Kellgren Senior Apartments open house this weekend

Early next week, about 50 area seniors will start moving in to the newest PEP Housing apartments in Petaluma, the Kellgren Senior Apartments on Wood Sorrell just off North McDowell Boulevard. They are the lucky ones, selected from hundreds of applicants to reside in the newly built, green complex.

Commuters on McDowell Boulevard have been able to see the apartments transform over the past year, and now that it's completed they'll have the chance to take a peek inside at the community open house this Saturday and Sunday, March 15 and 16.

The apartments will become available to some of the area residents who need them most – people 62 and over, mostly women, who cannot otherwise afford to find a place to live in an increasingly expensive and in-demand rental market.

"I feel like I won the housing lottery," said Kathleen McTeigue, who at 64 will be one of the youngest of the new tenants. The analogy is apt: with a two-year waiting list and demand so strong for affordable housing, PEP actually did have a lottery to determine who of hundreds of applicants could claim one of the units.

Kellgren Senior Apartments is the latest of 15 housing developments provided by PEP Housing, Petaluma Ecumenical Properties, founded in 1978. Others range from larger complexes like Casa Grande Senior Apartments on Vallejo Street, to as small as a duplex on Wilson Street. PEP has also developed senior housing in Santa Rosa, Kentfield and even Oroville in Yuba County.

The apartments are named for Pastor Tim Kellgren, a founder of PEP and this year's Citizen of the Year in the Petaluma Community Awards of Excellence sponsored by the Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce and the Petaluma Argus-Courier.

Even though it's subsidized housing for low-income seniors, this is no bleak, impersonal "project." The three-story complex is painted bright Mediterranean shades of sienna and ochre, and features a small dog walk, raised garden beds, water-efficient landscaping and a solar-powered community center. The 49 620-square foot, one-bedroom units also include many modern energy-efficient, cost-effective features such as combined on-demand hot-water heater and furnace, double-glazed windows, acoustic insulation and even fresh air vents that allow outside air to circulate without opening a door or even a window

"Each time we open a property we learn from the properties we've developed before," said Gary Hermes, community partnerships director for PEP Housing. "We're taking advantage of new technology — one of the big expenses that people have, if they want to have computer access, is Internet fees. So this property will have Wi-Fi throughout, so people don't have to pay."

Hermes points out that PEP has won several environmental awards already, the latest being the Governor's Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA), California's highest and most prestigious environmental honor, awarded in December 2013. "Green" building techniques and materials have been used throughout this latest of PEP's many local projects.

The social hub of the complex is sure to be the community center, a wide-open high-ceilinged structure just off the parking lot. As well as a new 50-inch flat screen TV and a number of round tables for socializing or games, there are also state-of-the art high-tech features like a touch-screen health kiosk, a "cyber-cycle" with virtual road routes for exercise and a computer room. These too will be open for inspection and even testing at the open house.

A check of rental listings in Petaluma at the trulia.com website shows that most one-bedroom apartments begin at about $1500 per month, and go up from there. By comparison, rental rates of the PEP Housing apartments are based on income — 30 percent of adjusted monthly income, after medical expenses. Many seniors on Social Security find such subsidized housing the only way they can afford to live on their own. Understandably, these low-income units are in great demand, with a waiting list of at least 18 months.

"Right now, demand for rentals is high — there are more people looking than places available," said Carolyn Gavriloff of Westgate Real Estate. "I will say that we are getting a lot more low-income people who are having trouble finding rentals."

One such person is McTiegue, who has lived in the same "granny unit" in Santa Rosa for 17 years, but can no longer afford it. "I worked full-time most of my life, but I found recently because of (the economic) downturn and perhaps my age, I could not rely on getting work as I used to," she said. "I took early retirement last year, just to have money coming in."

At present the only tenant is resident property manager Pattie Nugent, but she won't be alone for long. Starting March 17, the new tenants will start moving in, staggered over a two-week period. They are overwhelmingly women, with an average age of 75, with only seven men among the total.

"We'll be serving three generations now," said Hermes, "the 'Greatest Generation,' the 'Silent Generation' and now the 'Baby Boomers.' All three generations have different experiences and expectations."

The Kellgren Senior Apartments will be open to the public on Saturday and Sunday, from noon to 5 p.m. at 855 Wood Sorrell Drive.

"It's the first time ever that we've been able to open up one of our properties to the public, so people get a sense that affordable housing can be quite nice," said Hermes. "We're very proud of the quality of what we do."

(Contact Christian Kallen at christian.kallen@arguscourier.com).