Division plans to create affordable housing for mentally-ill adults

The city of Berkeley’s Mental Health Division is planning a $15 million project to create affordable, permanent housing in Berkeley for mentally-ill adults who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

The project — overseen by the division in conjunction with the California Department of Mental Health and the California Housing Finance Agency — will involve renovating an existing 74-unit apartment complex at 1040 University Ave. so that it can accommodate and provide services for homeless individuals.

“The long-term goal is to provide people who have been without housing for a long time with an opportunity to live fuller lives in a cleaner environment,” said Amy Moore, the division’s supervisor.

The city is holding a 30-day comment period to gather input from the public until Sept. 21, at which point an application will be submitted to the Berkeley City Council, which will then vote on the project.

Funding for the housing project will come mainly from the state and other yet-to-be-determined sources, according to Moore. An additional sum of $758,600 in leftover funds allocated by the Mental Health Services Act will also be used in the renovations.

The property on University Avenue is owned by Berkeley-based Resources for Community Development, an organization dedicated to providing low-income housing for Bay Area families, which will work with the division to operate the site once it opens.

Jessica Sheldon, associate project manager for Resources for Community Development, said they hope to complete all administrative and funding steps by the end 2011 but that construction will probably not begin until next year. Renovations will mainly consist of interior improvements — plumbing, ventilation as well as installing energy-efficient lighting.

Seven units will be set aside for occupants who are both homeless and certified mentally-ill. All occupants must have an income lower than 30 to 50 percent of the area’s median income. Rent will be subsidized to 30 percent of each occupant’s income.

The site will also provide occupants with medical screenings, social work services, counseling, vocational training, mental health assessments as well as individual and group therapy.

Severely mentally-ill homeless people in Alameda County comprise 20 percent of its total homeless population as of January 2011, according to a report from the group EveryOne Home released in June. The number of mentally-ill homeless individuals has decreased almost 19 percent since 2009. The report also states that “about 60 percent of severely mentally-ill homeless people are sheltered” — meaning they currently live in emergency shelter programs — “while about 40 percent are unsheltered.”

Adelyn Baxter covers city government.