Berkeley’s first ever ground-up co-living development breaks ground

There are currently thousands of individuals and families who are priced out of the Bay Area housing market, yet earn too much income to qualify for low-income housing subsidies. Commonly referred to as the “missing middle,” this group has been largely overlooked in the past, but interest in serving them has recently gained traction.

One area where the missing middle has been facing a serious challenge is in Berkeley. Rents in the city have been skyrocketing in recent years and its close proximity to job-rich areas means Berkeley’s need for housing for middle income workers and their families is only going to increase. Developer Heidi Lubin thinks that, with the help of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and the Bay’s Future Fund, she may have found an answer.

Lubin, founder of eSix Development Partners, has spent seven years working to help provide more environmentally sustainable, affordable housing for the missing middle. Her work, she says, is guided by the hypothesis that the most stable and impactful investments are transit-oriented developments, purpose-built for workforce housing, with all-electric, green building construction. And when she turned her attention to Berkeley, she had an epiphany. “In the case of Berkeley, I thought we could accomplish all of our goals and more by developing a co-living community,” says Lubin. “I had lived in a co-operative in college and previously built an all-electric co-living development in West Oakland; I just knew this could be the answer here.”

Lubin soon found the perfect space for her project– a vacant building at 1717 University. Situated right in the heart of Berkeley, the lot is well positioned for workforce housing—within easy walking distance to the Berkeley University campus, the commercial downtown area, and commuter hubs with services to San Francisco, Peninsula job centers, San Jose, and Sacramento. Trader Joe’s and a large park are just blocks away.  The property’s then ownership, led by Matt Fialho, originally intended to sell the building on the open market, but taken by Lubin’s concept, they approached her to partner.

Lubin and Fialho joined with former Berkeley City Planning Manager Mark Rhoades to form a development team, H3M Partners, to develop the project. In a nod to sustainability, they would call it “The Bosco”— which means forest. All of this would only work, however, if they could source the needed capital to finance their innovative approach.

Fortunately, Lubin had heard about the Bay’s Future Fund (BFF). The investing arm of the Partnership for the Bay’s Future and one of the largest housing funds in the nation, BFF is focused entirely on preserving, protecting, and producing affordable housing in the Bay Area. She also knew it had a reputation and willingness to support and fund emerging developers. Lubin reached out to the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), who administers funds for BFF, and was able to secure a $3.3M loan to get the project off the ground.

“They were able to give us a great amount of flexible, predevelopment funding that worked with the equity we already had. It was critical, catalytic capital,” says Lubin. “In addition, as a woman developer who had the skills but not the traditional record of experience in a field where women are already highly underrepresented, I wasn’t sure who would take the chance. LISC and BFF bet on me. That alone made me feel like I could succeed.”

The Bosco will house 59 individuals in a mixture of units that range from two- to- four bedrooms– all organized around common spaces – accompanied by one stand-alone studio apartment. Two, five-bedroom units (designed to house 10 people total) and the stand-alone studio will each be restricted up to 50% AMI or lower; the remaining 12 co-living units will be priced at 90% AMI. Altogether, the units will rent for significantly less than market rate—26% less than nearby Berkeley studios and 70% less than a shared apartment. And rent includes a common membership package covering furnishings, utilities, WiFi, shared household goods, professional cleaning services, free laundry, and access to monthly events.

The Bosco will also have two rooftop gardens, an outdoor deck with a BBQ, bike and scooter parking. The best part? All of this exists within a highly sustainable, all-electric development. The building, which is on track to achieve LEED Platinum status, is using the highest energy efficiency equipment on the market.

“We’re always thrilled when we have the opportunity to support a project that can truly serve as a model to show the rest of the industry what’s possible,” says Cindy Wu, Executive Director of Bay Area LISC. “In the case of The Bosco, we have an incredible opportunity to provide housing to middle income Bay Area workers, while also showcasing environmentally sustainable co-living, and supporting a strong woman developer.”

Lubin is thrilled. “A financially stable and accretive project that can help provide a foundation for working Bay Area families that’s also better for humans and the environment? It doesn’t get any better than that!”

Opinion: Turning crisis into opportunity: Why Berkeley needs TOPA now

The Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) is a key policy focus area of the Berkeley Challenge Grant Team. Berkeley community partner East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) has partnered with the Mayor’s Office to introduce the policy in Berkeley. When an owner of a rental property decides to sell, TOPA enables the tenants that call this building home to receive the first opportunity to buy the property. The TOPA working group, a coalition of nonprofits, community land trusts, and local grassroots groups, has been busy building momentum for the policy’s adoption. The op-ed they authored below describes the promise of TOPA in Berkeley, in the words of community members. TOPA will be heard tomorrow Thursday, March 18 at 10:30am at the Berkeley Land Use, Housing & Economic Development Committee.  — Anna Cash, Berkeley Challenge Grant Fellow

Opinion: Turning crisis into opportunity: Why Berkeley needs TOPA now

Allowing tenants to buy their apartments when they come up for sale will help keep the diversity Berkeley prides itself on.

