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Residents want to purchase project

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Friday June 22, 2001

Residents of the University Avenue Co-op Homes want to take advantage of a rare opportunity to buy their affordable housing development and have asked the City Council to fund a study of the proposed purchase. 

Because of the tenant-co-op structure of the development, the 47-unit property on Addison Street, has been managed and maintained by the tenants since the complex first opened. The co-op is now seeking to purchase the property from Capitol Housing Partners, the for-profit East Coast real estate company that owns the apartments.  

The city owns the land the apartments are built on and currently leases it to CHA for $1 a year. 

Housing officials say no purchase price has been discussed. Co-op tenants would likely secure low-interest federal, state and city loans to buy the property, according to Councilmember Dona Spring, who represents District 7 where the apartments are located. 

CHA’s contract with the Housing and Urban Development Department expires on Jan. 3 and the residents are concerned the housing will revert to market rates and that the development will lose its project-based Section 8 status, which provides rental subsidies for qualified residents. 

The co-op’s board of directors has carried out the responsibilities of property owners since the project first opened in the mid 1980s. The tenants have balanced the project’s budget and have been responsible for all the repair work performed on the property. The board of directors even instigated a $750,000 lawsuit against the development’s contractor for shoddy work in 1991. 

Dan Sawislak, a project manager for the nonprofit developer Resources for Community Development, said the co-op’s tenant control has encouraged many of the residents to get involved with the development’s upkeep and management. 

Resident Elsie Blunt, 74, who is raising her 13-year-old great-grandson in the complex said the tenants have created a pleasant atmosphere. 

“This place is kept up very nice, it’s quiet, the people are friendly and there isn’t any drug problems here,” Blunt said. “I’ve lived in Berkeley since 1947 and if we lose this place, I won’t be able to afford another.”  

Sawislak said the co-op’s opportunity to purchase the property is rare. The tenant-purchase option was written into the development’s contract in the early 1980s when co-ops were popular structures for affordable housing projects. 

Ellen Rodin, an attorney and long-time resident of the co-op, said the project was structured by Irv Routenberg, who was a project manager for University Avenue Housing, Inc., which developed the property.  

“What we have here is a very unique situation because of the way Irv organized this project,” she said. “The management lives on site and because of it you get a much better place. People who visit the apartments never believe it’s low-income housing.” 

The study the tenants are requesting from the city would examine a variety of purchase scenarios, said Interim Housing Director Stephen Barton. 

“We’ll have to examine when the best time to purchase the building would be, whether it’s now or five years down the road. We also need an estimate of value and we have to find out just what the nature of the private investors ownership is. Right now that’s still unclear,” Barton said. 

He added the study would likely cost $2,000 to $4,000. 

Spring has been supportive of the co-op purchasing the apartments and put the tenants’ request for funding the study in the biennial budget, which is scheduled to be adopted next Tuesday. “This would be a great thing for the tenants and it would guarantee the project would remain affordable in perpetuity.” 

Spring said she would like to see a county bond measure go before the voters that would create a pool of money for assisting low-income tenants who want to purchase the affordable housing complexes they live in, as they came up for sale.