Fulfilling the Promises of Measures O and P

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When I ran for Mayor in 2016, I promised voters that addressing the housing affordability crisis and homelessness would be my top priority. We know over the past two years the cost of housing has grown significantly, and as a result, homelessness has increased both in the region and Alameda County. While we are seeking new state funding and regional partnerships, we must also act locally. 

One thing that was clear when I took office is that we do not have the resources to deal with the scale of this growing problem. At the time Berkeley had only a few million in our Housing Trust Fund and no dedicated funding which could be used towards alleviating homelessness. Even with limited resources, we launched some ambitious new programs: We doubled our shelter program, opened a new Navigation Center in West Berkeley which has already housed 100 clients, launched a new Homeless Outreach Team, provided secure storage for unhoused persons, expanded funding for anti-displacement and rehousing the homeless, and funded the new affordable housing project at 2012 Berkeley Way, the largest permanent supportive housing project in city history. 

Yet every day we see the human misery on our streets, and more people have to drive longer distances to work in our city, including our teachers. What we needed was a steady funding source for building and preserving affordable housing and for homeless services. 

Last year, I worked hard with the Council to develop a package of measures to provide critical funding for building housing and addressing homelessness, Measures O and P. They were supported by a unanimous City Council and last November, we were fortunate that voters overwhelmingly approved Measure O by 77% and Measure P by 72%. 

To recap, Measure O is a $135 million General Obligation Bond for the construction of new affordable housing and acquisition of land and buildings for low-income housing. Measure P is an increase in the real property transfer tax from 1.5% to 2.5% for properties over $1.5 million (generating $6-8 million annually), which can be used for general municipal services, including homeless and mental health services. Both measures create independent citizen commissions to provide oversight and funding recommendations to the City Council.

I am pleased to update you that implementing these two measures is well underway. On June 11, 2019, the City Council unanimously launched a Request for Proposals for Measure O bond funds and made funding reservations for two projects, 2012 Berkeley Way and 1601 Oxford Street. 

The Berkeley Way project (Berkeley Way between Shattuck Ave/Milvia St), a joint development with the Berkeley Food and Housing Program (BFHP) and BRIDGE Housing, will provide 142 units of deeply affordable housing. 89 units, operated by BRIDGE, will be capped at 50-60% AMI. BFHP will run the other 53 units, which will be reserved as permanent supportive housing for the homeless and disabled. The project also includes be temporary housing available for 32 people, and in partnership with the US Department of Veterans Affairs, transitional housing for 12 homeless veterans. In addition to the affordable housing, the project will provide office space for several agencies, including LifeLong Medical Care and Berkeley Mental Health to provide integrated services to residents on site. Simply put, the Berkeley Way project is the single largest infusion of low-income and affordable housing in the history of Berkeley. Groundbreaking is expected in 2020, with construction complete in early 2022. 

Another project moving forward thanks to Measure O is 1601 Oxford Street, which will provide 35 units of affordable senior housing in North Berkeley. Satellite Affordable Housing Associates (SAHA) has partnered with All Souls Episcopal Parish who provided the land for this project. Construction will begin at the end of the year, with completion in early 2021. 

The Measure O Oversight Committee has been engaged in developing priorities, evaluation criteria and will be reviewing the housing projects applying for Measure O bond monies. The bonds will be issued in three segments, with the first segment (approximately $34.5 million) to be spent over the next year. $20m has been spent on the above projects, so $14.5m remains. An RFP will be released later this month, with the Committee reviewing the proposals this fall, with Council approving it either at the end of 2019 or beginning of 2020. 

In 2017, Councilmember Sophie Hahn and I proposed the creation of a 1,000 Person Plan to develop a roadmap for an unbroken path from the streets to permanent housing. This is an ambitious plan, but considering the crisis we are in, anything less would not be enough to make an impact. In 2019, City staff calculated that to achieve this plan, an additional $17m-$21m annually would need to be spent starting year one, with the costs increasing to $31m-$43m by 2028. 

Measure P will provide significant funding, that once paired with regional, state, and federal funding, will enable us to make an impact in achieving the goals of the 1,000 Person Plan and in alleviating our homeless crisis. The Homeless Services Panel of Experts is currently discussing the best ways to implement Measure P, and are tasked with providing an annual report with their recommendations. Their first report is expected by the end of the year. 

We asked the people of Berkeley to give big, and you responded generously. The approval of Measures O & P has given us a unique opportunity to make an impact in creating affordable housing and reducing homelessness. Of course, no single city can solve the region’s issues alone, which is why I am continuing to push efforts to partner with our neighbors and regional leaders in a comprehensive, collaborative approach. Berkeley voters can be proud that their vote is making a difference, and we will shortly see the vision and the promise of Measures O & P become a reality. 

Jesse Arreguin