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Eastlake Residents Unsure of Affordable Housing Development

27 October 2008 No Comment

By Adelaide Chen

A local nonprofit developer has purchased land in Oakland’s Eastlake area to build affordable rental units for low-income families. But some residents say the influx of new households will bring parking and traffic congestion to their relatively calm neighborhood.

Wedged on three sides by the 880 freeway, the commercial East 12th Street, and the football field of Laney Community College, this portion of the city was once designated for residential and light industrial use. Victorian houses exist side by side with automotive shops and contractors.

But now the winds are changing. Stretching one block long and about half and block wide, a dirt lot is the proposed construction site for a four-story, affordable housing development.

A chain link fence topped with razor wire encircles the lot, littered with construction trucks and materials, including spools of industrial wire. But even though it’s an eyesore, many neighbors say they would prefer to keep the property as is.

For most of her life, America de la Pena, 25, has lived two houses away from the dirt lot surrounded by a chain link fence topped with barbed wire, and construction trucks coming in and out.

“It’s better like that than all the people,” she said.

The people she refers to are the families that will occupy 55 rental units.

In order to qualify as tenants, a four-member household would have to make below 60 percent of the area median income–less than $51,660 annually, said Robert Stevenson with the developer, Resources for Community Development.

On the high end, a family of four might pay $1000 for a three-bedroom rental, he said. The units will have between one and four bedrooms.

Almost a third of the rental units would be set aside for Section 8 housing, where a tenant would pay rent using a calculated percentage based on their income. The Oakland Housing Authority would then cover the difference in rent.

Resident de la Pena said the garage parking, one or two per unit, would not be enough to keep parked cars off the street.

Neighbors have written letters and made their way to meetings with the city council member to publicly voice their feelings. But for the nonprofit housing developer, such sentiment is normal–even in low income neighborhoods such as this one.

Once they see the other affordable housing developments, they know they are constructed with high quality and well managed, said Stevenson. RCD has built more than 1400 housing units in Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano Counties since 1984.

“All poor neighborhoods get affordable housing,” said homeowner David Ryan, 43, who lives and works across the street from the lot. The city doesn’t build them in well-off areas such as the hills, he said. “I thought we were past this.”

Ryan said he had asked the developer to consider families of all income levels, instead of just low income. But the answer was simple–the proposal would qualify for more public funding if it could benefit more people that need affordable housing.

The proposal is set to receive $6.25 million in public funding, about three-quarters from city redevelopment funds, and the rest from federal funds, according Jeffrey Angell, housing development coordinator with Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency.

“It looks like a big junkyard at the moment,” said Angell, “Being converted into residential use will be an improvement.”

But Ryan said he doesn’t mind the eyesore that is there now.

“I love it because I get to look at empty blue sky,” he said. Currently there is no building on the property across the street from where he works and lives.

The design of the building, four stories high, has been altered to address residents’ concerns. The fourth story now recedes from the front so that it’s not as noticeable, said Stevenson.

The main tenant that occupies the lot, Ray’s Electric, is a contractor that installs streetlights. An employee, who asked not to be named, said the owner has been given notice to vacate the property. The company plans to move to another location, he said.

Juan Guerra, 55, an automotive shop owner who lives and works across the street, said the owner of the property, a downtown Chevy dealer, had originally used the lot to store new cars.

He said it was the owner’s wife’s idea”to sell (the land) to somebody to be beneficial,” he said. “She’s always liked working with the community.”

But even though he works and lives across the street, he doesn’t think his voice will count.

“When I see they come with a steamroller. I know you can’t stop them,” said Guerra, who stopped participating after attending two meetings. “You put two and two together. You know how it works. You can’t stop a federally funded project.”

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