By Fernando Echeverria and Sarah Scruggs

There’s an end in sight to this pandemic, but vaccinations and falling case rates won’t magically fix the exacerbated housing crisis that COVID-19 leaves in its wake – a crisis that was already displacing thousands in BIPOC communities from their East Bay homes. Bold action is overdue to ensure that marginalized renters across Berkeley have a more thriving future. With a new policy called the “Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act” (TOPA), we have an opportunity to go beyond pandemic relief and take concrete steps to preserve homes in our community.

With 75% of Berkeley’s low-income census tracts at risk of or undergoing displacement, a crisis that has disproportionately impacted the Black community, Berkeley desperately needs an innovative policy mechanism to stop the bleeding. In Berkeley, 72% of households of color are renters, whereas less than half of white households are renters. As a realtor and former long-time Berkeley resident Lela Logene Butler shared, being able to own in Berkeley “would take me back to my roots. My church is in Berkeley, I shop in Berkeley, my office is in Berkeley, yet I can’t afford to live in Berkeley.” We cannot afford to return to “normal” when normal means preserving the inequities that have left low-income communities of color vulnerable to this crisis. We know that where a person lives is critical in determining their health outcomes and nearly everything about their life. And we have a chance to ensure that Berkeley becomes a place where people from different backgrounds can pursue their dreams and make plans for the future.

No policy is better made for this moment than TOPA, a policy that will level the playing field by providing tenants, who already call Berkeley home, the first chance to acquire the rental property they live in when it comes up for sale. TOPA requires owners seeking to sell a rental property to give current tenants notice of intent to sell before marketing the property to other purchasers. Tenants are given a right of first offer and right of first refusal to purchase the property. In order to make acquisitions possible for tenants, TOPA includes community workshopped timelines which are critical to ensure tenants have time to organize and secure financing. Tenants can also assign rights to an affordable housing developer, or if tenants decline to act, these affordable housing developers will have a chance to purchase and preserve the existing tenancies and the property as affordable. All in all, TOPA guarantees that owners will still receive fair market value for their property while affording tenants a chance to stay in the place they call home.

By investing in this policy, and others geared towards preservation, we can increase the overall affordability of the community, helping stabilize neighborhoods and keep them from becoming more exclusionary as they gentrify. Parties active in Washington, DC’s real estate industry, where TOPA has been in existence since 1980, agree that TOPA is an important tool to prevent displacement and create affordable homes.

As the market has continued to heat up in Berkeley, tenants are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to having a shot at homeownership. Properties are sold quickly, often with all-cash offers; tenants often don’t know about these sales until it’s too late to make an offer themselves. As Butler put it, in her capacity as a realtor, “I have people reaching out to me and they say ‘I wish I could own some property or something but I don’t think I can afford it and I’ll always be a renter.’ TOPA would be an option I could have shared with them. TOPA would mean more homeownership among Black and brown people, and more homeownership options for everyone.”

TOPA is a policy intervention that Mia Villanueva, a longtime Berkeley Unified School District employee and Berkeley tenant, characterizes as a tool to provide security and stability because “tenants are an essential part of [Berkeley] neighborhoods [and] sometimes people forget that.” We have to act now to make sure that we can keep Berkeley Berkeley, the diverse community that we love, and to build the kind of community stability that benefits us all through a meaningful and community-supported TOPA.

TOPA is scheduled to be reviewed by the Berkeley Land Use, Housing & Economic Development Committee this Thursday, March 18 at 10:30 a.m. Whether you are a tenant or a homeowner in Berkeley, we urge you to come out in support of a policy that will benefit our entire community.


Fernando Echeverria and Sarah Scruggs are part of the Berkeley TOPA working group composed of local grassroots tenant organizations, community land trusts, and the East Bay Community Law Center. Scruggs has almost 10 years of experience in affordable housing development and policy and currently works at the Northern California Land Trust. Echeverria is the community economic justice project manager for the East Bay Community Law Center.

Read the full article here

Challenge Grant Spotlight: Alameda County

The Challenge Grants bring local changemakers together to work on housing policies that protect tenants and preserve existing affordable housing. In the face of the challenges of COVID and virtual work, the Challenge Grant cohort has been incredibly adaptive and resilient, finding new ways to advance housing justice policies. Together, this community of practice is laying the groundwork for equitable housing policy throughout the Bay Area, starting at the local level.  

We’ve learned a lot from the first year of this program and are spotlighting some of the incredible work happening across the Bay Area. This post is part of an ongoing series that will share some of the highs and lows of what we are learning along the way, as well as what we’re getting ready for in 2021. 

