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Local church, land trust partners with Berkeley to build affordable housing

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Through the joint efforts of local groups and the city of Berkeley, eight units of affordable housing were successfully renovated as part of an initiative to combat Berkeley’s housing shortage.

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SEPTEMBER 26, 2022

Community members gathered Wednesday for a ceremony to celebrate the completed renovation of an affordable housing cooperative at 1638 Stuart St. in Berkeley.

Accomplished through collaboration among the city of Berkeley, a local church and a community land trust, eight long-vacant apartments were successfully renovated and are now occupied by eight residents who are paying below-market rent, according to a city press release. The apartments were converted into an affordable housing cooperative under the stewardship of the Bay Area Community Land Trust, which signed a 55-year ground lease with the owner of the land, the McGee Avenue Baptist Church.

A community land trust is a locally based, democratic institution governed by its own members and the residents of the land, according to Tracy Parent, the organizational director at the Bay Area Community Land Trust.

The city of Berkeley helped to pay for the renovation through the Berkeley Small Sites program — its first project. Other funders include the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, the Bay’s Future Fund, the San Francisco Foundation, the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Berkeley Rotary Club, which donated an electric vehicle and a charging station to be shared among residents.

According to Parent, the apartments have been vacant for 20 years due to a mass exodus of its mostly Black community, in part because of the high cost of living in the city. In 2018, the church decided that the buildings should not be demolished and instead partnered with the land trust to restore the property for lower-income residents, the press release stated.

Parent praised the city for not only converting the units into affordable rental housing but also for going one step further and converting them into a cooperative which has the deep benefit of ownership: the longer-term stability of having a say in what happens on one’s property. She added that cooperatives build a sense of pride in where one lives and that they also foster stronger civic engagement.

According to Parent, the city is “blessed” to have policymakers who are committed to preserving small apartment buildings, noting that other cities don’t yet see the value in it — they see it as “too much work for too small of an impact.”

“By preserving existing families in their existing homes and their existing neighborhoods, we really are preserving the social fabric of the community,” Parent said.

City Councilmember Ben Bartlett, whose district includes the new cooperative, said the Berkeley Small Site program is an “ingenious initiative” that finds underutilized properties in order to convert them into affordable housing units. He noted that by renovating buildings, instead of building from scratch, it can save the city more than 60% of the cost to make such housing.

Bartlett added given the housing shortage in Berkeley, the city is currently looking to build more affordable units and require market-rate buildings to incorporate affordable units, among other measures.

“One of my constituents got displaced and we tried to find her housing and it was really distressing because she’s elderly and has disabilities,” Bartlett said. “But we were able to get her placed into the new building and that was a tremendous feeling of accomplishment and a job well done.”

Contact Victor Corona at 

LAST UPDATED

SEPTEMBER 27, 2022