First Community Housing Inc.
For 30 years, First Community Housing Inc. (FCH) has been a premier development, design and management firm for affordable housing in the San Francisco Bay Area. Headquartered in San Jose, California, FCH is a nonprofit organization building high-quality, sustainable housing developments that are specifically designed to complement their respective neighborhoods in a unique way.
FCH has created housing for more than 3,500 low-income residents in 19 affordable rental housing developments, which include more than 1,400 units. The tenants that FCH serves include families, senior citizens, special needs individuals and consumers of mental health services.
After 30 years in business, FCH continues to evolve as an organization. Green building has become a major initiative in the company’s considerations of health and housing. “We like to focus on leveraging public transit, park improvements and bicycle transportation,” says Geoffrey Morgan, president and CEO of FCH. “Our priority when we build a sustainable property is the health and safety of our tenants and staff, as well as the impact on the environment.”
Green building is part of the fundamental value system of FCH. Through open dialogue and a collaborative effort with clients, FCH’s minimum goal on each project is to achieve LEED Platinum certification.
A green impact on the community
In 2008, FCH completed Gish Family Apartments in San Jose. The development achieved LEED Gold certification and earned the citation for excellence in architectural design from the American Institute of Architects. A contributing factor for this is the fact that FCH gave all residents a free transit pass to cut down on carbon emissions. Other aspects of Gish include photovoltaic electricity generation for common area use, Energy Star appliances, low-flow water fixtures, energy-efficient fiberglass windows and a reflective roof to reduce urban heat island effect.
Last year in Mountain View, California, FCH completed 1585 Studios, which is a development consisting of 27 studio units of sustainable, affordable special needs rental housing. The project is designed to serve low-income (30 to 50 percent of the area median income) developmentally disabled adults, a population group with a great need for affordable housing opportunities. FCH has extensive experience developing housing communities where developmentally disabled tenants can receive the support they need to live comfortably and independently.
“We work with Housing Choices Coalition, a nonprofit organization that provides housing and resident coordination services for the developmentally disabled population in Santa Clara County and beyond,” shares Morgan. “1585 Studios enables those individuals to continue living in their home community with access to their existing support systems.”
1585 Studios is located in a transit-rich neighborhood and is within walking distance from both the local and regional transit hubs. Parks, retail stores, markets, restaurants, pharmacies and banks are less than one mile from the property. All residents receive free Valley Transit Authority (VTA) Eco Passes, which enable them to ride buses and light rail for free.
FCH was able to develop the property after four other companies had unsuccessfully attempted to do the same. A primary factor for the success of FCH’s venture is the fact that the company is dealing with a population that does not drive. This eliminated any parking restrictions that other development firms faced. “At the market rate, it just didn’t work for other developers to achieve the number of housing units they would need in order to get the value for the property they needed,” explains Morgan. “In any other situation the lot might have been converted into three or four single-family units. Instead, we have two large buildings with 27 units.”
A sustainable past, present and future
Green building has been included in FCH’s mission since before many people were even familiar with the practice. As a member of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), FCH has contributed to numerous standards set forth in the scoring processes for LEED certification. “Our journey has really paralleled the journey of USGBC,” shares Morgan. “They have this wonderful standard that has had such a huge impact on the world. We have shared that standard and value within our organization for at the past 16 years. And that is to create buildings that minimize the impact on the environment, not just for the residents, but for the overall surrounding community.”
With its objective parallel to USGBC, many of the folks within the FCH organization have a history with the council. Marty Keller, director of sustainability and construction for FCH, was president of the board for the Northern California USGBC chapter. “We have had a strong partnership with USGBC for a long time,” says Morgan. “We believe in what they do and they believe in what we do.”
Working with all types of populations, in addition to the developmentally disabled, FCH has begun to work with permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless. With its focus on the health and well-being of its residents, the company has already established an outstanding integrated design experience for its partners, residents and investors. With the true value of a development coming from its residents, First Community Housing Inc. will continue to have a deep impact on the sustainability of the environment.
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