Mather Veterans Village becomes a reality

A plan hatched a decade ago in Rancho Cordova to create housing for homeless and disabled veterans has become a reality.

Representatives from the city and the development team discussed how they put together Mather Veterans Village. The first phase of that apartment project on the former Mather Air Force Base will have a formal dedication this week.

In 2006, Sander and other city leaders met with the federal Department of Veterans Affairs to discuss affordable housing possibilities. As the longtime home of both Mather and Aerojet Rocketdyne, Rancho Cordova has a heavy presence of military veterans, Sander said. So housing for that demographic was a priority.

Working with Sacramento County and the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, the city issued a request for proposals for a veterans’ housing project. The particular site on Bleckely Street emerged because it was close to a veterans’ hospital.

Mercy Housing Inc., working with Mogavero Architects, submitted a three-phase proposal that became Mather Veterans Village. As the concept evolved, the project partners also had to figure out the financing for what ended up being a $17 million project for the first phase alone.

Stephan Daues, Mercy’s regional director of housing development, said affordable housing tax credits got the project across the finish line. But the initial boost came from Rancho Cordova, which pledged $1.3 million from a secured housing trust fund.

Sander said that money came directly out of the city’s general fund. But the veterans’ presence in Rancho Cordova, along with a history of fiscally conservative budgeting, helped the city make the case for using money for that purpose, he said.

As the project took shape, it became a mix of new and old buildings. While two phases involve ground-up construction of about 50 units each, another will re-use an existing infirmary building on the site.

Renner Johnston, a principal at Mogavero, said the infirmary ended up being an ideal candidate for adaptive re-use. As basically a concrete bunker, the building already had energy efficiencies, even though they weren’t the goal when it was built decades ago, that could eventually make it zero-net energy

“Every bit of the structure is heavy concrete,” Johnston said, describing how crews removed one wall to put in more glass with relative ease. “You couldn’t do that with a wood building. This is a unique opportunity.”

The infirmary re-use will convert part of the building into transitional housing for recently homeless veterans. The rest of the building will host an array of social services and resources, from meeting rooms to a community space to demonstration kitchen to computer lab. The latter features are already complete, with more to come as the full buildout of the infirmary re-use phase and then the ground-up third phase get underway.

The first-phase apartment units are clustered in a three-story building with both stairs and elevators. That helps disabled veterans access any unit.

Other features in the building include solar-powered water heaters, a greywater system to irrigate landscaping and solar panels for electricity. Johnston said those features reduce both utility usage and bills, in essence making them more affordable.

Residents began moving into the first phase in late June, and entirely filled them within a month. That wasn’t surprising, when veterans make up an estimated 12 percent of the 2,600 homeless counted in Sacramento County last year. According to Rick Sprague of Mercy Housing, Mather Veterans Village already has a wait list of 34.

Both the second and third phase of the project, each with another 50 housing units, could get underway by the end of next year. Beyond that, officials involved in this project said they can see a need for more like it.

“I wouldn’t say we’re done,” Sander said.

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