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Emeryville is using its surplus land to create new affordable housing units for disadvantaged youths, seniors and formerly incarcerated people.

One project on San Pablo Avenue was approved and one project on Adeline Street had a request for proposal issued at the July 19 City Council meeting.

In 2012, then-Gov. Jerry Brown ended funding for redevelopment projects. Emeryville Mayor John Bauters said cities stopped construction because they didn’t have funding to build on the land, creating a surplus. A state law was passed in 2021 that said cities have until September of this year to submit plans for their surplus land or it would have to be auctioned off.

Emeryville has plans approved for most of its properties, but the land on San Pablo Avenue and Adeline Street was untouched. The San Pablo Avenue property will have 13 units dedicated to transitional-age youth — considered those in their late teens to early 20s who are transitioning from foster care or face other challenges — as well as 54 units for seniors and one onsite manager. Four units will also be built on Adeline Street.

Bauters said it was his mission to use all available land for affordable housing.

“Since we really don’t want to lose the opportunity to put affordable housing in our community, this past year we’ve been really engaged with what are we going to do with each of our projects,” the mayor said.

The corner of Adeline and 36th streets in Emeryville consists of roughly half an acre spread over three parcels that could be turned into four units providing transitional housing for formerly incarcerated individuals reentering society. (Google image)

Adeline Street has three small plots of surplus land that make up less than half an acre. The city determined that the land could be used to create four properties, housing four formerly incarcerated people.

“Even though it’s a tiny amount of land, I asked for an agenda item a couple months ago,” Bauters said. “I asked council to go forward with a concept I proposed which was to turn it into a group home or congregate housing setting or one to four microunits — tiny units of housing that could house people who are returning citizens from incarceration.”

Support for reintegration

Rising Sun Center for Opportunity, a nonprofit that provides job training to formerly incarcerated individuals, is one block away. The organization helps people who are reentering society after being in jail or prison and teaches them building trade skills.

They learn how to install solar panels or weatherproof a roof — skills that could earn them construction jobs or apprenticeships. The program lasts for six to eight weeks and serves cohorts or classes of eight to 10 individuals at a time.

Bauters said the location of the project will allow these residents to receive housing and other services while reintegrating into society.

“It’s been shown to be a really successful model that produces a lot of success for young adults and is enriching for the seniors. I think just understanding that these two communities could benefit from living in the same space and interacting is really what pushed us to support it.”

Bianca Neumann, Ecumenical Association for Housing

“They would get one or two people who would literally be sleeping in a car outside their building because they came out of jail, but they have no place to live,” Bauters said. “When I saw that we had these properties that were going to be subject to a public auction, I asked City Council, I said this is an opportunity for us to do something that will transform people’s lives. Even if it’s only four people at a time who live in this place, they can walk next door to their job training opportunity. That’s a huge win for people.”

The San Pablo Avenue project will include 68-units of housing for both transition-age youths and seniors. This type of housing project is called intergenerational housing — Bianca Neumann, the director of business development at Ecumenical Association for Housing, the project’s developers, said it is the first of its kind in California.

Bauters said the transition-age have a high-risk of becoming homeless because many are on their own with no adult figures. The seniors are at risk of mental illness and loneliness. This intergenerational housing style addresses these issues.

“It’s been shown to be a really successful model that produces a lot of success for young adults and is enriching for the seniors,” Neumann said. “I think just understanding that these two communities could benefit from living in the same space and interacting is really what pushed us to support it.”

Bridging the generation gap

The San Pablo Avenue project was initially proposed in 2017 as senior-only housing because there was a state law in place that set limitations based on age for housing classified as a senior citizen housing development. This meant that affordable housing for seniors couldn’t also house youths.

In September 2021, Senate Bill 591 was passed which would allow for intergenerational housing — housing for seniors, caregivers and transition-age youth.

“There are a lot of studies that show that there are extremely high social and health benefits to collocating or cohousing young people who need adult mentorship and have no adult figures in their life with adults who live alone, who face loneliness and isolation,” Bauters said. “There is a lot of data that shows that seniors who live in the presence of young people live healthier lives, are more independent later into their lives, retain better mental faculties.”

Ecumenical Association for Housing will have a services coordinator that works with the team from Unity Care, an organization that provides services to underserved youth, and Lifelong Medical Care, a health care company that will assist the seniors. Together they will create programming, classes and activities that support community building within the property. These could include senior residents teaching the younger residents how to knit or the transition-age youths teaching the senior residents how to use an iPhone.

“We’ve been spending time now to try and look for those areas of overlap to build programming that serves both communities,” Neumann said.

The San Pablo Avenue units will range in price depending on the resident’s income and the unit size. The rent would be around $479 per month for residents with an annual household income of $19,000 while it would be $1,540 for residents with a household income of $65,700. Unity Care will refer transitional-age youth to live at the property and the seniors will be selected through a lottery system.

Both properties will be tax credit-financed projects, meaning that the residents of these units will have to annually recertify that they are low-income and still qualify to live in low-income housing.

Bauters said his constituents have been supportive of the plans. Emeryville had a 72.5 percent approval rating of Measure C, an affordable housing bond, in 2018. The $50 million from that bond is being used to support existing affordable housing projects, help low-income residents and will partially finance new projects like these two properties.

The San Pablo Avenue project developers will submit their plans at the July 28 meeting. The council will evaluate developers for the Adeline Street sites in August.