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Kashani Quits Affordable Housing Business

Tuesday February 24, 2004

One of the most prolific non-profit developers in Berkeley is calling it quits, at least temporarily. And at least from non-profit developing. 

Ali Kashani, director and founder of Affordable Housing Associates (AHA) announced last week that effective June 30, he will resign from the organization he founded 11 years ago. With more than 400 units of affordable housing in Berkeley and 113 in the pipeline, AHA has emerged as the city’s leader in new affordable housing development. 

“It’s better for AHA to get new blood and leadership not as jaded as I am,” Kashani said. He said he was frustrated by the “meat grinder” of Berkeley development and decided that after 20 years in affordable housing, he had achieved his goals and wanted to step aside. 

Kashani owns a share in the building housing Longs Drugs on San Pablo Avenue and the former Gorman & Son Furniture store on Telegraph Avenue. But while friends expect him to delve into private development Kashani said that contrary to rumors, he had no other stake in private Berkeley developments. He added, however, that he wouldn’t pass up a good opportunity. “I’m not tired of developing,” he said. “I just wanted a break.” 

Supporters and competitors said they were saddened by Kashani’s resignation announcement.  

“It’s a tragic loss for affordable housing,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “We’re going to have trouble replacing such a passionate and effective leader.”  

Dan Sawislak, executive director for RCD, said, despite adding competition for scarce funding, AHA has been good for his group because, “they made politics in town more favorable for affordable housing.” 

“He’s someone who has all the skills,” said Berkeley Housing Director Steve Barton, who recently put AHA in charge of managing the city’s 75 public housing units. “Some people know the construction side, some people know finance side, but Ali had mastered both.” 

Colleagues said Kashani had also mastered Berkeley politics. When he formed AHA, non-profit development was a divisive issue. The city’s largest developer, Resources for Community Development (RCD), was seen as an extension of the city council’s progressive wing in a council bitterly divided between progressives and moderates. 

To bridge the council divide, Kashani appointed both moderates and progressives to his board.  

Though Kashani deftly handled the city council, he has not been immune from criticism the recent controversies over high-density development in Berkeley. AHA’s planned four-story senior housing project at Sacramento Street and Dwight Way remains held up in litigation after neighbors sued the city for violating its General Plan in approving the 40-unit project. The suit is now before an appeals court judge, after the city won at trial. 

Howie Muir, a plaintiff in that lawsuit, chastised Berkeley for showing favoritism to Kashani. “The city was determined to let Ali have the project any way he wanted it before it even became public,” he said. 

One of nine siblings from Tehran, Iran, Kashani arrived in Berkeley in 1979. After graduating with a degree in engineering from UC Berkeley in 1984, he decided to stay, rather than return to his war-torn homeland. He became involved with non-profit Berkeley-Oakland Support Services which led him to affordable housing, working first as a construction consultant and then as an employee for RCD, his future competitor. 

AHA Board President Harry Le Grande said finding a suitable replacement for Kashani would be difficult and the board was considering adding a Chief Financial Officer position to assume some of the load. “We have a strong staff, but whoever comes in will have to establish relationships with our lenders,” he said. 

Kashani said longtime employee Kevin Zwick would be considered for the top job, along with candidates from outside the organization. He didn’t think the change in leadership would affect the three present projects AHA has planned for Berkeley.