Martinez: Five-year Berrellessa Palms Project Comes to Fruition

Contra Costa Times

October 7, 2014

MARTINEZ — Once the subject of heated debate, Berrellessa Palms was a party site as developers, politicians, service providers and residents celebrated its official grand opening at Alhambra Avenue and Buckley Street.

Speakers congratulated each other, marveling at the results of a five-year effort resulting in an attractive, $21.7 million, 48-unit housing project for low-income seniors 62 and older with chronic health problems and who were on the brink of homelessness.

Mayor Rob Schroder said, “When this project was first proposed to me, my reaction … was no.” He then credited former councilwoman Janet Kennedy and her husband Jim for changing his mind. The Kennedys’ convinced Schroder that Resources for Community Development (RCD) management could keep the publicly subsidized property an asset, rather than a liability, for the city.

In 2009, in the depths of a bad economy, many locals opposed another low-income, high-density housing development downtown. Schroder reminded the grand opening celebrants that there was nothing else going on at the time.

Contra Costa County Supervisor Federal Glover said it was “difficult, but the right thing to do.”

Financing was the difficult part. The Contra Costa County Department of Conservation and Development contributed $4,775,000 (primarily federal Housing and Urban Development funds), $6 million came from the California State Department of Housing and Community Development, and $490,000 from the San Francisco Home Loan Bank.

Those institutions became equity partners who will be compensated with federal low-income tax credits over a 10-year period on 55-year deferred interest loans with annual payments of available cash, according to Carolyn Bookhart, RCD director of housing development.

Bookhart explained that there are deserving people who need low-cost housing and the market does not provide for them.

“That’s why the there are these programs that provide loans for properties that offer quality housing,” Bookhart said.

Bank of the West’s $10,431,000 loan will be repaid by Contra Costa County (HUD funds mostly) paying the difference between tenant rent payments ($302 to $475) and market rents.

Located near downtown and public transportation, the large, attractive three-story Victorian structure with bay windows was designed by KTGY Group, Inc. and built to CAL Green building standards by Segue Construction.

Tenants of the new one-bedroom units have secure parking and laundry facilities with adjacent TV lounge areas, and comfortable communal spaces, including a sunny landscaped central courtyard, large multipurpose room with kitchen, outdoor balconies, fitness room, computer room, resident gardening area and more.

Resident Thomas Trankina praised the caring people, but mentioned truck and train noise as a negative.

“It is wonderful that we have a place to go,” Stewart Davidson, another resident later said.

Davidson was a licensed attorney in another state, who came to California for a corporate vice president position and subsequently developed leukemia. As his resources dwindled, eventually leaving him homeless, he applied for HUD subsidized housing.

Davidson and other residents noted that it is hard to get used to rules that disallow curtains (inside the blinds), and pictures on the walls unless they are hung by the project handyman.

However, there is uniform tenant appreciation for design features that accommodate special physical needs, and service providers who have already assisted seniors during the move-in process.

“Some of the seniors used all of their money for move-in costs and did not have much left for food,” Patt Schroeder, senior resources director said. Her group and nonprofits such as Jewish Family and Children’s Services have been there to help.

Residents qualified for Department of Health Care Services Assisted Living Waiver program will be served by Rehabilitation Services of Northern California through a pilot program designed to support independent living. Also CVHCare (a San Ramon-based home health care company) pilot program will send nurses to visit residents.