Housing for Low and Extremely-Low Income Households Opens in Alameda
In the city of Alameda, located on an island in California’s San Francisco Bay, the scarcity and high cost of housing personally affects most residents. The city’s rental vacancy rate is approximately 2 percent, and an estimated 44 percent of renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs. Recently, following the disposition of hundreds of acres of land formerly owned by the U.S. Navy, the city had a unique opportunity to build an entirely new mixed-use community with nearly 900 new housing units. The resulting Bayport and Alameda Landing developments, planned and executed by private master developer Catellus, contain a mix of affordable and market-rate housing, retail, and office space. As part of an agreement with another private housing developer to help fulfill their inclusionary housing obligation, the Housing Authority of the City of Alameda (HACA) worked with nonprofit developer Resources for Community Development (RCD) to build Stargell Commons at the Alameda Landing site, completed in May 2017. Backed by strong community support, this family housing project received widespread acclaim thanks to its striking modern design.
Stargell Commons is made up of 32 units of family housing, with all units affordable to families earning between 30 and 60 percent of the area median income (AMI). Seven units have project-based subsidies, limiting rent to 30 percent of AMI. Three 3-story buildings contain 5 one-bedroom, 16 two-bedroom, and 10 three-bedroom units. One unit is reserved for management staff. An additional single-story building contains space for community activities and offices for tenant services. The four buildings surround a surface parking lot and courtyard with a children’s play area.
The residential buildings are composed of ground floor flats with walk-up-style townhomes above them. The project’s modern aesthetic intentionally contrasts with the more traditional architecture of the surrounding area, adding vibrancy to the streetscape and demonstrating that affordable housing can be creative and exciting. The buildings’ facades feature vertical and horizontal changes in plane and material as well as sunshade and canopy elements. The site also includes “paseos,” or pedestrian connections to the surrounding neighborhood. RCD is in the process of attaining Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, with the property currently meeting LEED Platinum specifications because of features such as a photovoltaic system for hot water heating, ENERGY STAR® lighting and appliances, and “Bay Friendly,” drought-tolerant landscaping.
Site amenities include a landscaped courtyard, a multipurpose community room with a full kitchen that opens to the courtyard, and secure bicycle storage. The site is also within walking distance of a new shopping center featuring a grocery store and several restaurants, and it is near a free shuttle to downtown Oakland. The nonprofit Operation Dignity provides onsite tenant services such as case management and housing retention support. In addition, property management coordinates community-building activities such as movie nights and trips to museums as well as youth programming such as a summer lunch program, an anti-bullying campaign, and the provision of school supplies.
Redevelopment of a Naval Base
Stargell Commons is part of Alameda Landing, a brownfield redevelopment project. In 1997, as part of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Act of 1990, the U.S. Navy closed Naval Air Station Alameda and the Fleet Industrial Supply Center and transferred ownership of the 218-acre site to the Alameda Reuse and Redevelopment Authority (ARRA). ARRA then transferred ownership to private developer Catellus, which had been selected to redevelop the site as part of a request for proposals process. Catellus created a master plan for the site in 2000, initially planning a suburban office campus but later deciding to build two new mixed-use communities — Bayport and Alameda Landing. At full build-out, the site will contain approximately 300,000 square feet of retail, 400,000 square feet of office space, and 900 housing units.
Current ownership of land at Bayport and Alameda Landing belongs to Catellus, single-family home developer TriPointe Homes, individual homeowners, and the city. HACA owns three sites, which it leased to RCD to develop three affordable properties: Shinsei Gardens, Breakers at Bayport, and Stargell Commons. HACA developed Stargell Commons as part of an agreement with TriPointe Homes to fulfill the city’s new inclusionary housing ordinance requiring all new development exceeding 10 units to reserve at least 15 percent of the units as affordable housing; TriPointe built 8 percent of their units as moderately affordable and paid a $2 million fee to HACA for Stargell Commons, which provided the additional 7 percent of affordable units required. Overall, 22 percent of housing at Bayport and Alameda Landing is affordable.
