In Conversation: Renee Funston, Development Manager | CADA

Renee Funston is a development manager for Sacramento’s Capitol Area Development Authority (CADA), a unique self-sustaining public agency with a mission to build safe, affordable and environmentally sustainable urban neighborhoods. Think Wood sat down with Renee at the International Mass Timber Conference to talk about the evolving role of the near half-century-old organization and how mass timber might play an important part in more affordable, biophilic, eco-friendly housing design for urban centers like Sacramento.

Think Wood: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the mission of the Capital Area Development Authority (CADA)?

Renee Funston: I’m a development manager with Sacramento’s CADA—it’s a joint powers authority between the state of California and the city of Sacramento and is specifically here to implement the housing and support the retail goals of the Capitol Area Plan. We were founded in 1978 to essentially be the state property manager for residential and commercial properties around the capitol. CADA is a pretty unique public agency—we still get tax increment financing, and so that’s a portion of the tax dollars within our actual redevelopment area. We then reinvest that back into the surrounding neighborhoods. 

A big part of our mission is to help create a neighborhood for all, including all household types and incomes. CADA is mandated to preserve a quarter of its housing stock (units that CADA manages or builds) as affordable units. 


We understand a recent CADA-supported affordable housing project used mass timber. Can you tell us about that project?

Yes, one of our most recent projects, Sonrisa (1322 O Street), is a five-story mass timber building using cross-laminated timber (CLT). It consists of 58 micro-unit apartments with 1,300 square feet of ground-floor community space. All of the units are affordable at low- and very low-income levels. It is the first to be completed under Governor Newsom’s Executive Order N-06-19 for Affordable Housing Development. That order specifically calls for increased use of renewable sustainable construction methods such as modular mass timber construction. 

  • Photo Credit: Kurtis Ostrom Photography
  • Photo Credit: John Swain Photography
  • Photo Credit: John Swain Photography
  • Photo Credit: John Swain Photography

What are some of the benefits you found from using mass timber?

It will provide beautiful, warm environments and will help boost the ceiling height to over nine feet in the units and 12 feet on the ground floor. That is a real plus, especially when building micro suites, as it gives more light and a greater sense of openness, contributing to a sense of well-being. We will also be able to take advantage of modular prefab construction, so we can frame and get the structure up a lot quicker. It’s well-suited to smaller urban infills. And then of course the sustainable properties associated with mass timber make it a no-brainer.


Why is it important to consider sustainability, biophilic design and using materials like exposed wood, in an affordable housing project?

I think with any project, not just affordable housing, it is important to consider these things. At the same time, our organization is long-term mission-driven, maybe more than a traditional developer. So we go above and beyond for a lot of these types of things, knowing that we are building affordable housing as part of a long-term sustainable development strategy. With mass timber, we can sequester carbon into this solid form and as a building material it’s going to have a lot more longevity—you could potentially even use those CLT panels for another project in the future if we think in terms of design for disassembly and re-use. That’s something that we should all be striving for. Beyond this, we are doing things like not including parking but instead making sure there’s excellent walkability and access to transit. 


As a public agency, do you see CADA as needing to take a leadership role to showcase innovations to the wider industry, such as the case of using mass timber?

Absolutely. And I think that’s certainly already happening in Sacramento. The Sonrisa is a great example and so we’re happy to share our findings and knowledge. We’re sharing everything from design details and pro forma to acoustical studies. These projects can help everyone in the industry as we learn together and fine-tune our best practices.


What are some of the learnings you can share when it comes to mass timber and affordable housing?

I think generally working together really closely early on a mass timber project is important. There are many things that are happening at once and you don’t always identify what pieces are missing from the drawings until you are actually working with your sub-consultants. As much as possible, you want to have that really close upfront coordination, checking everything out, that everyone is on the same page and has thought through what things potentially could go wrong. Giving close attention to delivery schedules of mass timber panels is also key. For the Sonrisa project, it took three days for the truckload deliveries to arrive and we had to figure things out between the delivery schedule and when people are working, factoring in weekends and holidays. 


Any last words or advice to other industry professionals or public agencies looking to take on a mass timber project? 

Innovation can be overwhelming and a little scary. It’s understandable that developers are looking for certainty. I definitely recommend reaching out to the growing community of mass timber experts in the field. Developing a close collaborative, trusting, working relationship between the owner, architect, and contractor can really make a difference when it comes to mass timber projects. You can never go wrong reaching out to other successful design teams. I would certainly recommend connecting with others in your region who have successfully completed mass timber projects.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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