Berkeley to provide largest number of affordable housing units for homeless in city’s history

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Jim Xu/Staff

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Berkeley’s multimillion-dollar affordable housing trust fund will be dedicated to the Berkeley Way project in order to build the largest number of permanent affordable housing units for the homeless in the city’s history.

Berkeley City Council passed a bill Tuesday to clear another funding hurdle for the Berkeley Way project, which will include 53 permanent units for the homeless, 12 beds exclusively for veterans, 32 homeless shelter beds and 89 affordable housing units for low-income residents.

The project requires all $2.2 million within the affordable housing trust fund, some of which was slated to be allocated to pay for parking structures. The council addressed this Tuesday by laying out a plan to create an underground parking garage that will instead pay for itself by charging parking fees.

This project is in conjunction with BRIDGE Housing Corporation and the Berkeley Food and Housing Project, or BFHP. The permanent housing intended for homeless will be managed by BFHP, while BRIDGE will own and operate the affordable housing units for low-income residents, according to Jamie Hiteshew, director of development at BRIDGE.

The units for the homeless will include a community kitchen and comprehensive services, such as job training, counseling and education services, according to Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

The Berkeley Way project will “enhance and replace” the men’s shelter that BFHP currently operates in the city-owned Veterans’ Memorial Building, which is seismically unsafe, according to Terrie Light, the executive director of the BFHP.

“The men’s shelter is in a dark, dank basement, no windows, falling apart,” Light said. “It was as if the men didn’t matter and it wasn’t important for them to be in a safe, clean environment. People need to be treated well. They needed to be treated like people.”

Funding for this project will come from multiple sources, including city, county, state and federal funds. The city continues to seek other investors as a funding gap of several million dollars remains.

Another intended source of funding is California’s Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program, an organization based on cap and trade that is hoping to reduce greenhouse emissions. The Berkeley Way project qualifies because it is downtown and will increase use of public transportation, reducing the amount of car traffic, according to Councilmember Kate Harrison.

“Housing is the solution to homelessness,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín. “This is a humanitarian crisis. We have to do everything that we can.”

Despite the outside funding, the Berkeley Way project is set to take the entire affordable housing trust fund. Arreguín said this expenditure is justified because the city already owns this land, and the Berkeley Way project is the largest number of permanent affordable housing units that the city has ever built for the homeless.

Residents of BFHP showed their support for the Berkeley Way project at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

“The men who were at the City Council meeting left feeling hope, feeling like they are important and feeling like it mattered to people where they stay,” Light said.

Contact Madeleine Gregory at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @mgregory_dc.