On Thursday, November 19th, nonprofit housing developer Resources for Community Development virtually convened a celebration of St. Paul’s Commons – a development with 45 units of affordable supportive housing, a day center providing services for people who are homeless, and community facilities for the adjoining St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Walnut Creek. The midday festivities created a forum for project partners to recognize collective efforts and enjoy the screening of a RCD-produced featurette that tours the building and interviews project stakeholders and residents.

The four-story mixed-use project grew from a realization that the church’s commitment to serving neighbors experiencing homelessness had to extend beyond meals and social services. “We started looking for housing for people and found out there wasn’t any,” explains community leader and former Trinity Center Executive Director, Donna Colombo. Trinity Center, established to offer a safety net of basic human services, was operating out of two single-family homes on the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church campus. In 2012, after outreach to the Faith & Justice Committee of East Bay Housing Organizations, the idea was solidified for Trinity Center to join with St. Paul’s and replace the houses with a new building that supported their expanded vision.

As of May, the Center occupies the ground floor of the new St. Paul’s Commons, providing services and case management, accessible showers, laundry, and a commercial kitchen and gathering hall. Additional meeting rooms on the ground floor provide community-serving organizations expanded opportunity to utilize the Commons as a neighborhood meeting place. Above the Center, studio and one-bedroom apartments are dedicated to individuals and couples earning 30-60% of the area median income, accompanied by an on-site property manager.

After an initial pro-bono programming effort to establish site priorities and long-range plans, PYATOK worked closely with RCD, St. Paul’s, and Trinity Center to fully integrate the housing and new community spaces into the church campus. With a design formed through a series of design workshops with members of the congregation, the project created a courtyard shared with the church. The terraced form of the building and the site-reclaimed wood used on the courtyard benches and signage lend an intimate, human scale to this network of common spaces. The project is well located near BART and downtown Walnut Creek, and is also all-electric, fueled partly by rooftop photovoltaic panels. As RCD Executive Director Dan Sawislak notes in the video, the building can lift up the area’s most vulnerable for decades to come. From church rector Reverend Krista Fregoso: “St. Paul’s mission is to bring light and love into our community, and this project became a tangible way of actually doing that.”

Fregoso acknowledges how the project can serve as a model for similar organizations of faith to build affordable housing on their properties. From early on in its development, St. Paul’s Commons has been a statewide exemplar for the kind of affordable housing worthy of streamlining through a new policy like Senate Bill 899. Considerable interest has already emerged in what’s becoming known as the YIGBY movement – Yes in God’s Backyard. Unfortunately, SB-899 – among a dozen other California housing bills this year – failed to become law. But many are optimistic such strategies will soon be revisited as practical means to combating the state’s housing crisis.

St. Paul’s Commons demonstrates how such projects can be a win-win for their communities.

Pyatok -

Pyatok -