In Santa Barbara, Calif., where property values are among the highest in the nation (it is, after all, known as “The American Riviera”), this intimate little infill project pulls off the seemingly impossible. It tucks 12 pretty apartments into a downtown historic district on a tenth of an acre, sandwiched between a parking garage and an adjacent commercial building. And get this: The units are affordable, offering rents of just $560 to $680 per month to low-income workers with incomes between $27,250 and $43,600 per year.

Budgetary constraints were sizable, and yet Peikert Group Architects artfully complied with the old city’s strict Spanish colonial architectural guidelines. Units ranging from 485 to 602 square feet feature high ceilings, decorative tile, clean stucco and clay tile roof exteriors, arched colonnades, iron gates and lanterns, and private balconies overlooking the adjacent public plaza, court house, and city library.

Residents enjoy access to an adjacent public bike station with lockers, maintenance equipment, and shower facilities. The apartments are a quick walk to public transit, shopping, parks, and various social and cultural hot spots. And the lucky few who live there aren’t the only ones to benefit; the project beautifies the urban core, transforming what was formerly a blank wall into a lyrical piece of architecture.

Award: Grand for affordable project under 30 du/acre
Builder/Developer: People’s Self Help Housing, San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Architect: Peikert Group Architects, Santa Barbara

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Santa Barbara, CA, San Luis Obispo, CA.