7 East Bay cities, excluding Berkeley, receive more than $28 million in affordable housing grants

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Seven cities in the East Bay will receive a total of more than $28 million in state affordable housing grants — but Berkeley is not one of them.

The grants, awarded by California’s Strategic Growth Council at its June 30 meeting, are part of a statewide total of about $120 million in funding for the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program, which helps fund affordable housing and sustainability projects. According to the council’s strategic planner Mackenzie Wieser, Berkeley did not apply for the grant.

Igor Tregub, vice chair of the city’s Housing Advisory Commission, said he did not think the housing commission was informed about the application.

“We try to keep pretty close tabs on what the city is doing,” Tregub said. “I had the impression this one just slipped through the cracks, which is unfortunate, given the opportunity receiving such a grant would have presented.”

Out of the 28 housing and transportation projects statewide that are being funded, the 11 in the greater Bay Area will receive a total of about $47 million.

Some of the cities in the East Bay that received funding include Richmond, Emeryville and Oakland, each receiving more than $4 million. The money will help fund more than 400 units of affordable housing in the East Bay and more than 300 additional units in the Bay Area.

Tregub said he plans to bring up the grant at the next housing commission meeting and hopes the commission can find a way to make sure the city doesn’t “drop balls of this magnitude.”

City Councilmember Kriss Worthington said that Berkeley “urgently needs more, not less, affordable housing funded” and that this grant could have helped.

Berkeley’s monthly median rental price for housing has increased more than 50 percent since 2000, from $740 in 2000 to about $1,160 in 2012, according to U.S. Census data.

City spokesperson Matthai Chakko could not be reached for comment.

Berkeley Rent Board chair Jesse Townley said that not receiving the funds was unfortunate and that, considering the grants are project based, it “may speak to the emphasis of many developers on luxury and market-rate units.”

“Luxury housing is the Donald Trump of Berkeley, which is distracting from the urgent need for affordable housing,” Worthington said in an email.

The Strategic Growth Council brings together various departments in the state of California — including the Consumer Services and Housing and the Food and Agriculture departments, as well as the governor’s Office of Planning and Research — in order to coordinate activities such as improving air and water quality and supporting affordable housing.

Funding for the affordable housing program, including the grants, comes from auctioning off greenhouse gas allowances as part of the state’s Cap-and-Trade Program.

Contact Sujin Shin at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sujinjshin.

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  • Igor Tregub

    Dear Son_of_guy,

    There is no question that when something like this happens, there is collective responsibility. That being said, the Housing Advisory Commission is a volunteer body of Council and Mayoral appointees that meets once a month. We have quite full agendas and do meaningful work. For examples of the issues on which we work, I invite you to view the agendas and minutes of our meetings at http://cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/Commissions/Commissions__Housing_Advisory_Commission_Homepage.aspx . Had we had any knowledge that this grant was out or even existed, it is very plausible that we would have reminded the paid staff of the Housing Department – the actual department that would presumably receive an posting for this kind of grant – to get it done.

    These types of grants are outside the scope of the Rent Board’s work, so my understanding is that Commissioner Townley is simply opining on this application in his individual capacity. Like me, he probably received an inquiry from the Daily Cal and provided it with his candid feedback.

    While it is the Housing staff that would receive notification and apply for such a grant, my objective is simply to encourage the City to set controls in place so that opportunities of this nature are not missed by staff in the future. Of course, you are welcome to at any time contact my appointing Councilmember with your feedback on my work.

    Thanks for the opportunity to clarify roles and responsibilities and what I hope will happen in the near future.

    Yours,
    Igor

    • Jesse Townley

      Igor is correct. To be 100% clear: The Rent Board has no authority over building ANY housing, affordable or market rate. We do not even oversee rents in buildings built after 1980, as per state law & our city’s Rent Control Ordinance.

      As Chair of the Rent Board and a life-long tenant however, I am very concerned with the emphasis on market rate & luxury units instead of on units that are affordable to current residents. Like many, I’ve a huge number of friends & acquaintances who cannot afford to live in Berkeley any more, even if they were born & raised here.

      The existing community, which is key to keeping our town a world-class city, is being edged out through a lack of affordable housing options. It is not to say that market rate units shouldn’t be built, it’s that housing that’s actually affordable to a local teacher or librarian should ALSO be built.

