Berkeley City Council to discuss housing loans, seismic evaluations at meeting Tuesday

Rachael Garner/Senior Staff

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Berkeley City Council will meet Tuesday evening to discuss potential loans to the Housing Trust Fund for affordable housing programs and possibly adopt plans to increase shelter for homeless people.

Additionally, at a special meeting before its regular meeting, the council will review recent seismic evaluations of six community and senior centers that were deemed incapable of providing daily or shelter services in the case of a major earthquake.

The housing trust fund loans, proposed by Councilmember Kriss Worthington, are intended to help provide predevelopment assistance to housing projects applying for federal and state funding.

“It’s just a little bit of start up costs,” Worthington said about the proposed $1 million loan. “It’s huge in the sense that once we get that little bit (of funding) into these projects, then we can be competitive to bring other money to Berkeley.”

Worthington said that increasing funding for affordable housing projects would make them viable candidates for the National Housing Trust Fund and “cap and trade” funds which could bring outside funding into the city as well as provide jobs and affordable housing.

The loan was first proposed to City Council in June by the Health, Housing and Community Services Department. According to Councilmember Jesse Arreguin’s chief of staff, Stefan Elgstrand, the loan was criticized for being insufficient to fund these programs.

In a December City Council work session report, the cost to complete all the current housing projects was estimated to be between $16.8 million and $36.8 million.

The loan will not be adequate to complete the projects, but Elgstrand said that combined with state and federal funding and revenue from the new developments, the city could have enough funds to complete the projects.

City Council will also review a proposal to declare a homeless shelter crisis — that of a lack of shelters — in Berkeley. Declaring a crisis would give the city more flexibility by suspending strict compliance with government codes that could hinder the mitigation of the shelter crisis, the recommendation stated.

“Zoning codes are basically what can be built where, what things can be open,” Elgstrand said. “If we have vacant property, it can only be used for X and Y, but by lifting those restrictions you can convert that into a shelter.”

According to the recommendation, reviewing certain city codes could provide shelter for many homeless people who would otherwise be in the streets. Worthington added that because of El Nino, the issue is particularly important.

“With El Nino here, it will be a very rough winter, and in previous years we’ve had homeless people die on the streets in winter,” Elgstrand said.

At the special meeting, council members will discuss seismic evaluations of community centers that are designated care and shelter sites in the case of a disaster. The centers are meant to provide overnight sheltering, consolidate postdisaster services and distribute food and supplies, among other community recovery services.

The centers reviewed were the North and South Berkeley Senior Centers, West Berkeley Service Center, Frances Albrier Community Center, Live Oak Community Center and Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Services Center.

The evaluation, however, stated that none of the sites would be able to provide these functions in the event of a major earthquake without significant and costly repairs. The report was conducted by the Department of Public Works; the Department of Parks, Recreation and Waterfront; and several technical assistance firms.

Upgrades to the facilities will cost $16.8 million, the evaluation stated, which is more cost effective than rebuilding or repairing the structures after a disaster.

Elgstrand said that many public buildings in Berkeley have had years of deferred maintenance and that the meeting is aimed to get City Council to think about funding options to improve community centers.

“It was the reason why last week’s meeting was cancelled — because the elevator broke down,” Elgstrand said.

At the meeting, City Council will also discuss allocations of the revenue from the “soda tax” to the Berkeley Public Health Division and the Berkeley Unified School District to reduce sweetened beverage consumption in Berkeley.

Haruka Senju covers city government. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @haruka_senju