Overcoming Regulatory Barriers
The developers of Alameda Landing benefited from a recent shift in policies for new development in Alameda, spurred by local advocacy. In 1973, the city instituted Measure A, an addition to the city charter prohibiting multifamily housing development, to preserve the city’s small-town feel and unique character. The constraints of the city’s island geography stoked fears that new, high-density development would lead to increased traffic and congestion. Advocates, however, pushed for the city to make an exception to this moratorium, arguing that Measure A presented a significant barrier to the creation of affordable housing. By 2012, the city had instituted a multifamily overlay district as a new zoning category, passed a density bonus ordinance, and adopted a 15 percent inclusionary housing ordinance, effectively overriding Measure A. By the time HACA sought to build Stargell Commons in Alameda Landing, a large coalition of affordable housing advocates generated enough support for the project to outweigh the opposition; every approval needed from the city was granted unanimously.
The total development cost for Stargell Commons was $17.4 million. The largest source of financing was approximately $12 million in low-income housing tax credit equity provided by the Wells Fargo Affordable Housing Community Development Corporation. Additional sources of financing included approximately $2 million from HACA, $450,000 from the city of Alameda, $1.7 million from Alameda County, and a $1.2 million permanent loan from Wells Fargo.
Support and Demand for Affordable Housing in Alameda
RCD initially received 12,000 applications for Stargell Commons’ 32 units, reflecting the extreme shortage of affordable housing in the San Francisco Bay Area. According to Dan Sawislak, executive director of RCD, the project’s unique modern architecture generated a significant excitement in the community. Sawislak believes that creative projects such as Stargell Commons may help to promote a more positive perception of affordable housing. Although Alameda Landing is almost complete, HACA is in the process of acquiring another recently decommissioned portion of Naval Air Station Alameda and has plans to build more housing, including 90 units for formerly homeless individuals.
Email correspondence with Vanessa Cooper, executive director, Housing Authority of the city of Alameda, 9 January 2018; U.S. Census Bureau. American Factfinder. 2016. “Alameda city, California: CP04: Comparative Housing Characteristics: 2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimate.” Accessed 12 January 2018; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research. n.d. “Consolidated Planning/CHAS Data: 2010–2014 ACS 5-Year Average Data — Place, Alameda city, California.” Accessed 12 January 2018.×
Email correspondence with Vanessa Cooper, executive director, Housing Authority of the city of Alameda, 9 January 2018; Catellus. n.d. “Alameda Landing and Bayport.” Accessed 12 January 2018; Resources for Community Development. n.d. “Grand Opening.” Accessed 12 January 2018; Interview with Dan Sawislak, executive director, Resources for Community Development, 20 December 2017; Resources for Community Development. n.d. “Stargell Commons.” Accessed 12 January 2018.×
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Interview with Dan Sawislak, executive director, Resources for Community Development, 20 December 2017; Email correspondence with Dan Sawislak, 21 December 2017.×
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City of Alameda. May 2016. “Planning Board Study Session: Alameda Landing Waterfront Park Design and Land Use Program Revision.” Accessed 12 January 2018; Catellus. n.d. “Alameda Landing and Bayport.” Accessed 12 January 2018.×
Email correspondence with Vanessa Cooper, executive director, Housing Authority of the city of Alameda, 9 January 2018; Email correspondence with Vanessa Cooper, 16 January 2018.×
Renewed Hope Housing Advocates. n.d. “History.” Accessed 12 January 2018; City of Alameda. 2014. “Housing Element Background Report: 2015–2023,” 15 July, 49. Accessed 12 January 2018; Email correspondence with Vanessa Cooper, executive director, Housing Authority of the city of Alameda, 9 January 2018; Interview with Vanessa Cooper, 10 January 2018.×
Interview with Dan Sawislak, 20 December 2017; Email correspondence with Vanessa Cooper, executive director, Housing Authority of the city of Alameda, 9 January 2018.×