Underutilized Church Land has been transformed into Much Needed Affordable Housing for Seniors in Santa Cruz

Grand Opening of St. Stephens Senior Housing, a Development of MidPen Housing

St. Stephens Senior Housing Ribbon Cutting

MidPen joins County leaders and COPA members to celebrate the Ribbon Cutting for St. Stephens Senior Housing

On October 20th Santa Cruz County Supervisor John Leopold and Reverend James Lapp of St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church joined other county leaders to celebrate the Grand Opening of St. Stephens Senior Housing, an affordable rental community developed by MidPen Housing in partnership with St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church. The event is part of Santa Cruz County’s Affordable Housing Week.

St. Stephens Senior Housing represents the realization of the congregation’s long held vision to transform a portion of the St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church property into a vibrant residential community with 40 homes for low and very low-income seniors in Santa Cruz’s Live Oak neighborhood.

“St. Stephens Lutheran Church is honored to serve our community of 64 years, through the good stewardship of the land that was given to us many years ago,” said Reverend James P. Lapp, Pastor of St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, ELCA. “We hope that others will see our work as inspiration and empowerment to find ways to build much-needed, high quality, affordable housing in Santa Cruz County, and serve those who are often forgotten in our market culture.”

Seven years ago as the Church worked with COPA (Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action), a nonprofit organization that equips and mobilizes community leaders to affect positive change, they identified a growing crisis among local seniors who were struggling with increased rents and at risk of homelessness. Compelled by this need, the Church considered how they might turn an underutilized portion of their property into affordable senior housing. They shared this vision with MidPen Housing, one of the region’s largest developers and owners of affordable housing, and together moved forward. The Church agreed to ground lease the nearly 1.8 acre parcel to MidPen via an upfront payment which both provided the site for St. Stephens Senior Housing and established an endowment that the Church can use for other purposes in support of the community and their mission.

“This new community would not have been possible without the patient, collaborative partnership with St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church,” said Jan Lindenthal, Vice President of Real Estate Development for MidPen Housing. “Their commitment to their vision never wavered and their leadership resulted in a model that we hope other faith-based communities will follow, using their resources to address the shortage of affordable housing for seniors in their region.”

“Affordable housing continues to be a challenge throughout this area, especially for our senior populations,” said John Kauh, Senior Vice President, Wells Fargo Community Lending and Investments. “The partnership between the public, private and nonprofit sectors to create a safe, decent, affordable environment where our seniors can enjoy their golden years in comfort is an investment in Santa Cruz that Wells Fargo is thrilled to support.”

As evidence of the tremendous need for affordable housing among the fast growing population of Santa Cruz County seniors, within a 3 week application acceptance period, St. Stephens received over 800 applications for its 40 apartment homes.

“I’m excited about this beautiful new community that strengthens the Live Oak neighborhood while providing 40 homes that our valued senior residents can afford,” said John Leopold, District 1 Supervisor for the County of Santa Cruz. “As rents within the county reach unprecedented highs and seniors are one of the fastest growing segments of our homeless population, it’s inspiring to have a congregation like St. Stephens think creatively about how to meet a critical need within their community.”

St. Stephens Senior Housing provides 32 one-bedroom, 4 two-bedroom, and 4 studio apartment homes for low-income seniors earning up to 60% of Area Median Income which is $48,120 for a two-person household. Five of the apartments are reserved for senior Veterans and five are home to frail elderly residents.

The property also features a community garden, BBQ area, bocce ball court, outdoor exercise stations, fitness center, computer lab, and a community room with a kitchen for larger gatherings.

St. Stephens Senior Housing is located in close proximity to many amenities and community services including a public park, supermarkets, pharmacies, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Dominican Hospital and bus lines. Residents have access to onsite programs and services provided by MidPen Services. These include health and wellness programs like cooking classes and nutrition workshops and onsite health screens and assessments. Additionally, the senior veterans and frail elderly residents receive extensive supportive services and case management in collaboration with the VA Palo Alto Healthcare System and the Health Projects Center. All services are designed to help the senior residents be able to age in place and live healthy, independent lives.

Financing for the nearly $18M development was provided through both public and private sources including the County of Santa Cruz, the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Cruz, the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee and Wells Fargo.