Virginia Beach, Virginia: Seaside Harbor Apartments Foster Inclusiveness Inside and Out
In 2016, the Lawson Companies, a vertically integrated development company working primarily in southeastern Virginia, purchased an obsolete apartment complex in Virginia Beach from Samaritan House, a nonprofit serving persons experiencing homelessness and domestic violence. The two organizations agreed to redevelop the 50,000-square-foot site as Seaside Harbor Apartments, an affordable, stable home for people with disabilities and lower-income households. The organizations sought to create an inclusive community where all residents feel welcome and empowered to actively participate in the broader community. To better achieve equity within the building, residential units and common areas were designed with accessible features, and residents can take advantage of multiple services that foster interaction with others and develop independent living skills. Seaside Harbor staff also help residents connect with neighbors in the surrounding area, where numerous opportunities for employment in the hospitality and service industries are located. Seaside Harbor’s neighborhood also includes the ViBe Creative District, which has invited Seaside Harbor residents to participate in several art projects.
The Lawson Companies and Samaritan House have used several strategies to make Seaside Harbor an inclusive development. Seaside Harbor offers units with rents that are affordable to residents earning a range of incomes below the area median income (AMI). Of the 76 units in the building’s 3 habitable stories above the ground-level parking garage, 19 have rents that are affordable to households earning 40 percent of AMI and 57 are affordable to residents earning up to 60 percent of AMI. The Lawson Companies, which manages the development, further deepens its affordability by accepting housing choice vouchers from Virginia Beach Housing and Neighborhood Preservation, whose clients receive preference at Seaside Harbor. As a co-owner of Seaside Harbor, Samaritan House recommends its clients, who include families experiencing homelessness and victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, for residency in Seaside Harbor when appropriate; in March 2021, Samaritan House referred three families to Seaside Harbor.
Equity also arises from Seaside Harbor’s location in an opportunity-rich area. In addition to nearby elementary and middle schools, several cultural and numerous shopping venues are within walking distance of the development. Perhaps most important, Seaside Harbor is one-third of a mile from the hotels lining Atlantic Avenue, and many other tourist-oriented businesses are even nearer, making the development an ideal home for hospitality and other service workers who cannot afford market-rate rents in the area. Approximately 70 percent of Seaside Harbor’s residents are employed in various industries; 8 percent of residents are employed in restaurants and hotels — a drop from 13 percent before COVID-19 affected travel and tourism businesses. Another 26 percent of Seaside Harbor’s residents are retired or have disabilities and receive Social Security or Supplemental Security Income benefits.
To help accommodate residents living with disabilities, 19 of the building’s 76 units comply with the accessibility standards found in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Accommodations within the units include large bathrooms, roll-under sinks, and stoves with front-mounted controls for residents with mobility impairments. Accommodations in apartments also include voice-controlled thermostats for residents with visual impairments and alarms with strobe lights for residents with hearing impairments. The remaining units comply with universal design principles. Accommodations in the shared spaces of the building include accessible door handles; smooth, level floors; and elevator controls with braille labels. The developer has also included adaptive exercise equipment in the community gym to foster inclusion.
Financing for Seaside Harbor Apartments
The development of Seaside Harbor totaled $16.3 million, most of which was provided through low-income housing tax credits (table 1). Seaside Harbor was eligible for additional tax credits because it is located in a Qualified Census Tract. Another major contributor was the Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA, now named Virginia Housing), which provided a low-interest mortgage through its Resources Enabling Affordable Community Housing in Virginia (REACH Virginia) program. REACH Virginia finances affordable housing for low-income communities, people with disabilities, and seniors. VHDA also tapped its Special Initiatives Pool (SIP), which funds housing for people with disabilities; Seaside Harbor was the first SIP project for residents with developmental disabilities, according to Dan Hankin, the Lawson Companies’ director of marketing.
Table 1: Seaside Harbor Apartments Financing
|Low-income housing tax credits||$11,843,000|
|VHDA REACH Virginia||2,400,000|
|Deferred developer fee||974,000|
Services and Amenities
Seaside Harbor’s physical accommodations are supplemented with opportunities for residents to socialize. A butterfly garden is behind the building, and inside, a community club room provides space for informal activities and organized events such as craft classes. In addition, Seaside Harbor has partnered with the nonprofit Hope House Foundation to provide supportive services for residents with disabilities to promote independent living. Residents receive assistance with daily activities such as meal planning and preparation, personal hygiene, and reaching out to family members. The Hope House Foundation also helps residents and their caregivers with complicated issues such as coordinating medical care and appointments, addressing legal and financial matters, and registering for government benefits. Other Hope House Foundation services help residents access vocational training, find and maintain employment, and navigate public transportation. Social distancing rules imposed for COVID-19 have delayed Samaritan House’s plans for additional events for residents and educational workshops for staff. Before the pandemic, Samaritan House trained Seaside Harbor staff to recognize signs of abuse in residents or visitors, who might need specialized assistance.
Seaside Harbor also endeavors to engage with the surrounding community. An inclusive environment beyond Seaside Harbor helps residents develop relationships, attain employment, enjoy recreational activities and community events, and participate meaningfully in the greater Virginia Beach community. Many of Seaside Harbor’s goals have been partially met through partnerships with the ViBe Creative District, a nonprofit that supports the arts and creative businesses in Virginia Beach. The organization has been “incredibly supportive” of Seaside Harbor’s mission, Hankin states. The level of cooperation is manifested in the butterfly garden, with a pathway leading to a public art installation created by ViBe that includes artwork mounted on Seaside Harbor’s fence. In another notable project, The People’s Pour, ViBe invited local artist nez, a disabled Navy veteran of the Iraq War, to guide Seaside Harbor residents with developmental disabilities in creating 100 artworks for the community, some of which hang in the common areas at Seaside Harbor.
ViBe has also helped the city create a central meeting area for community events for tourists and residents alike. One effort has been to paint permanent rainbow crosswalks, part of an international movement to embrace diversity. ViBe also has helped increase accessibility in the area, including making improvements to ramps and sidewalks, as part of the city’s connectivity plan.
Creating a Home for All
Seaside Harbor has also helped the city of Virginia Beach achieve some of its goals for the area. The city’s Resort Area Strategic Action Plan 2030, approved in June 2020, 2 years after Seaside Harbor opened, focuses on both maintaining a strong tourism industry and meeting the needs of existing residents. To achieve this vision, the plan sets six priorities, one of which is to support mixed-income residential developments, including housing affordable to year-round hospitality workers and people with disabilities. The plan highlights Seaside Harbor as an example of housing that achieves the residential development priority, helping to make the resort area a welcoming home for more households of varying abilities and incomes.