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June 18, 2008 > Affordable Housing - a regional tour

Affordable Housing - a regional tour

By William Marshak

Discussions of "affordable housing" are often mired in stereotypes and misconceptions. In order to understand the practical application of this segment of redevelopment, Nina Moore of the Fremont Chamber of Commerce in coordination with the Fremont Redevelopment Agency organized a "Mixed Use Affordable Housing Traveling Seminar." A group of business and civic leaders spent the morning of Tuesday, June 10 on a bus tour with stops in Redwood City and Foster City, listening to a variety of speakers discuss affordable housing and how such developments can be integrated within a community.

Redwood City Redevelopment Manager Susan Moeller met with the group next to Redwood City's City Hall adjacent to City Center Plaza complex which consists of 81 units of low and very low income apartments above approximately 1600 square feet of retail space. Mr. Phil Raiser, owner of the retail space, noted that although there is a mix of retail, some successful, overall there have been occupancy challenges. A greater range of tenant mix including those with moderate income would have been preferable from his point of view.

The next stop, Franklin Street Apartments also featured a vertical mixed use development with retail spaces at street level fronting a major thoroughfare (El Camino Real) and apartments above and behind this frontage. Approximately 7,500 square feet of retail space has suffered due to a colonnade design which masks retail frontage. Approximately 10 percent of the 206 units over 4.5 acres are considered "affordable."

Villa Montgomery, across the street from Franklin Street Apartments presents a massive five story frontage in an "L" shape design. Recreational space is hidden from the main street. Looks can be deceiving as this frontage houses 58 units of affordable apartments. Retail space is a mere 1,200 square feet in a corner location.

The final stop in Foster City was a visit to Marlin Cove which features a side-by-side retail and residential development. Here, a failing shopping center was rejuvenated with the introduction of a different mix of retail tenants and a high density apartment complex. The project includes 56,000 square feet of retail, 20,000 square feet of office and 280 apartment units of which 30 percent (84 units) are in the Foster City Community Development Agency affordable housing program.

Throughout the tour, it was evident that close cooperation and attention between residential and commercial development is necessary to ensure a successful economic enterprise. Quality management of rental properties was also deemed vital to the viability of any housing complex and the surrounding community. Redwood City personnel spoke of the necessity of other amenities such as transportation, entertainment and dining venues.

Those who take advantage of "affordable housing" were characterized as workers in the service and food industry, teachers, and others such as auto mechanics, business managers, childcare workers, medical assistants, plumbers, retail clerks, security guards who, while employed, are unable to afford the high cost of living in the Bay Area. The definition of affordable housing is divided into several income strata - low, very low, moderate - so the term can be used to describe a wide variety of economic situations. A chart distributed to those on the tour listed June 2008 Median Income as $60,300 for a single person household; $68,900 for a two person household and $86,100 for a four person household.

During the bus portion of the tour, attendees listened to Elisa Tierney, Redevelopment Agency Director, City of Fremont; Teifion Rice-Evans, principal of Economic & Planning Systems, Inc. and Officer Robyn Berlin, Fremont Police Department discuss the role of redevelopment, its economic impact and safety issues associated with affordable housing. A questionnaire is being circulated to assess the impact and lessons of the tour.

The tour was a direct effort of Nina Moore, sponsored by Fremont Chamber of Commerce with support from Fremont Bank, Assemblymember Alberto Torrico, Robson Homes, League of Women Voters, Fremont, Newark and Union City. Special thanks to May Lee, Elisa Tierney and Anu Natarajan. Speakers included Elisa Tierney (City of Fremont), Teifion Rice-Evans (Economic & Planning Systems), Officer Robyn Berlin (Fremont Police Department), Susan Moeller (Redwood City), Phil Raiser (City Center retail property owner), Leslie Carmichael (Foster City), George Arce (Retail Manager, Foster City), Nick Podell (developer, Marlin Cove, Foster City).

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