Affordable housing plans
Community members review plans for the affordable housing development in Clairemont. Courtesy Katz & Associates

While leaders and citizens have much debated the solutions to the San Diego region’s homelessness crisis, any initiatives are merely a stopgap. Affordable housing remains vital to achieving a lasting solution to homelessness.

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Seven months ago, when the Serving Seniors Harris Family Senior Housing development in City Heights held its ribbon cutting on Nov. 14, participants shared a feeling of joy and hopefulness. The project provides 117 apartments for older adults, as well as a second building dedicated to families. It has developed into a vibrant, multi-generational community.

On Thursday, Serving Seniors will join community leaders and project developers in a groundbreaking for another project, a wide-ranging development that includes 179 units of affordable senior housing, a senior center open to the community along with additional affording family housing. It’s located in Clairemont at Genesee Avenue and Mt. Etna Drive at the site of the former San Diego Sheriff’s Department crime lab.

It’s one of the most exciting developments our organization has been involved with in our 53-year history. There will be four buildings with a total of more than 400 units. Two buildings will be set aside for lower- and moderate-income older adults developed by Serving Seniors in partnership with Chelsea Investment Corporation

Two other two buildings will be developed by the Southern California Housing Collaborative, also in partnership with Chelsea, for low- and moderate-income families, including units for developmentally disabled adults. Serving Seniors will provide onsite resident services and intergenerational activities for both seniors and families. 

The senior center will be modeled after our Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center at Fourth and Beech downtown. A wide array of services will be available at no cost, including meals, health services, workshops and classes, case management, cyber café and social activities.

It is within walking distance of existing public transportation, shopping, and services. It will be open to the public daily. Volunteer opportunities will allow members of the community to get to know and support their neighbors.

Housing is vital, but providing socialization is critical to the health and wellness of our aging population. The U.S. Surgeon General’s office recently presented a framework for a “National Strategy to Advance Social Connection.” Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said he considers loneliness in American society as a significant threat to our health.

According to the Surgeon General, social connections can buffer health problems which are especially harmful in older people. Symptoms of loneliness such as pain, insomnia, depression, and anxiety can affect people of all ages, leading to higher risks of heart disease, stroke, and dementia.

The first key to addressing this problem is strengthening social infrastructure in our communities. Our new senior center in Clairemont will lean into this challenge. Serving Seniors sees the positive results from our programs at our original downtown center daily. We’re eager to bring the same programs and services to a new community.

Socially connected communities enjoy better overall health. They are more prepared and resilient in the face of disaster situations. They experience greater economic prosperity, and even see reduced levels of crime and violence. These benefits extend far beyond the individuals who walk through our doors.

San Diego County needs more senior centers, just as it needs more affordable housing for people of all ages and backgrounds. But in the case of older adults, we know demographics are working against us. As our society ages overall, the need for programs and services targeting older adults will grow more quickly than we can address it.

In the worst-case scenario, we face a ticking time bomb. The most recent Point-In-Time Count of San Diego County’s unhoused citizens found increasing numbers of older adults over age 55 experiencing homeless less — nearly one third of the total population. The number of homeless adults over age 55 is projected to triple over the next decade.

As their neighbors, we must do more than simply write letters to the editor. We must encourage more affordable housing. Yes, even if proposed projects are next door to our own homes. Far from burdening communities, these projects are an asset, and we see from studies they improve the quality of life for everyone.

As we watch the Clairemont project come to life over the next year, let it motivate you to support the use of public resources and join forces with private organizations like Serving Seniors actively working on ways to force back the rising tide of negative impacts burdening all of us.

Paul Downey is CEO of Serving Seniors, a San Diego-based nonprofit that helps seniors in poverty live healthy and fulfilling lives.