Berkeley City Council Compromises, Approves Funding for Housing Projects

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Affordable Housing Projects

Assistant City News Editor, Chris Carrassi, talks with Jasmine Mausner about a couple of affordable housing projects that have had trouble with funding.

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As part of the city's efforts to increase the number of local affordable housing units, the Berkeley City Council forged a compromise last week between two housing projects vying for the same pool of much-needed city funding.

At the council meeting held March 23, council members voted to allocate $1.4 million of this year's Housing Trust Fund in a way that may allow both Satellite Housing Inc. and the Ashby Arts project to continue plans to build low-income housing for seniors.

Though both projects already received approval from the city's Zoning Adjustment Board, city officials said they required public funds to jump-start the additional fund raising required for construction to begin.

The city had originally planned in July to fund the Ashby Arts project-a 98-unit senior housing center slated for construction in South Berkeley-in part with $900,000 in proceeds from a foreclosure on a property also located in South Berkeley.

But after Satellite expressed interest in the property for their own affordable housing project, council members voted March 23 to avoid foreclosure under the assumption that two projects would be better than one, according to Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

In a compromise, council members came up with a plan that would keep both development projects alive by granting Satellite the property while diverting other funds to Ashby Arts.

Worthington said the city took money from next year's Housing Trust Fund and waived City Council rules so that Ashby Arts did not have to wait in line for a year to fund their development.

"Some say that is unfair because (Ashby Arts) is not going through the competitive process like everyone else," Worthington said. "It gets the money dedicated ahead of time without the appropriate level of review."

But Councilmember Darryl Moore said both developers have already spent years obtaining city approval, and he does not want the two projects to die because there is no money.

"(Ashby Arts) is a good project at an important location," Moore said in a March 9 report. "The project will provide a strong architectural entry statement to the city and aid in the revitalization of the neighborhood."

But Worthington said that just because the city has voted to help fund the projects does not mean they are definitely going to happen.

City officials have said both projects will require additional state and federal funding for construction to begin.

In an attempt to help secure the additional funding, Ali Kashani, one of the developers of the Ashby Arts project, announced at the meeting that a new company was going to take over the development.

Kashani contacted BRIDGE Housing Corporation, a nonprofit development organization that has experience with building affordable housing in the Bay Area, in hopes that their involvement will improve Ashby Arts' chances of getting more funding, Worthington said.

"BRIDGE has a long history of working with affordable housing units and managing, so it is a wonderful thing for this nonprofit to be brought in because of their history," Moore said.

Brad Wiblin, vice president of BRIDGE, said the company has gained site control of the property and is now getting construction cost estimates and hopes to finance the project with tax-exempt bonds.

"The city's financial support with the Housing Trust Fund money is all set to go, and we are going to know in the next 60 to 90 days whether this is going to work or not," Wiblin said. "The council kept Ashby Arts alive, and we think the project is a great leveraging of the city's money."


Contact Jasmine Mausner at [email protected]

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