Commission talks assessment of affordable housing fee, predevelopment funding

Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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Berkeley’s Housing Advisory Commission passed two motions Thursday to aid the development of affordable housing.

The first motion involved predevelopment funds for Berkeley affordable housing developers and recommended advising Berkeley City Council to raise the funding cap for council approval from its current value of $50,000 to $250,000, while the second item authorized sending an assessment of recommendations to City Council.

Guest speaker Susan Friedland, executive director of Satellite Affordable Housing Associates, or SAHA, began by discussing certain funding issues the organization has been facing, especially in regards to applying for predevelopment funding from the city’s Housing Trust Fund.

“We’ve been really active in Berkeley, and over time, we’ve been more active or less active depending on the resources given to us by the Housing Trust Fund,” Friedland said. “Predevelopment money is critical for us to being able to continue to build in Berkeley.”

Friedland asserted that SAHA is responsible with the public funding it receives, describing the process as “highly scrutinized and well regulated.”

According to Friedland, it takes at least $200,000 to $300,000 to prepare for a housing project. These funds — known as predevelopment funds — are used for essential studies and feasibility tests on sites, marketing, environmental assessments and deposit money.

Commissioner Alejandro Soto-Vigil, who represents the student-dense District 7 and spearheaded the motion, expressed strong favor of the motion’s approval, calling it a “win-win” for both developers and tenants.

The motion to recommend the change to City Council passed with five affirmations and one abstention. Commissioner Marian Wolfe did not vote because of her position on the board of a nonprofit that could potentially benefit from the funding.

The commission then considered potential next steps regarding the city’s Affordable Housing Mitigation Fee. The fee, paid directly to the city’s Housing Trust Fund, is an option given to housing developers in lieu of including affordable housing units in new buildings.

Wolfe proposed that the commission send an assessment of a Nexus Study — a local study completed in October 2010 that quantified statistics for an ideal Affordable Housing Mitigation Fee — to City Council before its Nov. 10 meeting.

Commissioner Bren Darrow said during the meeting that the study would be a “personal deal breaker” if it did not contain a concrete dollar amount for the mitigation fee.

Commissioner Heidi Abramson, however, said the commission was not in a position to recommend any hard numbers.

Wolfe then recommended sending the assessment as a communication to City Council with minor wording adjustments to refine possibly ambiguous language and statistics. The motion passed with six affirmations and one abstention.

The commission concluded its meeting with a decision to move forward with arrangements to host a public community forum for the discussion of housing affordability early next year.

Contact Harini Shyamsundar at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hshyamsundar.