Oakland, California: Casa Arabella Adds Affordable Housing to Fruitvale Station
The opening of the Fruitvale Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station in 1972 expanded regional connections to Oakland’s most racially and ethnically diverse neighborhood, but it also brought negative effects, such as home demolitions that destabilized local families and commuter parking lots that disrupted the urban fabric. In 1991, The Unity Council (TUC), a local nonprofit social equity development corporation, sought to mitigate these effects through a plan to replace the BART parking lots with a transit-oriented development (TOD) that would reconnect the Fruitvale station with existing neighborhood assets. The first phase, the mixed-use Fruitvale Village, opened in 2004 and serves as a pedestrian connection between the station and International Boulevard, the neighborhood commercial corridor one block away. TUC then partnered with nonprofit affordable housing developer East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC) to develop the next phase of the TOD, Casa Arabella, which opened in 2019. The 94-unit development provides affordable housing for low-income minority families, who historically face displacement because of the construction of transit stations and other urban renewal investments. In 2021, Casa Arabella received the Urban Land Institute Americas Award for Excellence in the Equitable Development category.
Casa Arabella Addresses the Needs of Households
Casa Arabella is a four-story perimeter building that occupies a block bounded by two existing streets and two new rights-of-way — a paseo and bicycle/pedestrian path — that were created as part of the development. Three-bedroom stacked townhouses line the East 12th Street frontage, and one- and two-bedroom flats are located in the other three edges of the building. Additional flats in the interior of the block define the development’s three courtyards. Casa Arabella reserves 93 units for households earning no more than 60 percent of the area median income and veterans who previously experienced homelessness. Households with a certificate of displacement from the city or the federal government are given preference for the units. A case manager from TUC lives in one of the units and helps residents with afterschool programming, financial literacy coaching, employment services, and referrals for health care. Operation Dignity, a nonprofit addressing homelessness in Alameda County, offers supportive services for residents who are veterans.
The ground floor of Casa Arabella features a computer lab, a community room, and digitally controlled package lockers. The development’s three courtyards are composed of a large, central area with active play spaces for children and two secluded courtyards serving as contemplative spaces. The bicycle path, paralleling the BART tracks behind Casa Arabella, connects with Oakland’s bikeway network, and the landscaped paseo alongside the building serves as a pleasant route to the bicycle path. The pathways also provide new routes to Fruitvale Village, which includes a healthcare clinic, a public library, and retailers. For access to places further from the development, the county distributes discounted bus passes to Casa Arabella residents. The TOD also includes parking for 29 bicycles and a 47-space garage for cars.
Financing for Casa Arabella
TUC originally intended the second phase of its TOD to be mixed-income housing; however, a deal with a market-rate developer fell through in 2010 in the wake of the Great Recession. In response to neighborhood concerns, TUC moved forward with a low-income housing development. In 2014, the development received a state grant and loan totaling $8 million for affordable housing in the TOD (table 1). Those funds helped TUC obtain more than $6 million from the county through a Measure A1 Housing bond, which was created to prevent the displacement of vulnerable populations through affordable housing; the city matched more than 30 percent of this funding in addition to donating land. Casa Arabella also received a 30-year commitment for Section 8 rental subsidies for 66 units. Twenty of those units receive additional support through the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program. Alameda County Health Care Services Agency also committed $140,000 per year to fund services for the veterans.
Table 1: Casa Arabella Financing
|Low-income housing tax credit equity||$23,700,000|
|Citibank loan (Section 8)||17,300,000|
|County of Alameda Measure A1 bond||6,350,000|
|City of Oakland Measure A1 match||2,300,000|
|California Housing and Community Development TOD Housing Program grant||4,000,000|
|California Housing and Community Development TOD Housing Program loan||4,000,000|
|General partner capital contribution||3,800,000|
|Deferred developer fee||1,700,000|
|Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco Affordable Housing Program loan||920,000|
Developers Converge on Cultural Awareness and Expertise
In planning Casa Arabella, TUC and EBALDC used approaches that they have developed over the past half-century to achieve social equity and improve personal well-being for East Bay residents. Casa Arabella’s affordable housing allows neighborhood residents to remain connected to their social network. In addition, senior residents can find companionship at Fruitvale Village’s senior center, where staff are linguistically matched with seniors. Seniors also can access a library with culturally relevant material and fitness classes that include tai chi and Zumba. In addition, TUC hosts a Día de los Muertos celebration that attracts more than 100,000 attendees annually. In Casa Arabella’s lobby, local artist Joshua Mays painted a four-story mural featuring multiple hummingbirds. Mays chose the hummingbirds, which symbolize warriors in Aztec culture, to represent Arabella Martinez, the founder of TUC and a key advocate for minority populations.
To provide a healthy environment for Casa Arabella’s residents, EBALDC planned the development’s three courtyards and window placement to optimize ventilation, a move that was especially appreciated during the pandemic. The new bicycle path and paseo provide pedestrian access to the Fruitvale Village farmer’s market, where fresh produce and traditional ethnic foods are available. Nearby, at TUC’s Business Assistance Center, business owners receive entrepreneurship coaching, marketing, and legal services offered in five languages.
TUC and EBALDC plan to apply the interventions used at Casa Arabella in future TOD projects that expand affordable housing opportunities for minorities. On the block between Casa Arabella and Fruitvale Village, TUC will complete the final phase of the Fruitvale TOD in 2023 with the opening of the 181-unit Casa Sueños. EBALDC has an upcoming project at the Lake Merritt BART station, where BART’s presence has displaced Chinatown residents to other parts of the Bay Area.