To the Editor:
Affordable Housing Associates wants to thank the City Council for allowing us the opportunity to develop housing for the City of Berkeley's most at-risk populations, including seniors, the disabled, and low-income families. Over the years, the City Council has shown support for several of our projects, from the acquisition and rehabilitation of buildings neglected for years by slumlords, to our recent 27 unit, Universally Designed, affordable building at 1719 University Avenue, the University Neighborhood Apartments.
AHA wished to express our frustration with delaying the vote on this project, and our frustration that this design, which has had the appropriate public hearings at the Zoning Adjustment Board, could be changed at the Council level. I did not mean to say, as indicated in the May 9 Berkeley Daily Planet article “Senior housing postponed,” that we believed the council had "thrown the project out" at this meeting. Clearly, this was not the case, and my next quote states the point that we understand the vote on the project is merely delayed two weeks to give us an opportunity to meet with the opponents to see if compromises can be made on the height and parking associated with the building.
AHA is willing to meet with opponents of the project in a city-facilitated mediation before the next City Council hearing on May 21st. If a decision is made on the 21st, then our application for Tax Credit financing in the summer will not be jeopardized. If, though, the project is remanded back to ZAB and Design Review Committee, or delayed indefinitely, then it would be impossible to meet this deadline, and the project will be stalled another year.
Yet, AHA must take issue with comments from neighbors who state the fourth floor did not have a public hearing or that they did not have the opportunity to comment on this design. This is simply not true. On February 14, 2002, the ZAB did hold a hearing on this design. We agree with the ZAB's vote and conclusion, that decided that a penthouse-style fourth-story designed in this fashion, set back from Sacramento Street and our neighbors, so that its shadows only land on our building, is the best way to balance the competing interests of housing our lowest-income seniors, and those of our neighbors who feel a four-story building is out of context in this neighborhood.
I also must respectfully disagree with Howie Muir and the other neighbors who question why we care about five units of housing from this project. This is not a trivial proposition. Losing these five units would not only render this project infeasible, without making up the difference with a greater subsidy from the City of Berkeley's Housing Trust Funds, it also means taking away the opportunity to shelter that many more seniors. It is heart wrenching to hear the real-life experiences of our lowest-income seniors, and the difficulty they have in paying for housing they cannot currently afford, or who have been evicted, or at-risk of being evicted, and have nowhere else to go.
We believe these five units, with its dual goal of housing more low-income seniors and leveraging the city's contribution in the most cost-effective fashion, are clearly worth preserving. We look forward to meeting with opponents of the project, and look forward to the continued hearing, and eventual vote on the project at the May 21st City Council meeting.
Affordable Housing Associates, Berkeley