City Council to discuss $1 million housing trust fund loan

Ellen Pong/Staff

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During a special meeting Tuesday, Berkeley City Council will consider whether to loan $1 million to the city’s Housing Trust Fund and discuss other items regarding affordable housing in the city.

The special meeting — to be held before the council’s regular meeting — will discuss the loan to the Housing Trust Fund to help create more affordable housing projects, a continuation of the discussion from the council’s Oct. 27 meeting. This agenda item is being proposed by Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Max Anderson.

According to Worthington, the city garnered “millions of dollars in revenue” and had fewer expenses this year, so money from the loan would come from this surplus in the city’s general fund.

The city is hoping to financially support the Housing Trust Fund over the course of three to five years, Worthington said. The fund, however, needs money right now.

“If we don’t put money into the trust fund, then a lot of those projects might not even get started,” Worthington said.

The city’s District 3 planning commissioner, Ben Bartlett, also said that building affordable housing as soon as possible is important for city residents such as students, single mothers and the homeless.

Worthington called the housing crisis an “affordability emergency” and expressed concern that action had been delayed in creating affordable housing for people who have “extremely low and very low” incomes in favor of workforce housing.

“When you have an emergency, you shouldn’t be delaying your response — you should be expediting it,” Worthington said.

In the past, the city has approved grants for the trust fund but had to stop because of the economic downturn, according to Bartlett. Recently, however, as the economy has improved, council members are trying to revert the city’s attention to investing in the trust fund once more.

There is still some money in the Housing Trust Fund, Worthington said in an email, but by giving the proposed loan to the trust fund, the city will be able to fund predevelopment for nonprofit organizations looking to build more affordable housing units in the city.

Bartlett said this measure, along with the loan proposal, would offer a “rare opportunity to achieve a lasting good on behalf of the people who are negatively affected by the housing crisis.”

Some of the projects that would benefit from these investments are the BRIDGE Housing and Berkeley Food and Housing Project, the latter of which could provide aid to 90 homeless individuals, Worthington said.

According to the proposed agenda item, the Berkeley Food and Housing Project has already received predevelopment funds of $50,000. This sum, however, will not be enough to complete the project, according to Worthington.

“If we don’t give them more money now, they’re not going to have made it through the zoning process in time,” Worthington said.

Another important project that could benefit from predevelopment funds is the Grayson Street Apartments project. According to Worthington, this project could bring in a large amount of revenue for the city and thus requires immediate action.

Contact Ericka Shin at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ericka_shin