Nihonmachi Terrace completes $30M renovation of affordable housing project

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A NOT SO SECRET GARDEN — The newly landscaped garden in the Nihonmachi Terrace complex. photo by Kenji G. Taguma/Nichi Bei Weekly

A NOT SO SECRET GARDEN — The newly landscaped garden in the Nihonmachi Terrace complex. photo by Kenji G. Taguma/Nichi Bei Weekly

Money isn’t easy to come by in these economic times, especially from the federal government. Nihonmachi Terrace, however, secured $30 million from various financial institutions to conduct a massive remodeling effort that started in 2009. In just two years, the facilities have been updated with environmentally friendly appliances, a new exercise room, a community reading room, a newly landscaped garden fashioned after Japanese aesthetics and a new emergency sprinkler system.

The affordable housing complex, located in San Francisco’s Japantown, held a ceremony on April 25 to acknowledge those who made the renovation possible, and to celebrate the rebuilding of a community. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who was instrumental in securing the vouchers for low income housing for the apartment building, was among the guests.

“We needed 120 Section 8 vouchers in two weeks,” said Buck Bagot, one of the community organizers involved with the efforts and the event’s emcee. “We called up Pelosi’s office and organized to write and send 96 letters to her from (the Nihonmachi Terrace). A little later, we got a call back from her office saying we got the vouchers.”

Bagot presented the ceremonies in a pomp with a commencement by the Rev. Ronald Kobata, the Rev. Stina Pope and the Rev. Joanne Tolosa of the Japanese American Religious Federation (JARF). Kobata, who serves as JARF’s chairman, noted the difference between a “house” and “home.” A house is the physical building, but a home is so much more. Kobata said he wished that “Nihonmachi Terrace may continue to serve as the spirit of a home.”

William Tsukamoto and David Kamita of the Nihonmachi Terrace board thanked all those involved that made it possible. Tsukamoto and Kamita announced that a donation of $100,000 had been made to the Japanese Red Cross for earthquake and tsunami relief in Japan from JARF Housing Inc., John Stewart Company, Devine & Gong Inc., Cahill Construction and Enterprise Community Investments, Jack Gardner, Dan Levine, Loren Sanborn, Michael Smith-Heimer and John K. Stewart. Consul General of Japan in San Francisco Hiroshi Inomata accepted the check and thanked the donors for their “gracious support.”

Tsukamoto commented that the whole project, which took about four years to finish, was a group effort. He cited Rick Devine, a consultant, for his role in contacting the necessary parties to file the paperwork and complete the process.

Tsukamoto also said he was impressed with Cahill Construction, which renovated the apartment building. He said the company followed tenant-oriented schedules, which caused the residents minimal displacement, while completing the job quickly and efficiently.

Tsukamoto, who serves as board president of Nihonmachi Terrace, also spoke about the impact of the ceremony’s guest of honor, Pelosi. By getting all 245 units in Nihonmachi Terrace assigned to Section 8, the residents may live there for the indefinite future, with rents reduced to just a third of their income, Tsukamoto said. Many of the residents, seniors who are a part of the Japantown community, can now live in the complex indefinitely.

Tsukamoto presented a plaque, which will hang in the common room of the Nihonmachi Terrace, to Pelosi. Two of the residents spoke, explaining how her work has supported them. Miyeko Kanoh, 93, said that the apartment is a convenient place for her to live. “Thank you Ms. Pelosi for getting the money so we can live in my home forever,” said Kanoh.

Kiyoko Dorsey, age 81, who has lived at the Terrace for 16 years, thanked Pelosi. Dorsey said that while living at the complex, she had “met many new friends and had the opportunity to volunteer in the Japantown community.”

Pelosi expressed her excitement over the project’s completion. She said that the success of the community effort should be seen as a model for not just Japantown or San Francisco, but the entire nation. “The money used here to serve the community serves as a model for the nation,” said Pelosi.

Aside from seniors, other community members, such as Jeddie Kawahatsu, this year’s Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival queen, live at Nihonmachi Terrace. Kawahatsu said her family has lived in the complex her entire life, and she hopes they will continue to do so, thus aiding their ability to participate in the Japantown community.

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