Developer may take on public housing project

Ashley Chen/Staff
Some of the city’s public housing units are located on Ward Street. The Berkeley Housing Authority aims to rehabilitate the city's 75 units.

The Berkeley Housing Authority received a recommendation from one of its subcommittees Thursday regarding their impending decision to choose a developer to rehabilitate the city’s 75 public housing units.

The housing authority has now entered into an exclusive negotiating rights agreement with housing development company The Related Companies of California, LLC, after the agency’s joint finance and feasibility subcommittee recommended that the company be chosen to take on the public housing units.

The housing authority, which manages 75 public housing units in 18 sites across the city, was given permission by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to sell the units last December, and had been searching for a development organization for the past year to purchase the units — finally receiving proposals from The Related Companies of California, LLC and another development firm, The Pacific Development, LLC.

In January, the housing authority employed EJP Consulting Group — a consulting firm that collaborates with governments as well as private and nonprofit clients on urban revitalization projects — to review the development proposals, alongside an outside panel made up of Berkeley Housing Advisory Commission members and city staff, according to Kathleen Sims, project manager.

“Essentially, after reviewing the units … we asked the housing authority to improve the condition of properties or find someone to do it,” Sims said. “The cost of improvements were in millions, and because the Berkeley Housing Authority was a very small housing authority they did not have resources financially so they brought in another strategic planner to look into their options.”

The agreement allows the company to enter into a 90-day period with a possible extension of 30 days to discuss business terms involving the negotiation and transference of the units.

Mark Sawicki, member of the city’s Housing Advisory Commission, served on the outside panel that reviewed the developers’ proposals and said that the Related company proposed doing more rehabilitation with the funding at hand.

“Some of the things that we liked about the Related proposal was that they had more experience with what was being requested, and proposed doing more rehabilitation with increased funding,” Sawicki said.

Vincent Casalaina, chair of the Housing Advisory Commission, said the Berkeley City Council has shown interest in allocating some funds to the project out of the city’s Housing Trust Fund — which has been sustained primarily by federal funds in order to provide assistance for nonprofit developers to develop projects around Berkeley — but the Related company will be in charge of raising the majority of project funds.

“The City Council has shown an interest  since they allocated $260,000 in the past in order to do roof repairs on public housing so (the housing) didn’t deteriorate,” Casalaina said. “They also suggested using additional Housing Trust Fund money in the future.”

Sims said that though the developers main goal is to rehabilitate current public housing units, there is a possibility for the developers to create new units after looking at the scope of the project.

“They will take a look … and if there is land available for them to improve conditions of the property (they will),” Sims said. “But initially, our proposal was to rehabilitate units and bring them up to modern standards of efficiency — mainly with the roofs, drainage, plumbing and heating.”

Anjuli Sastry covers housing.