Public Comment

Commentary: Capturing the True Spirit of Berkeley for Tomorrow

By Dan Sawislak
Tuesday February 27, 2007

The Oxford Plaza / David Brower Center is a wonderful example of environmentally sound planning and responsible development that captures the best of Berkeley’s heritage and future. Together, the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum-standard environmental conference center and office building plus 97 units of much-needed affordable housing comprise this visionary project that honors Berkeley’s own David Brower, a pioneer in the Green movement.  

Like most Bay Area cities, Berkeley has seen teachers, artists, janitors, store clerks, maintenance workers and many other middle- and low-income people unable to live in the city where they work. Berkeley needs affordable housing, and Oxford Plaza will help meet that need. 

Resources for Community Development (RCD) has been building affordable housing for those with the fewest options for over 22 years. This has been and continues to be our mission as a Berkeley-based non-profit organization. When ground breaks in April for the Oxford Plaza / David Brower Center, RCD will be building 97 homes in downtown Berkeley that a wide range of low- and very-low-income families and individuals will be able to afford.  

Here’s what “affordable” means at Oxford Plaza: Approximately one-third of the units are reserved for households earning less than 30% of Area Median Income (AMI). That’s just $22,620, for a family of three. One-third is for households earning less than half of AMI ($37,700 for a three-person household); the remaining third is for those earning less than 60% of AMI ($45,240). Ten units will be specifically set aside for special needs households. But these numbers represent more than statistics; they represent 97 families and individuals who will work, live and thrive in Berkeley. 

There are only about 1,600 below-market-rate housing units in all of Berkeley excluding student housing. RCD has created more housing for low-income Berkeley residents than any other developer—427 units, including our 28 newest apartments at Margaret Breland Homes for low-income seniors. When Oxford Plaza is complete, RCD will serve 524 low-income and very-low-income households throughout the City of Berkeley and will have developed more than one-fifth of all below-market-rate housing in our city.  

Throughout the East Bay, RCD has built 1,313 units of affordable housing in Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano counties. About 45% of our units serve residents with special needs, including the frail elderly, people with physical and developmental disabilities, and people living with HIV/AIDS. They are award-winning, beautiful, well-managed properties that have positively affected their residents and improved the neighborhoods where they have been built. We have a solid, distinguished track record of completing excellent projects that are sound and sustainable investments for the cities that we have worked with, 

Some articles have portrayed the Oxford Plaza / David Brower Center as a costly project for Berkeley. But the housing component is actually cost-efficient for local government, with the City of Berkeley contributing just 16% of the total development cost. This percentage is lower than what most cities typically pay for affordable housing. The Oxford Plaza / David Brower Center will provide a nationally-recognized environmental center, well-built homes, offices and retail space within easy walking distance of BART, bus lines, major employers and shopping. It is a well-designed, innovative and cutting-edge mixed-use urban project that will set Berkeley apart as a leader in responsible, sustainable building and will further Berkeley’s downtown renaissance. 


Dan Sawislak is executive director of Resources for Community Development.