Connie Binning smiles
Connie Binning talked about what it meant to her to get to remain in Los Gatos. (Courtesy of Eden Housing)

Connie Binning moved to California from Minnesota in the 1960s, settling first in Santa Rosa, and, a few years later, moving her family to Los Gatos.

“Back then I used to drive the truck in to Rural Supply and buy hay for my daughter’s horse,” she said. “Now it’s a brewery.”

Binning was speaking, June 30, during the grand opening for the Walnut Grove senior rental apartments, an affordable housing project located on the Phase 1 portion of the North 40 mixed-use project on Walker Street near the intersection of Highways 17 and 85.

The Eden Housing project, which provides homes for seniors earning 30-50% of area median income, began welcoming residents Jan. 27 and is now fully leased.

Binning shared how she got to watch her children grow up in Los Gatos.

“There weren’t any trendy restaurants or wine bars then,” she said. “Mountain Charley’s was the restaurant of choice for the steaks and the great music. It’s a lot different now. There’s a lot more people here. It’s still a great place to live.”

Her grandchildren and sons-in-law were enrolled in educational institutions in Los Gatos and Saratoga.

Binning was living downtown and she was starting to feel the pressure of the Silicon Valley rental market.

“I had a nice apartment,” she said. “But the rent was really far more than I could really manage easily.”

A newspaper article about the North 40 caught her eye and she decided to put in an application for the Walnut Grove multi-story complex under development.

Walnut Grove
Lights on the terraces provide a sense of ambiance. (Courtesy of Eden Housing)

“It looked really good, but I thought, This is a lot of paperwork,” she recalled. “So, I called my daughter, and she took off the afternoon from work and came down the hill and helped me.”

Binning knew there would be more people interested than there were homes available, so she put it out of her mind.

“I kept looking around at other apartments and I found out they were even more expensive than the one I had. And, low-and-behold, I was out shopping one afternoon late in the day, and I got a text.”

It directed her to her email, where she learned she’d been picked.

“I think it was in less than two weeks I moved in here,” she said. “I couldn’t pack fast enough. It happened so quickly.”

Binning has already signed up for the Renters Advantage program where she works with a coach to better manage her budget and for Eden Savers, another service that assists with financial planning.

“My apartment is wonderful,” she said. “I enjoy the sunset every night. We have a garden. We have bluebirds in our birdhouses. And I feel like this is more than just a place to live. And I didn’t expect that. In fact, it almost tears me up.”

With that, she swallowed the lump in her throat and continued explaining what she meant.

“I feel that if I got in any kind of a bind, any kind of trouble—and maybe my family were out of town—that I would have somebody here that would have my back,” she said. “It’s really a great place to live.”

balloons and speaker
Leah Johnson shares her experience of moving into Walnut Grove. (Courtesy of Eden Housing)

Andrea Osgood, Eden Housing’s chief of real estate development, was touched by the speech and says it’s stories like this that drive home the necessity of their 100% affordable housing communities.

“We know that affordable housing is needed everywhere,” she said, noting Eden’s now built more than 11,000 homes across California over the last 55 years. “We’re going to keep doing that.”

The building features 49 low-income units and one manager unit. Net rent ranges from $948 to $1,580.

Resident Leah Johnson told the crowd at the ribbon-cutting, including Mayor Maria Ristow and other dignitaries, that she thinks planners really nailed it in terms of designing a facility that works for handicapped seniors like her, as well as for older adults, in general.

“The hallways in the building all have grab bars, because even seniors who aren’t handicapped can get a little unsteady on their feet,” she said. “So that was a very thoughtful design.”

In her opinion, the horticulture on the terrace rivals what she’s enjoyed on visits to a Stanford Hospital site.

Plus, she notes, there’s even a community garden.

“Many of us have already planted tomatoes, and basil, and rosemary, and other herbs, and plants and flowers,” she said. “You know, it’s a really good opportunity to enjoy the sunshine and to commune with your fellow residents.”

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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