To hear more about this work and receive information on future grant opportunities, sign up for our newsletter here

 

Centering Community Feedback to Drive Housing Solutions in Alameda County 

Charles Harris

 

Growing up, my father instilled in me a rather efficient way to learn, which was learning from the experiences of others. I carried this method with me when I started in my role as the Alameda County Challenge Grant Fellow. The County is focused on improving housing issues in the unincorporated area, a region disproportionately impacted by the state’s housing crisis.

An effective strategy for improving housing issues in the unincorporated area would use my father’s advice and center community experiences and feedback through creating pipelines for collaboration with community groups. The County is putting this approach into action through conversations with community groups, like the Eden Renters Union, around their housing issues and solutions. Holding the understanding that communities know best what they need, the County is making efforts to act as a conduit for community voices.

Resources for Community Development (RCD), our community partner, helped launch a series of community conversations to better understand what the unincorporated community needed in terms of policies related to affordable housing. The community came back with many solutions in the form of a pro-active rental inspection program, just cause expansion, rent stabilization. This became the basis of my research for what these programs could look like in the unincorporated county.

As part of the community conversation process, I participate in a steering committee tasked with identifying policy recommendations for the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. The steering committee includes RCD, community organizers, and local government staff from public health, planning, building code and inspection, and the office of the Board of Supervisors.

This group gave me the foundation I needed to launch the Challenge Grant work. In our weekly meetings, the committee was able to discuss what has worked and what hasn’t in the county as well as connect me to their colleagues in other Bay Area communities that have done similar work. The steering committee gave me the chance to learn directly through one-on-one conversations with individuals and further build relationships and partnerships. I believe that approach was much more beneficial than just reading through reports.

As part of the learning process, I have also connected with experts outside the county. These folks are housing practitioners from other cities in the Bay Area that have achieved the successes we are hoping to have in Alameda County. They were able to walk me through their process, what they wish they did, what failed, and what worked.

We are excited to be soon sharing our tenant protection recommendations with the Board of Supervisors and continuing the process of transforming these learnings into policy.

I believe collaboration is the most important part of this fellowship. As my father taught me, learning from the experiences of others will be the key to finding the solutions to best preserve and protect housing for all Bay Area residents.

Pandemic stalls affordable housing plans but creates opportunities for South Bay land trust

One of the policy focus areas of the San Jose Challenge Grant team is community housing ownership models and alternative pathways to asset-building. For the past year, the team has been working with the South Bay Community Land Trust to increase its capacities and grow partnerships with development partners. The South Bay Community Land Trust was recently profiled in the San José Spotlight, including quotes from Challenge Grant team member SOMOS Mayfair. Read on to see how this community land trust presents new opportunities for many at risk of displacement.

Pandemic stalls affordable housing plans but creates opportunities for South Bay land trust

Lloyd Alaban

Jocelin Hernandez leads a bilingual workshop held by the South Bay Community Land Trust. Photo courtesy of Sandy Perry.

Luis Moreno knows the struggle for housing in Silicon Valley. His aunt, a single mother with three children, was homeless for three years.

“We weren’t really able to help her,” Moreno said. “Nobody in our family really had the resources to say, ‘Hey, you can live here.’”

Moreno says Silicon Valley, one of the richest regions in the nation, has failed to provide stable housing for people like his aunt, which is why he became involved with the South Bay Community Land Trust (SBCLT).

Community land trusts are nonprofits founded by community members who acquire and manage land, and decide how it will be used. In Silicon Valley, land trusts have focused on providing affordable housing.

The South Bay land trust was the first one formed in Silicon Valley in 2019, but two years later members admit the most important piece of the puzzle remains missing: acquiring land.

“The idea to start is just to get one property,” said Sandy Perry, president of the Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County and one of the co-founders of the land trust. “We haven’t started yet. We still have no property.”

SBCLT came close before: The trust, which includes nine board members and 50 to 100 volunteers, asked the Santa Clara County Water District to donate land to its cause in August 2019, but the effort fizzled out.

However, Perry said, the pandemic has created an opportunity for affordable housing with many buildings in urban areas being vacated. Like other local nonprofits, SBCLT has received COVID-19 response funds from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

With a current budget of approximately $100,000 per year, according to Perry, the trust plans to launch a pilot project to preserve affordable housing projects in a partnership with East San Jose nonprofit SOMOS Mayfair and San Jose’s housing department.

“There’s no way I can buy a house. There’s no way I can buy an apartment or anything here,” said Angelica Flores, a spokesperson with SOMOS Mayfair. “Being in a collective with your neighbors and with your community will be the only thing that can keep us in San Jose.”

Preserving affordable housing is a practice used by organizations and cities to ensure units are not lost to developers or to commercial use. Land trusts also remodel existing affordable units to keep them from being demolished.

