Pacific School of Religion, not-for-profit to construct senior living center

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Aslesha Kumar/Staff

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The Pacific School of Religion and not-for-profit developer Mather LifeWays have announced plans to develop a 265-unit senior living center on land currently part of the seminary’s campus.

Rental rates for the apartments are expected to reflect market-rate value, with 50 percent costing less than Berkeley’s median home value according to Brenda Schreiber, Mather LifeWays’s vice president of marketing. Residents also must pay an upfront entrance fee upon move-in — the amount of which is yet to be determined — and monthly service fees.

The senior living center that Mather opened in Evanston, Illinois in 2006 has an entrance fee of about $300,000, according to Schreiber. Daniella Thompson, a member of the Northside Neighborhood Association, said the entrance fee is likely to make the housing unavailable to many seniors, and noted in an email that she thinks the forthcoming project “favors the few over the many.”

According to Corey Baumgartener, a senior service aid at the North Berkeley Senior Center, many seniors he encounters spend one to two years on waitlists before they can find affordable housing.

Schreiber, however, called the fee “an investment,” noting that 90 percent of it will be refundable after the resident leaves the facility, contingent on the resale of the apartment.

The project will primarily replace student living facilities in response to decreased enrollment in the seminary. 180 students are currently enrolled in the Pacific School of Religion and about 30 percent of them live on campus, according to campus spokesperson Erin Burns.

“We were overextended in terms of what we need for our facilities,” said David Vasquez-Levy, president of the Pacific School of Religion. “It’s part of being good stewards of our resources.”

The school is currently looking into new options for providing students housing, such as leasing from not-for-profit organizations or partnering with other congregations for the use of their parsonages.

Vasquez-Levy emphasized the need for senior housing in Berkeley, noting that faculty members are often unable to stay in the city once they retire.

The project, which is expected to expand about six acres, will be bounded by Leconte Avenue, Arch Street and Virginia Street. According to Schreiber, current structures will be demolished and completely rebuilt because they do not meet fire, accessibility and life safety standards required of senior living facilities.

Some residents, like Thompson and fellow member of the Northside Neighborhood Association Jim Sharp, worry that construction in the area will inconvenience nearby residents by creating noise and making certain areas inaccessible. According to Schreiber, Mather LifeWays will hold community meetings in the months leading up to the project to address resident concerns.

Schreiber said that Mather LifeWays currently cannot provide an estimate of when construction will begin or how long it will take, as the plan is in its preliminary stages and must be approved by the city before construction can begin. Yvette Gan, secretary to the city manager, said that the city currently has no information on the project.

Jessica Lynn is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jessicailynn.