      • Do you not agree that your quote saying that Berkeley not receiving the grant, “[considering the grants are project based] may speak to the emphasis of many developers on luxury and market-rate units” is extremely misleading given that the city (your buddy Igor) failed to apply for the grant at all?

        • Jesse Townley

          The city helps shepherd high-end developments through the planning process. There is a lot of collaboration between staff & developers when it comes to negotiating community benefits (what community benefits are ‘affordable’ to the developer and what will make the project ‘unaffordable’, for instance) and other issues like labor requirements, permitting processes, etc. It has to be really hand-in-glove work because otherwise a ton of time is wasted on all sides.

          If the city planning process instead emphasized affordable housing, then I would’ve expected them to push non-profit developers/for-profit developers to apply for this grant and/or apply on behalf of a city-led affordable housing development. That would be a logical way for the city to work hand-in-glove with affordable housing developers.

          So no, it’s not misleading to state that the emphasis on market rate housing to the detriment of affordable housing is a factor in no Berkeley project apparently even applying for this grant, let alone receiving it.

          • justiceplease

            Jesse, recently I heard a new story that is even more confusing. Now the story is Berkeley knew about the grant, but only two developers had started projects that were eligible, and they “decided” to fund their project by other means.
            Given the housing crisis, the fact that the Nexus study shows Berkeley is way behind on affordable housing, and affordable housing has been on the top of the agenda for months, why were there only two projects in the works? Why weren’t there other projects “waiting in the wings” for funding?
            Why didn’t the Adeline Corridor Revitalization Process, which has been emphasizing affordable housing and asking how that affordable housing will be paid for count as a “project” – why couldn’t the money have been applied for and set aside in the name of that?
            Why would those two projects decline the option of millions in funding? Is it because they are looking for types of funding that is “time-based” – i.e. where affordable units will revert to market rate? Is the problem that there were no advocates for “affordability” in this process – only advocates for profitability for the developer?
            Given Berkeley’s severe shortage of affordable housing, as demonstrated by the Nexus study, is outrageous that the City walked away from this money. Someone is responsible, but it is not HAC. The responsibility lies somewhere in the City planning department where their incentives are clearly not aligned with the people’s need for affordable housing.

    • justiceplease

      I’m confused about why City staff weren’t actively researching grants like this. The Adeline Corridor Outreach Team has supposedly been working with South Berkeley to put that community in a position to apply for such grants. The Adeline Corridor Outreach Team has a 750k grant from the MTA and ABAG to prepare the community for such development, and it seems like looking for funding sources would be part of such development.

      Wouldn’t seeking such a grant come under some City staff/planning/development department or even, specifically, this ACOT team? Affordable housing has been the number one expressed priority of the South Berkeley community, and people have repeatedly raised the question of how to fund it. I’ve personally pointed to how other communities use packages of HUD and other grants to create ownership opportunities for low income people, and I thought I received a positive response. Is ACOT just responsible for the scheduling of the next “visioning workshop”?

  • “Berkeley Rent Board chair Jesse Townley said that not receiving the funds was unfortunate and that, considering the grants are project based, it “may speak to the emphasis of many developers on luxury and market-rate units.” “Luxury housing is the Donald Trump of Berkeley, which is distracting from the urgent need for affordable housing,” Worthington said in an email.”

    It’s clear that Berkeley did not even apply for the grant, not that it was denied. Townley, Worthington, Tregub and the rest of that band (especially the Housing Advisory Commission members) need to be removed from their positions for failing to do their jobs and stop deflecting the issue. The Daily Cal needs to grow some balls and not publish irrelevant and misleading quotes.

    • Pietro Gambadilegno

      Townley, Worthington, Tregub and the rest of that band (especially the
      Housing Advisory Commission members) need to be removed from their
      positions for failing to do their jobs

      The people who do the least are always the people who demand the most. I bet son_of_guy has done nothing for affordable housing – beyond trolling on the internet and demanding the resignation of people who work hard for affordable housing.

      • So you have to be a politician to be able to criticize (crappy) politicians? They work for the public and we pay their salaries. It’s their job to work for affordable housing , not mine.

        • justiceplease

          In this case you seem to be criticizing the people speaking up and looking into the matter instead of the people who are being very, very quiet and hoping no one notices they did nothing. You seem to be going after the wrong people.