Kinship in Housing – the Story of Friendship

Reflective of its name, the story of how the Friendship Senior Housing project came together is truly a story of kinship.

Set to break ground in Summer 2022 at 1904 Adeline Street, the 50-unit senior apartment building will sit on land owned by Gerald Agee Ministries in the Ralph Bunche neighborhood (behind DeFremery Park) of West Oakland. In an area where 27% of the population lives below the poverty line and the median family income is 36% of Area Median Income (AMI), housing isn’t the first challenge Pastor Agee has helped his community face.

“I grew up in Oakland and have seen the scene change,” says Agee. “In the ‘90s, I worked with other pastors to start a drug rehab program. Then we turned our attention to guns and stray bullets, and once we got those issues calmed, I could easily see that our next challenge was housing. Eight years ago we talked about the incoming affordable housing crisis, and have been working towards this ever since.”

Agee’s church, Friendship Christian Center, owned some unused land, which prompted Agee to begin interviewing developers in 2017 to see how they could use that surplus land to create affordable housing for members of their community. After speaking with dozens of companies, however, he was frustrated to find that none shared his vision—that was until he met Don Gilmore, Executive Director of the Community Housing Development Corporation (CHDC), a Richmond-based organization that has spent the last 30 years working to provide high-quality affordable housing and neighborhood services in the greater Bay Area.

“When I sat down with Don, I already had ideas about what needed to be done here,” says Agee, “but I never had to speak them, because he spoke them. I wanted to develop the church’s land in a way that would create affordable homes, while also bringing new resources into our community. That was the same heartbeat that Don Gilmore had.”

Gilmore and Agee quickly struck a deal wherein CHDC would split the developer fee–of which the developer typically keeps 90%–equally with Friendship Christian Center. Also atypically, CHDC allowed Friendship to retain ownership of their land and keep any income generated from the property in perpetuity.

“After witnessing black churches giving up their land to affordable housing developers and getting no more than their name on the door in return, we are on a mission to let communities know they have the right to ask for more,” says Gilmore. “We want money generated from these projects to stay in the communities where it is so urgently needed.”

But Gilmore and Agee still needed funding to get the project off the ground. CHDC guaranteed the loan and contacted the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), a CDFI that administers funds for the Bay’s Future Fund (BFF), for predevelopment support. As 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. And this was exactly the kind of project they were looking for.

“Gentrification is a real issue in Oakland,” says Cindy Wu, Executive Director of LISC Bay Area. “The black population has decreased dramatically. A lot of that has to do with housing and displacement, and a lot has to do with disinvestment in minority neighborhoods. This project allows not only for the maintaining of a black presence in the community, but also for a recycling of resources back into the communities that need it most, to help them grow stronger.”

Together, the Bay’s Future Fund and LISC were able to make an interest only loan of $600k to support the project and, in August 2023, 49 local seniors earning at or below 50% AMI will be able to move in. A portion of the units will also be set aside for formerly unhoused seniors.

Residents will live in a four-story housing complex that will provide a new model for sustainable living. The building is being developed with extensive environmental considerations and energy efficient measures, and green building standards, including solar powered electricity and a rainwater harvesting system. A people-friendly outdoor courtyard will maximize sun exposure, while protecting residents from the prevailing winds. In addition, the thermal integrity of the building will eliminate the need for air conditioning, reduce heating consumption, and create greater comfort levels for residents.

Occupants of Friendship Senior Housing will also have access to all services provided to the Friendship congregation, including financial literacy services, low interest car loans for reliable clean transportation, leadership programs, and other services identified in an individualized care plan that will be developed and maintained for the senior residents. In addition, because the money from the project is going back to the church, the very existence of the new housing development will provide more capital to increase the strength and potential of those programs for all those in the community who need them.

“We’re proud to be a true partner in creating homes for those in need in our community,” says Agee. “We’re also building wealth and experience, and ushering in a better day.”