“The problem with the mainstream housing market is that it sees housing as an investment — a property used for turning a profit,” said Tiffany Vuong, a tenant rights advocate in Milpitas. “Taking housing out of the speculative market and having it for the sole purpose of living in is key to ensuring that housing is a human right.”

 

Read the full article here.

Saving Affordable Housing One Building at a Time

It’s no secret that Oakland has seen massive rent hikes in the past several years. It’s also no mystery how it happened–when tenants were priced out of San Francisco, Berkeley, and other increasingly expensive Bay Area neighborhoods, rental occupancy grew feverishly in Oakland, and landlords and market-rate developers responded in kind.

However, to date, East Oakland has not been as heavily impacted. Construction has been limited and rents have largely remained untouched. This means tenants there are safe…for now. It also means that investors are beginning to circle.

Historically, most affordable housing efforts are focused on constructing or preserving homes in an area where options for low- to middle-income earners have already become limited or nonexistent. But what if efforts were made to maintain an area’s housing affordability before prices got out of hand? What if more developers worked to proactively get in front of imminent gentrification rather than try and stem the tide once it has already begun? Nikki Beasley, Executive Director of Richmond Neighborhood Housing Services (RNHS)–a non-profit organization founded in 1981 by local East Bay residents to address affordability, equity, and disparity related to housing–wants to find out.

 

Read the full article here.

Challenge Grant Spotlight: East Palo Alto

The Challenge Grants bring local changemakers together to work on housing policies that protect tenants and preserve existing affordable housing. In the face of the challenges of COVID and virtual work, the Challenge Grant cohort has been incredibly adaptive and resilient, finding new ways to advance housing justice policies. Together, this community of practice is laying the groundwork for equitable housing policy throughout the Bay Area, starting at the local level.  

We’ve learned a lot from the first year of this program and are spotlighting some of the incredible work happening across the Bay Area. This post is part of an ongoing series that will share some of the highs and lows of what we are learning along the way, as well as what we’re getting ready for in 2021. 

To hear more about this work and receive information on future grant opportunities, sign up for our newsletter here

 

East Palo Alto Considers Funding Community Land Trusts 

Karen Camacho

Measure V volunteers holding signs

The East Palo Alto Challenge Grant has three main goals: (1) establish a sustainable funding source for housing preservation; (2) launch a preservation model centered on a Community Land Trust (CLT) to acquire, rehabilitate, and redevelop properties; and (3) design and support the passage of local preservation ordinance.  

Community Outreach and Education 

Despite the many unforeseeable hurdles in 2020, we began the first year of the Challenge Grant strong by gathering support from sixty-five percent of East Palo Alto voters and a unanimous City Council for a hotel tax that would raise funds for affordable housing acquisition, redevelopment and rehabilitation. Although the measure narrowly fell short of two-thirds threshold needed to pass, the community greatly benefitted from learning about the importance of community land trusts (CLTs) and the role they can play in affordable housing preservation, especially when there are sustainable funding sources available. While the future is uncertain, we hope the measure is reintroduced in next year’s election. 

Last year, we were also able to raise $500,000 from philanthropic supporters in pre-development and operating support for a CLT pilot project. This funding is geared toward bolstering PAHALI (Preserving Affordable Housing Assets Longterm, Inc) community land trust’s capacity and ability to launch a pilot preservation project. East Palo Alto’s PAHALI community land trust is an existing community resource with the knowledge and experience necessary to support the work of housing acquisition and rehabilitation.  

As a Challenge Grant partner, PAHALI works closely with the City of East Palo Alto EPACANDO (East Palo Alto Community Alliance and Neighborhood Development Organization), CLSEPA (Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto), YUCA (Youth United for Community Action), and the Partnership for the Bay’s Future Fellow. Each partner brings unique experience and expertise in the areas of policy design, economic development, housing rights, community land trusts, community engagement, and project management.  

A Focus on Preservation in 2021 

This year we expect to encounter many of the same challenges we encountered in 2020, including finding new strategies to effectively engage the community in a time of strong digital divide, and continuing to address residents’ desire for strong anti-displacement measures as tenants are unable to make their rents and homeowners are unable to pay their mortgages due to the impacts of COVID-19 

East Palo Alto continues to house a large portion of the region’s essential workers, who risk exposure in their front-line jobs. The pandemic’s impact on East Palo Alto residents has highlighted the importance of the affordable housing preservation strategies outlined in the Challenge Grant. 

We are encouraged by the growing network of local and regional partners, and technical assistance providers specializing in housing preservation, and expect to see even more support and momentum this year. As a direct result of the Challenge Grant, East Palo Alto now has a robust affordable housing preservation working group that will continue to tackle the many challenges ahead.