Editorial: A bright day for Sunflower Hill

Proposed housing community for special-needs adults is win-win for everyone

Design rendering for the Sunflower Hill project on (future) Nevada Street includes a two-story, U-shaped apartment building facing a single-story community center. (Image courtesy of city of Pleasanton)

The Sunflower Hill at Irby Ranch residential community for adults with special needs just got one step closer to becoming a reality.

On Tuesday, the City Council voted 4-0 to move the project forward and support a $2.25 million loan from the city's lower income housing fund and an allocation of just under $7.2 million of the city's base allocation of Alameda County Measure A1 housing bond toward construction of the project, estimated at $19 million.

In its sixth year of operation, Sunflower Hill was founded by parents of special needs children considering the future for their children when they are gone.

Adults with developmental delays are able to lead happy and productive lives, but most are not able to live on their own without some assistance. According to Autism Speaks, 80% will end up living with their parents; when their parents become ill or pass away, they are at risk of losing their homes, becoming institutionalized or homeless.

Susan Houghton, president of Sunflower Hill's Board of Directors, has said that individuals with special needs are often considered the "hidden homeless." Many residential communities for seniors exist, but there are very few for individuals with moderate developmental delays. In Pleasanton alone there are more than 700 people with special needs who need housing, according to Houghton.

It has taken close to five years for a residential community for special-needs adults to go from a dream to a concept to a proposal. Sunflower Hill is working in partnership with Satellite Affordable Housing Associates (SAHA) to build an affordable 31-unit multi-family residential community just outside of downtown Pleasanton.

The complex will be adjacent to an 87-home development being built by Meritage Homes, The Homestead at Irby Ranch. The special-needs housing proposal was a key reason the City Council approved the 87-house neighborhood at Irby Ranch last year.

In addition to seeking council support for the loan and the allocation of county A1 housing bonds, SAHA will start applying federal and state tax credits for additional needed funds.

"While this is a competitive process, we believe we have a strong application," Houghton said. "We will know by the first part of summer if we're awarded. If we are, we'll be able to break ground by December 2018. If we're not, we'll apply again at the next competitive round and continue to look for ways to refine our application."

This project is a win-win for everyone.

The city of Pleasanton moves closer to fulfilling its mandatory affordable housing quotas and can allocate its share of A1 housing funds so they do not go back to the regional fund because of lack of use; the Sunflower Hill parents get a little peace of mind concerning the future of their children; and, of course, the residents will benefit the most by having security of a place to live and social and vocational options.

Kudos to the city for prioritizing and supporting the project that will benefit a significantly underserved population. And kudos to the founders of Sunflower Hill for having the vision and fortitude to move this and a similar project in Livermore forward, despite the obstacles set in the path to achieving this goal thus far -- and for not shying away from the ones that will inevitably come.

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