Community members, government officials and financial contributors came together to celebrate the grand opening of Berkeley Way Apartments and the Hope Center — the largest affordable housing development for low-income and unhoused people in Berkeley’s history — on a sunny afternoon last Thursday.
Against a backdrop of live music and excited clamor, about 200 community members gathered to hear several speakers talk about the impact of the project before the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“For the two individuals that I got to serve on a caseload, essentially what this means to them is a permanent home, somewhere where they can be safe, and also simultaneously being in a vibrant community close to transportation and support services,” said Tanya Hyland, a housing navigator for the Berkeley Food & Housing Project, or BFHP. “It means having a second chance.”
The Hope Center, operated by BFHP, contains 32 shelter beds, 53 units of permanent supportive housing and 12 transitional housing beds for unhoused veterans, while Berkeley Way consists of 89 units of affordable housing available to those making 50–60% of the area median income.
The developments were constructed through a partnership between BFHP and BRIDGE Housing, a nonprofit that focuses on affordable housing. BFHP runs the Hope Center, and BRIDGE Housing operates the Berkeley Way apartments, according to a media advisory from Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s office.
In her address during the grand opening, Calleene Egan, the CEO of BFHP, noted that the buildings are at 90% occupancy.
“The vision wasn’t just the building, but what happened inside the building,” said Terrie Light, the former executive director of BFHP, who originated the idea for the project. “People could show up and get some kind of service and connect to staff and start creating relationships and be able to imagine a life that wasn’t outside.”
In the early 1990s, Light said the BFHP ran a clean and safe women’s shelter, while the men’s shelter was a “dank, dark” basement of Berkeley’s Veterans Memorial building.
Shelters and meal programs were scattered and uncoordinated, and the biggest complaint Light noted was the length of time it took to get homeless clients from place to place for different services. Her initial vision to make the men’s shelter just as good as the women’s became one of a building that consolidated food, housing, mental health resources and peer communication into one place.
“We knew the building had to be really nice, because a lot of the complaints people have is, ‘Why do I want to go to a building, it’s horrible, it has bed bugs or cockroaches, it’s not clean, it’s substandard,’” Light said. “The building should be uplifting for people, something that would help them have their own sense of aspiration of changing their lives and wanting something better.”
Designed by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, the building has a sleek, modern and woody exterior that invites “an abundance of natural light” to physically represent hope for the future, according BFHP’s website.
But Light noted that building it was the easy part; financing it was where the real heavy lifting happened.
The project cost more than $100 million, according to Light. The media advisory from Arreguín’s office noted that funding came from Berkeley’s Measure O and a coalition of government, nonprofit and financial groups.
“This type of project is the best example in modern America of public, private, nonprofit partnership, of local, state and national resources coming together all in the effort to create affordable housing to promote and enhance the lives of the most vulnerable of our population,” said Matt Reilein, the CEO of the National Equity Fund, one of the funders of the project, at the event.
Archie Vaden, an army veteran and board member for BFHP, knows firsthand what it is like to be unhoused. After a heart surgery that left him unable to work, Vaden said he came back from the hospital to find he had been kicked out of his apartment.
It was BFHP that helped him get back on his feet by providing him with permanent housing, fixing his car and making sure he had food. Now, he is giving back by serving on the board of directors.
“I’d rather do this than anything in the world. That’s how much this means to me. I take it personal because I was there. I know what it feels like to be homeless, I know what it feels like to be hungry and helpless,” Vaden said. “Here I am today, part of the crew, part of the solution.”