Thinking Small

Nikky Mohanna Creates Housing, Doesn’t Waste Space

By Jordan Venema
October 2018

In February, Mohanna Development Co. expects to complete its mixed-use structure at 19 and J streets. This will not be just another building. Developer Nikky Mohanna is creating a community space that reflects Midtown lifestyles, tastes and budgets. Sacramento has never seen anything quite like it.

With small, efficient micro-studios starting at below $1,000 a month, Mohanna believes 19J will appeal to an urban workforce threatened by Sacramento’s housing crisis.

“In a lot of ways, millennials are the pioneers of urban living, so we have to build for them, and we have to figure out a way to meet their budgets,” says Mohanna. She designed 19J not by contemplating square footage, but asking, what can residents afford?

Most units at 19J will be cheaper than the median studio price in Sacramento, but 19J is not an affordable housing project. Without subsidies or federal tax credits, Mohanna had to build small and efficiently to make 19J financially viable.

Eighty percent of 19J’s 175 units are between 300- and 400-square feet. Studios less than 400-square feet will come with Murphy beds and storage built into walls.

European cities and New York inspired Mohanna to build micro-units, where urban lifestyles demand more mixed-use, communal spaces and alternate forms of transportation. Her vision includes patios, balconies and a 6,000-square-foot retail space whose tenants will offer

services for residents. The project has just 37 stackable parking spaces. “Sacramento is unaffordable and we need to do something about it,” Mohanna says. “It makes me want to build.”

Experience and education help explain why Mohanna elected to construct for community and inclusion. The daughter of Sacramento developer Moe Mohanna, a Sacramento property owner for more than four decades, Nikki returned home in 2014 after studying at London School of Economics and working with UNESCO in Tehran, Iran.

Her sense of community was forged early in Sacramento when she volunteered with Loaves & Fishes and Women’s Empowerment, two nonprofits focused on homeless support. The volunteer work helped her understand that her comfortable upbringing carried an obligation to help others.

“I realized that I didn’t deserve what I had, and I certainly don’t deserve it today,” she says. “If anything, that puts more pressure on me to do something that’s right.”

As Mohanna considered 19J, her first major project, she sought a balance between profitability and community value. She decided the two goals could coexist.

“We’re trying to build a community within the community that will be done through programs and communal spaces,” she says. Common areas include indoor and outdoor lounges, fitness and game rooms, three outdoor patios, a communal kitchen and rooftop garden. “But something different that we’re doing, that I haven’t seen before, is to provide the programming for these spaces.”

Five resident managers will live on alternate floors of the 11-story 19J building. The managers will organize programs such as painting, cooking and gardening. They will be graduates of Women’s Empowerment, where Mohanna now volunteers as a board member. The resident-manager program will help combat biases many homeless women face as they transition into housing.

“Because of their history, many were not getting housing and work,” Mohanna says. “They were competing against people without that history and without that bias against them. So I was sitting at a (Women’s Empowerment) graduation one day while I was entitling 19J, and I thought, wouldn’t it be perfect if we could provide employment in property management that comes with housing?”

Five graduates from Women’s Empowerment will receive a yearlong position at 19J. During their time with the project, the women will gain training and free onsite housing. When their year ends, they will receive help as they transition into other jobs.

“This is a critical time—the issue of people not being able to afford to live—so we need to start building for the middle class and our workforce,” Mohanna says.

The 19J project is Mohanna’s first majority micro-unit development, but in August she submitted an application for a similar project at 10th and K streets. Her plans for the Downtown corner include a hotel with 200 rooms, 186 apartments and a floor of co-living, dorm-style units for Capitol interns and short-term residents.

“They’re here three or four months and have the hardest time finding housing, so we want to incentivize those individuals,” she says.

Mohanna hopes to break ground on 10K later next year or in early 2020.

Jordan Venema can be reached at jordan.venema@gmail.com.

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