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Berkeley breaks ground on unprecedented project: Affordable apartments with a homeless shelter

Marisa Kendall, The Mercury News on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Berkeley, Calif., officials and nonprofit leaders broke ground Tuesday on housing for more than 200 homeless and low-income residents -- an unusual project set to become the city's largest affordable housing development.

The project, which will be built on a city-owned parking lot downtown, will include a unique mix of rental housing for low-income, working families, permanent supportive housing for households transitioning out of homelessness, and shelter beds for people coming directly off the street. The effort is a partnership between BRIDGE Housing and the Berkeley Food & Housing Project, and it's been in the works for nearly a decade.

"I am absolutely proud to be here today with this amazing groundbreaking," City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley said during a virtual ceremony that was live-streamed on Facebook due to COVID-19 concerns. "This is one of the most legendary groundbreaking projects that we will see, probably in any of our times."

The project, which is set to be completed in May 2022, consists of two parts. The Hope Center will include 53 permanent supportive housing apartments, a 32-bed homeless shelter and 12 additional beds for homeless veterans. Next door will be Berkeley Way Apartments -- 89 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom low-income apartments. Those units will be reserved for people making between 50 and 60% of the area median income (between $49,600 and $59,520 a year for a two-person household in Alameda County) and will be distributed by a lottery.

The development also will include a community kitchen, as well as mental health, employment and other services for residents.

When completed, Berkeley Way Apartments will be the largest affordable housing development in the city's history. The Hope Center is the largest permanent supportive housing project in development in the city.

The unique mixture of low-income, working families and homeless residents is part of what makes the project so exciting, said Terrie Light, who was executive director of the Berkeley Food & Housing Project from 2006 to 2019, when much of the planning work was done on the project. Hopefully, residents in various stages of their recovery from homelessness will meet and interact, she said. For example, people sleeping in the shelter or dropping in for the community meal program can talk to people living in the permanent supportive housing units and hear about how the program has worked for them.

"So for people who are leery or fearful of making that step, they can develop personal relationships that might help change their mind," Light said.

 

The project is expected to cost about $120 million, including a $27 million contribution from the city of Berkeley. State and Alameda County funding (through affordable housing bond Measure A1) also contributed, and community members have donated to the effort.

Councilwoman Kate Harrison, who oversees the district where the development will be built, pointed out the project is a short walk from BART. That makes this city parking lot the "right place" to put housing, she said.

"This project," Harrison said, "is a bright spot in a dark time"

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