been at least mitigated.

It is worth noting that one of the goals for this project stated by David Thompson yesterday was that it would be able to house the parents of Davis Residents. There is of course little way to ensure that. But Davis certainly is in need of middle income and lower income Senior Affordable Housing. And it is noteworthy that Luke Watkins has not only put his mother-in-law in the facility but his mother as well--and they live next door to each other.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting