This new homeless housing project in Berkeley could be a model for the state

1367 University Avenue in Berkeley. Image: Trachtenberg Architects

It’s been a big week for subsidized housing in Berkeley. And it just got bigger.

On Thursday evening, the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board unanimously approved a new Panoramic Interests project for a Complex of 39 units made from modular buildings to house formerly homeless people. Create opportunities for self-sufficiency (BOSS), a 49-year-old Berkeley nonprofit, will lead the operation, which could open within a year, unless delayed.

Commissioner Denise Pinkston said it was “nothing less than a mini urban miracle” to see what is essentially a market-priced building providing housing for the homeless. “The highlight of my week is being able to approve a nice building to house the homeless,” she said.

Earlier this week, the city inaugurated the Berkeley Way Project, comprising 53 housing units for the homeless and disabled and 89 affordable units for the general public, in addition to 44 accommodation beds. The mayor also announced that the city had won $ 42 million in state grants for two affordable housing projects totaling approximately 150 units. And Alameda County secure rooms in two hotels in Berkeley for up to 60 of the city’s homeless residents.

Donald Frazier, executive director of BOSS, said the supportive housing project at 1367 University Ave., near Acton Street, will have seven BOSS employees on a permanent basis. Residents would get help with employment, housing navigation and benefit eligibility, as well as training related to cognitive skills, nutrition and restorative justice, among other opportunities designed to “help.” people to stabilize and connect to the community in a positive way ”.

1367 University courtyard, architectural rendering
Court rendering at 1367 University Ave. in Berkeley. Image: Trachtenberg Architects

BOSS intends to seek funding for the project through Berkeley’s Measure P grants and has already informed city staff and officials of its plans, Frazier said.

The current plan is for BOSS to sign a master lease with Panoramic Interests for 30 years, or a 10-year lease with two 10-year extension options, Panoramic’s Michael Thomas said Thursday evening.

“This is a project we would not have undertaken without this partnership,” said Thomas. “If they ask us to sign a 50-year lease, we’ll sign a 50-year lease. We just need to be sure that the building can pay for itself, but the longer the lease the better.

Thomas said the 1367 University complex is the first of its kind for scenic interests, which seeks to replicate the model at other sites in the Bay Area and around the state if it can secure l investment needed to continue.

“This is our first,” Thomas said, “and what we really hope to do is come up with a replicable funding model.”

Project architect David Trachtenberg, of Berkeley’s Trachtenberg Architects, said 1367 University could establish a prototype to tackle homelessness at small sites across the state.

“This is an important case study project for us,” he told the board.

Zoning board members said they too hoped to see the model gain traction with other developers in Berkeley and elsewhere.

Modular means lower construction costs

The new complex is expected to cost 30-40% less than buildings using the traditional approach to construction, said Patrick kennedy, founder of Panoramic. Construction is expected to take 14 weeks and could start by September.

Kennedy began building in Berkeley and only built in the city for 22 years. In 2018, he built a four-story student housing complex in Berkeley in just four days. He told Berkeleyside on Thursday that he was excited to try out this new model at Berkeley because “I always love supporting my home team.”

“Berkeley broke new ground in many ways,” Kennedy said. “This is another chapter in this story.”

Kennedy said the project also demonstrates the benefits of collaboration, by associating “the efficiency of the private sector with the good works of the public sector.”

Trachtenberg told the zoning council on Thursday that an open courtyard in the center of the complex would provide a place to gather and help create a sense of community. Each unit has its own sink, shower and bath, as well as a microwave and small refrigerator. There is a shared kitchen and storefront on University Avenue, as well as on-site laundry facilities.

As proposed, 100% of the units in the project will function as transitional housing for BOSS clients. Frazier said customers could stay “as long as they wanted,” but BOSS staff would work closely with them to determine their options.

“Most people will want to move on because of the limited space in the units,” Frazier said.

According to the staff report for Thursday’s meeting, each room is 178 square feet.

Approval without substantial changes is required

Two neighbors who spoke during the public comments Thursday said they wished Panoramic had done more outreach to get their opinion. One said he was concerned about privacy because of the windows on the west side of the new building that would face the property where he lives.

Zoning board members asked Panoramic to look at the location of the windows and see if frosted glass or other alternatives might be appropriate to address the privacy issue, as modular units mean that the windows they -same are in a fixed position.

Commissioner Igor Tregub said he wished there had been more awareness in the neighborhood, but also noted that the project complies with the state’s Housing Liability Law, which means that the board of directors is legally bound to approve it without substantive changes.

“It is absolutely crucial that we do everything we can to support transitional housing for people coming out of homelessness,” Tregub said.

Project staff and representatives said Panoramic complied with all legally required notices.

Commissioner Patrick Sheahan described the new building as “a beautiful and well executed project”. He suggested moving the community room from the west corner of the building to the east corner – so that the potentially noisy area is next to a commercial tenant rather than a residential building, per a suggestion from a neighbor who has spoken – as long as the proposed lower height on the west side of the new building could be maintained.

Sheahan asked the project team to bring new drawings to the final meeting of the University 1367 Design Review Committee if the layout reversal is financially feasible. Sheahan also asked Panoramic to consider if there might be a way to put bicycle parking in the central courtyard so it can be more secure.

Although they had some minor suggestions, the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) commissioners said they were excited to see the project on Thursday and have the opportunity to approve it.

“I looked forward to tonight and normally don’t look forward to ZAB meetings,” joked Commissioner John Selawsky.

A promotional video of the project appears below.

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