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Decade of Success : Builder Pleased to Cater to Less Affluent Seniors

August 10, 1986

Sometimes, John Huskey says, he feels more like a missionary than a producer of housing.

The reasons?

"Because we build seniors' housing. We take city officials on tours of our existing projects to encourage them to change their zoning or put in a senior-citizen overlay zone to allow 32 to 40 units to the acre and permit reduced parking.

"And the nicest thing about building seniors' housing is that it's never work, because when we're finished, the people who live there, the lender and the cities are grateful."

In Field for 10 Years

Huskey, 38, is president of Calmark Properties, a Los Angeles-based company that has been developing co-called "affordable" rental apartment communities for seniors, known as Heritage Park complexes, for 10 years.

Los Angeles Times Sunday August 17, 1986 Home Edition Real Estate Part 8 Page 11 Column 1 Real Estate Desk Type of Material: Correction; Wild Art
PHOTO: For the record--The Beverly Heritage Hotel, shown above, was incorrectly identified in last Sunday's real estate section as Heritage Park Riverside, pictured below. Designed by Gin Wong Associates, Los Angeles, the $20-million, 238-room hotel, being constructed in a 100-acre urban complex, is slated to open next month in Costa Mesa. The facility is a project of Northview Corp. The mixed-use development, which will include office buildings and 600 housing units, is being developed by Nielsen Construction Co. at the intersection of the San Diego and Newport freeways. Heritage Park, a 268-unit apartment community designed by Kermit Dorius & Associates of Corona del Mar for adults over the age of 55, has opened at 4790 Jackson St. in Riverside. The complex, one of many in several counties operated by Calmark Properties, has a swimming pool, spa and clubhouse.

Its most recent project is its largest: a $12-million, 268-unit development, which will open Wednesday at 4970 Jackson St. in Riverside. Rents for the one- and two-bedroom units there will start at $375, though rents start in any of the other completed 2,364 apartments, owned and operated by Calmark, as low as $295.

"The difference is in what the land costs," he explained. "Cities recognize that they can get more units (that cost less to rent) for their subsidies. For example, Montclair gave us $400,000 to buy down some property, and that enabled us to get the rents down."

It's an alternative to retirement communities developed for the upper middle class and even wealthy seniors.

'There Is No Stigma'

Make no mistake about it, though, Calmark's communities are not just for seniors on a subsidy.

"Sure, the government helps some seniors," he said, "and others get help from their children, but many have their own financial resources. And the best thing is, nobody knows who has what. There is no stigma that the community is filled with low-income people."

Yet, he added, "when someone can't afford one of our apartments, there is often a county program available (to subsidize the rent), and our people will help (the renter qualify)."

His people also organize social programs that he claims involve 80% to 90% of the renters. "We've researched this and found that in many other seniors' rental projects, the social programs only get 15% to 20% involvement," he said.

Kitchens in Apartments

Interestingly, Heritage Park activities are not limited to residents. "That's one reason cities like us," he said. "Our projects provide a place that is like a community center for the cities' seniors." There is a large recreational activity center in every project.

"However, there is no communal eating on a regular basis," he noted. "We're not like congregate housing. Every apartment has a full kitchen. But a Meals on Wheels comes to each project every day, and the residents themselves plan potlucks and picnics all the time."

Calmark got the idea to build such communities in 1976, when a state Assembly bill would have prevented local communities from enacting rent controls. The California Housing Council, a group of housing producers, supported the bill and encouraged its members to develop senior citizen housing for low-income people as a way of showing that low rents needn't be mandated. Calmark was asked, he said, to see if such projects were feasible.

The bill was vetoed. "But by then, we had invested some time in this, and we thought it would work regardless of politics," he said.

Became Main Focus

Then, what started for Calmark as a sideline became its main focus. The company went from building single-family homes, condos and apartments to building seniors' apartments.

It went from building a total of 800 units by 1982 to 3,500 under construction or completed today in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange and Riverside counties and another 500 being planned.

The company is building an estimated 800 to 1,000 units a year. It is about to build in San Diego County and the San Francisco Bay area. "And we're ready to expand even out of state," he added.

So Calmark has been successful, he claims, in being profit minded while performing a public service.

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