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Irvine Co.’s affordable housing: a life-changer for thousands

The company’s philosophy toward affordable housing—build it well and blend it in—may be its best-kept secret.

Irvine, Calif. (April 16, 2016) — It’s rare enough to live in the same house for 30 years. Prinda Nejad has lived in the same apartment for 30 years.

“I love it here,” says Nejad, who moved into Irvine’s Orchard Park apartment community in 1984 when Ronald Reagan was still president. “It’s like a family.”

Nejad originally paid just $195 in monthly rent. Today she pays $286 in monthly rent—because she lives in affordable housing provided by Irvine Company.

“I’m so grateful to be here,” says Nejad, 65, a retiree living on social security. “I couldn’t afford to live anywhere else.”

Nejad is one of more than 4,000 Irvine residents living in affordable housing that Irvine Company has built or helped build as part of its portfolio of apartment home communities. Drive through the city, however, and you might not notice them.

That’s because of the unique approach to low-income housing devised by Irvine Company and the City of Irvine: Build it well and blend it in with the apartment homes around it.

This philosophy has helped create a city that invites workers at every income bracket to plant roots with pride and dignity—and a sense of inclusion.

For example:

  • At the Cross Creek Apartment Homes off Alton Parkway sit 17 apartments for those earning less than half the local median income. They enjoy the same boutique-like setting with nearby parks and lakes as their neighbors.
  • At the Villa Siena Apartment Homes off Jamboree Road sit 149 apartments for those earning less than half the local median income. They enjoy the same fountains, gardens and Italian Renaissance architecture as their neighbors.
  •  And at Turtle Rock Canyon Apartment Homes off Turtle Rock Drive, reminiscent of a French countryside hideaway, sit 22 apartments for those making less than half the local median income. They enjoy the same rolling hills, bike trails and blue-ribbon schools as their neighbors.

“They live side-by-side with conventional homes,” says Barbara Breton, Irvine Company’s senior director of affordable housing operations. “The interiors are similar. The exteriors are similar. Nothing is short-cut. And they’re treated exactly the same as everyone else. They’re part of the community.”

That’s the idea behind this well-kept secret.

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In some cases, Irvine Company builds its own affordable housing units within its apartment home communities. In other cases, particularly when it comes to providing deeper levels of affordability, it provides land and financial backing to affordable housing developers, which build the housing.

In both cases, the results are the same—a seamless blend between conventional and affordable housing.

The Arbor at Woodbury, for instance, provides affordable housing to 90 families within the square-mile Village of Woodbury in Irvine.

“It’s hard to tell where the market-rate apartments stop and the affordable ones start,” says Mary Jo Goelzer, vice president of marketing for Jamboree Housing Corp., which partnered with Irvine Company to build the apartments.

In doing so, Jamboree Housing Corp. followed the same stringent building standards that Irvine Company used for conventional housing at Woodbury.

“If their architecture is Mediterranean, we use that, too,” Goelzer says. “We match their landscaping and architectural standards, planting mature shrubs and trees, not young saplings. It’s that kind of quality.”

The Arbor offers apartments to those earning as little as 30 percent of the area median income, with rents as low as $500 for units that include central air-conditioning, ENERGY STAR appliances, granite counter tops, walk-in closets, balconies, decks and garages.

Residents also share use of “The Commons,” Woodbury’s 30-acre gathering place filled with athletic fields, playground, recreation center and swimming pools.

Jamboree has partnered with Irvine Company on three affordable apartment communities in Irvine: The Arbor at Woodbury; Montecito Vista Apartment Homes off Culver Drive; and Doria Apartment Homes at Stonegate.

Doria Apartment Homes were built on six acres of land that Irvine Company made available to the city for affordable housing. The esitmated land value? More than $10 million.

Says Goelzer: “There is no way this could’ve happened without partners like Irvine Company.”

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Irvine Company works closely with the City of Irvine to fulfill its affordable housing goals. The company has built or helped build more than 4,000 affordable housing units in the city, with another thousand planned.

This helps those with more challenges than just lower incomes.

Doria Apartment Homes provide permanent supportive housing for 20 adults living with mental illness, while The Irvine Inn Apartments provides furnished, one-room studios to a workforce population that mostly cleans offices, pumps gas or provides daycare.

“Even though their incomes are low, they contribute to the growth and prosperity of Irvine,” says Tony Salazar, president of McCormack Baron Salazar, which partnered with Irvine Company to build The Irvine Inn in 1995. “They’re part of the fabric of the community.”

That’s also the idea behind this well-kept secret: Be inclusive. Be creative. Be a partner in the community.

“Irvine Company has always been a good community partner in the production of affordable housing,” says Jamboree Housing’s Goelzer. “They are very supportive of the community.”

That makes people like Prinda Nejad happy to have a place to call home – for 30 years.

For those same 30 years, she scanned and processed insurance information for a company that recently moved to Fort Worth, Texas, leaving her jobless.

“I never could afford a normal apartment,” she says. “Without this place, I don’t think I would have survived. Thank you.”