Many of the older residents moving into Craig Gardens' 650-square-foot rental units are casualties of California's housing prices. They can no longer afford their family homes. But Jeff Oberdorfer and First Community Housing try to soften that blow by keeping construction costs down along with rents ($453 and $779), at the same time considering the daily lives of residents.

"We build three or four projects at once, so we get deals on quality products," Oberdorfer notes. "Those include green building materials such as recycled carpet squares and low-VOC paints and finishes."

Craig Gardens includes 90 units, with a density of 61 units per acre, and each apartment has extra storage and amenities such as outdoor community gardens and well-lit activity rooms.

"We also consider transportation," Oberdorfer notes. "Craig Gardens is near busing, and we give them free [mass transit] passes that are good for one year when they move in. The city gives us a 5 percent reduction in parking requirements because of that."

"These projects are not really subsidized," he notes. "We get loans, but no grants. They have to pay for themselves and remain affordable for 45 to 55 years."

Category: Affordable; Entrant/Developer: First Community Housing, San Jose, Calif.; Builder: L&D Construction, San Jose; Architect/Land Planner/Interior Designer: Office of Jerome King Inc., San Jose; Landscape Architect: The Beals Group, San Jose

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Jose, CA, Los Angeles, CA.