Council continues discussion of Adeline Street housing project after dispute over affordable housing units

Originally published on March 8, 2017 for The Daily Californian

Berkeley City Council passed a motion at its special meeting Tuesday to extend discussion regarding the Zoning Adjustments Board’s approval of a housing project on 2902 Adeline St. after controversy emerged over a deal struck between the project developers and the community.

The council set April 4 as the next date for discussing conditions of the deal and the approval of the project. Before the meeting, the East Bay Community Law Center, or EBCLC, negotiated a deal with the development company, Realtex, Inc., in which Realtex would provide 20 percent affordable housing on-site, donate $100,000 to EBCLC and conduct regular meetings during construction with the Harriet Tubman Terrace, the senior housing community that neighbors the project location. After public comment, however, there was dispute over how many units constituted 20 percent.

“The community, the city council and I thought the developer had worked together to create a new model for equitable development in our neighborhood,” said Chris Schildt, a member of Friends of Adeline, an organization dedicated to preserving South Berkeley’s diversity. “It was shocking and a betrayal that the developer, after all that public comment, after all that testimony, could still go up there and go against their word, what they said to us in private.”

Councilmember Ben Bartlett said during the meeting that the deal entailed that the proposed project would have 50 units, including 20 percent — or 10 affordable housing units — on-site. But when answering questions from council members, Realtex Executive Vice President Cody Fornari explained that the company would actually provide eight units on-site and pay a $64,000 fee to make up for the other two units.

“At 6 p.m. I talked to Cody … and we were all on the same page — 20 percent on-site, 20 percent of 50, 10 units,” said Jassmin Poyaoan, director of the EBCLC Community Economic Justice Clinic. “Eight units — that’s not 20 percent.”

After the meeting, Fornari pointed out that the Berkeley Municipal Code 22.20.065 states that a developer may avoid a fee by providing 20 percent of market rate units as affordable housing units. Fornari added that it is Realtex’s understanding that they must provide about 20 percent not of all 50 units, but of the 42 market rate housing units, which comes out to eight units total of on-site affordable housing.

“If you provide eight below-market rate units and you have 42 market rate units, you have 19.5 percent,” Fornari said. “I’m deeply concerned that if we provide 10 affordable housing units that we won’t be able to maintain that financial feasibility. If we don’t maintain financial feasibilities, ultimately no units get built.”

During the meeting, Leslie Mendez, senior planner of the city’s Land Use Planning Division, clarified that the percentage applied to 50 units. She added that if Realtex were to provide eight units, they would have to pay an Affordable Housing Mitigation Fee — but if they were to provide nine units, there would be no fee.

Fornari said during the meeting that he would prefer to extend the meeting to a later date. Councilmember Linda Maio put forward a motion to postpone the meeting and discussion, which was passed.

“I’m deeply disappointed that the developers backed out of the agreement that they made with the community on requiring 20 percent on-site affordable housing,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguin. “My hope is between now and when this project comes back, we’ll be closer to an agreement.”

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