The multidisciplinary team proposed the winning wraparound solution to an Oakland housing development’s community and transit challenges.
By Kathleen Aycock, Digital Communications Manager | June 1, 2018
UC Berkeley students interested in exploring solutions to the Bay Area’s affordable housing crisis need not look further than their own backyard. Downtown Oakland, rich with both resident and transit density, serves as an ideal testing ground for innovative solutions to the city’s worsening housing crisis.
As part of the 2018 Bank of America / Merrill Lynch Low-Income Housing Challenge, a team of UC Berkeley students identified an ideal site within Oakland’s Lakeside neighborhood for the development of mixed formerly homeless and low-income housing. The team, self-named Cal Community Builders, met weekly during the spring semester to select the site’s location, recruit community and nonprofit support, design the building’s modular structure and floor plans, and calculate a sophisticated financial model using a 4% / 9% tax credit structure to maximize the site’s potential.
The team presented their final projects to a jury with expertise ranging from affordable-housing development to architecture and finance. This win marks the 16th time UC Berkeley was awarded first place since the Challenge commenced in 1992. The Challenge was first conceived as a business plan competition for undergraduate and graduate student to inform, educate, and attract the next generation of affordable housing professionals. The Cal Community Builders team was one of four teams in a finalist pool that included student groups from the University of Arizona, Columbia and Stanford.
The winning competition team was formed by members of the Berkeley Real Estate Club, comprised of six students from the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design and Haas School of Business. Members James Conlon (M.C.P. ‘18), Brian Goggin (M.C.P. ‘18), Michelle Boyd (M.B.A. ‘19), Daniel Potter (M.B.A. ‘19), Melissa Sandoval (M.Arch ‘19), Casey Alexander (M.Arch ‘19) worked with faculty advisor and I. Donald Terner Distinguished Professor of Affordable Housing and Urban Policy Carol Galante to craft a 79-page proposal, detailing the project’s historical and geographical context, market demographics, site and entitlement overviews, design concept, community partnerships, funding sources and financial strategies.
CED urban planning student Brian Goggin hopes this proposal shows "that building dense, high-rise affordable housing in Oakland is both potentially feasible and enormously impactful for low-income Oaklanders. Developing the proposal took our team through many of the real-life challenges and rewards of the affordable housing industry and was personally my favorite experience of graduate school."
The Cal team proposed a development on the 1440 to 1500 block of Harrison Street, transforming three contiguous surface parking lots into a housing site of 30,000 square feet of space and a proposed 178 units. The proposed site name, Bauer Place, was conceived in honor of Catherine Bauer Wurster, a visionary for American public housing, primary author of the landmark U.S. Housing Act of 1937, and wife of William Wurster, the founding dean of UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design.
Oakland’s Chinatown begins two blocks south and boasts an array of small shops, groceries, and restaurants. Meanwhile, the downtown office corridor and City Hall are just three blocks to the west. Lake Merritt and its 3.4 miles of public shoreline and recreational space begin three blocks east. Both the 12th Street and 19th Street BART stations are within a 10-minute walk, while the 14th Street AC Transit bus line travelling between West and East Oakland is nearby.
Many local businesses and community organizations surround the site, and the site proposal includes space for LifeLong Medical Services to operate within Bauer Place and provide case management to residents.
A community-focused design
Bauer Place is designed to encourage interaction between residents with its centralized open spaces and common areas that aim to break up the building’s density and to generate liveliness. The design concept consists of two towers, one rising 15-stories and the other 8-stories with a shared, 4-story podium level between the two.
In keeping with the strategy of a mixed, centralized community, Cal Community Builders aimed to integrate the formerly homeless population by mixing their studio apartments throughout the complex so that they can be direct neighbors with other low-income adults and families in 1, 2, and 3-bedroom units. The podium portion of Bauer Place includes ample open spaces and gardens, while the residential tower includes flexible community rooms, lounges, art space, laundry and trash chutes on every other floor.
Each unit is designed as a balance between maximum space efficiency and livability. The intentional layout of units across each floor ensures that utilities share walls that are vertically aligned across all levels to maximize cost and design efficiencies. At the same time, each unit contains ample space for its own bathroom, kitchen, and sleeping space.
An urgent affordable housing need
Homelessness has also grown substantially in Oakland in recent years, with a 26% increase between 2015 and 2017 alone. Much of this growth has centered around downtown, leading to increased political pressure to provide safe and affordable housing to this population. In particular, more than half the households in the Lakeside neighborhood, where the Bauer Place is located, earn less than 50% of the area median income and the majority of these households pay more than 30% of their income on rent.
The housing development serves to further the City of Oakland’s goal of creating 2,059 low-income units by 2023 and to address the imminent housing crisis for homeless individuals displaced by high rents and unreliable access to social services. By employing the Housing First approach, wherein people experiencing homelessness are connected to permanent housing with few to no preconditions or barriers, the group hopes to quickly alleviate some of the most pressing housing needs in the immediate vicinity.
The proposal seeks to capitalize on a variety of newer tax credits and grants, as well as traditional debt, equity and government loans to finance the project. The primary funding sources will include investor equity through Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, debt supported by project rents and project-based Section 8 vouchers, and public affordable housing funds from the State Department of Housing and Community Development, the City of Oakland, Alameda County, and the Oakland Housing Authority.
About the proposal
Though the spirit and intention of the project is endorsed by the City of Oakland, Oakland Housing Authority and various nonprofit and community groups, the proposal is currently an academic exercise only.
Lead Photo (l-r): Professor Carol Galante, and Cal Community Builders student team James Conlon, Brian Goggin, Daniel Potter, Melissa Sandoval, and Rob Reinhardt (Bank of America staff). Not pictured: Michelle Boyd and Casey Alexander.