By Jack Stubbs
“We knew about this development for a very long time, because it represents an opportunity for an entire neighborhood, and it brings change to a community,” Eric Johnson, executive director of the Oakland Housing Authority, said. Related California and the City of Oakland have obtained the final financial component needed to begin construction of a mixed-use affordable housing project at 94th and International Boulevard in Oakland. On June 24th, various community members gathered on the approximately 1.26 acre-site to celebrate the affordable housing project, which has an expected completion date of February 2017.[contextly_sidebar id=”SSGM2Gla20qsk5O7h281JgJHbP0Z1r1X”]The project—a collaborative effort between the City of Oakland, Related California and Acts Community Development Corporation (developer), and Acts Full Gospel Church (non-profit partner)—is a mixed-use development that will provide 59 residential units (18 one-bedroom units, 23 two-bedroom units, 18 three-bedroom units) and 3,500 square feet of commercial retail space on the ground floor. The main amenity will be a community space including social service affairs, a flex room, kitchen, computer room and laundry facilities. Michael Willis Architects was the architect for the project, which will be funded through a combination of conventional debt, low-income housing tax credit equity, a $7,747,000 Residual Receipt loan from the City of Oakland, and a $2,630,000 Residual Receipt loan from the Oakland Housing Authority.
The project isn’t only an achievement in its own regard—it also stands as a symbol for change for the surrounding neighborhood, a reminder for the residents to become involved in their community. “We all need to lift each other up in this neighborhood. This neighborhood is ripe for change, and we want to invest in two things: we want to bring affordability into an unaffordable neighborhood, and we want to find a way to use our resources to expand housing and bring opportunities to neighborhoods,” Eric Johnson, executive director of the Oakland Housing Authority, said. Above all, the project serves as a reminder of the current housing affordability crisis especially prevalent in East Oakland, among other Bay Area neighborhoods.
On a more local scale, though, Related California’s project has the potential to effect change on a more immediate neighborhood-based level, according to Councilman Larry Reid from District 7 of the City of Oakland. “This is the beginning of change along International Blvd. corridor, to give our residents an opportunity to stay in a community that they didn’t give up, to be able to live and shop and raise their families in East Oakland,” Reid said. While the 59-unit development represents a unique opportunity for the East Oakland neighborhood, such a prospect would not have been possible without the efforts leading up to this crossroads moment.
Like the other parties involved, the Oakland Housing Authority was forced to overcome various hurdles and obstacles, but never gave up on their ultimate vision, according to Bill Witte, chairman and CEO of Related California. “[Their] vision wasn’t just bricks and mortar: the vision was jobs, services, community, and this is just the first step,” Witte said. Indeed, funding for the project wouldn’t have been possible without the continued perseverance of all involved. “The advocates did not want me to keep funding this project, [but] we survived the disillusion of redevelopment, and we’re still here,” Michele Byrd, deputy director of housing for the City of Oakland, said. Just like the Director of Housing did, Related California persevered through moments of doubt associated with the project, too. “Related California continues to hold forthright the need for affordable housing, even when we didn’t think there was a need,” Eric Johnson said.
While the residential development might certainly yield immediate positive impacts in the surrounding neighborhood, much of its potential future success is largely due to its supporters’ view of it as a long-term investment. “The intention [of the project] always was that it be a catalyst,” Witte of Related California said. “The opportunity to create value is beginning to exist where it didn’t before. You really need little positive signals like this in areas like East Oakland,” he added.
Bishop Bob Jackson, senior pastor of Acts Full Gospel Church, echoed his colleague’s sentiments, suggesting that this project will be one of many to come. For East Oakland, the future appears bright. “[This project] is the first of many dominoes. You will see a neighborhood come together like never before.”