City Council authorizes purchase of $6.65M property for development of affordable housing

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Rachael Garner/File

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At its Tuesday meeting, Berkeley City Council unanimously authorized the city’s acquisition of four parcels of land in West Berkeley to be used for affordable housing.

The city is set to purchase 1001 University Ave., 1007 University Ave., 1011 University Ave. and 1925 Ninth St. for $6.65 million. The council’s decision to authorize the purchase comes after several unsuccessful attempts by the city to find suitable properties for the development of below-market-rate housing.

“Staff recently completed … a long-term report on all city-owned properties, and one of the summaries of that report was that we really did not have a significant parcel to be transformative for affordable housing,” said Deputy City Manager Jovan Grogan at the meeting. “When staff saw that this property was potentially up for sale, it met a lot of boxes.”

The sites at 1001 and 1011 University Ave. are both vacant. The 1001 University Ave. location is a former warehouse for Premier Cru, and the 1011 University Ave. location is the former site of the Premier Cru showroom and administrative offices.

The location at 1925 Ninth St. is a parking lot, and the location at 1007 University Ave. is being leased by the nonprofit culinary school Bauman College. Bauman College’s lease extends through 2021, with options for extension, and it generates about $100,000 in revenue per year.

The purchase is intended to be financed through the city’s Workers’ Compensation Fund. City staff recommended that the compensation fund be repaid over five years with revenue from Measure U1, a business license tax intended to support affordable housing, as well as excess funds from the Property Transfer tax.

At the meeting, however, Councilmember Kate Harrison added an amendment that the fund be repaid through “an appropriate source” to ensure that funds from Measure U1 be used only for the development of affordable housing and not for any unrelated short-term uses.

Staff has recommended using the site at 1011 University Ave. as an interim City Council Chambers for five to seven years as Old City Hall is renovated to meet seismic standards.

But some community members, such as South Berkeley resident Elisa Cooper, had concerns about whether affordable housing funds would be allocated to the interim chambers and about the interim chambers’ location. Cooper noted that the buses run more infrequently in that location than they do near Old City Hall.

“You’re going to be encouraging people who don’t drive … to be sitting alone at this bus stop in the middle of the night,” Cooper said.

Despite concerns, the council voted unanimously to authorize the purchase, with many members noting the potential for the move to help address the affordable housing crisis in the area.

“This is an exceptional opportunity,” Councilmember Sophie Hahn said at the meeting. “It is ambitious, but if we want to solve the problems that we and the community have set out to solve, we have to take things on like this.”

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