NEWARK — The Newark City Council has unanimously approved plans for a 79-unit apartment complex that will be entirely reserved for seniors and will be rented at below-market rates.
The project, proposed by Hayward nonprofit developer Eden Housing, would be located on a roughly one-acre plot of land at 37660 Timber St., just off Central Avenue, where a one-story industrial building from 1960 currently sits, according to city staff reports.
Newark has already contributed about $8.2 million in funding to Eden to support the project, which would be aimed at helping “Newark residents age gracefully on fixed incomes,” according to the developer’s proposal in a city report.
To allow the project, the council approved a general plan amendment and a rezoning of the land from medium-density residential to high density, allowing for an increased number of apartments to help make the project financially feasible, city reports said.
Newark officials in 2010 had rezoned the land from industrial to residential to “promote the transition of industrial areas near residential neighborhoods to more compatible uses such as multi-family residential.”
The project will also receive several concessions and waivers on development standards from the city, including a reduced number of parking spaces, because of state density bonus laws that require much greater flexibility for developments with all below-market rate units. Under normal city standards, the development would be required to have 99 parking spaces, but instead it will have just 65.
While city officials and Eden representatives said that affordable housing is badly needed in the city, especially for seniors, some key details of the project are still being determined, which could ultimately affect who will be able to live in the apartments.
Jared Nolan, the project manager for Eden, said during the City Council meeting Thursday that his organization anticipates limiting most of the apartments for people earning no more than half of the area median income, or roughly $55,000 annually for a couple.
City staff members and reports noted, however, that the developer is currently only proposing to ensure the apartments are rented to people earning up to 80% of the area median income as a maximum limit, which for a couple would be roughly $88,000 annually.
Using the maximum allowable affordability levels would allow Eden “flexibility” when gathering more funding for the project from “local, state, federal, and private” sources, according to city reports.
Community Development Director Steven Turner said in an email Friday the city will eventually form an affordable housing agreement with the developer that would clarify how many units will be available at each affordability level. The agreement will include requirements, based on city standards, that at least 6% of the units will be affordable to people who are considered very low-income, 3% will be for people who are low-income, and 3% will be for moderate income earners.
The overall intent is to get as many units below the 80% area median income affordability level as possible, Turner said. The agreement will need to be approved by the City Council before the project can be built.
The city has put in almost $2.77 million toward the project from its affordable housing fund, which is largely fueled by fees paid by developers who build market-rate units in the city, of which thousands have gone up or been approved in the past six years. The city currently has about $36 million in its affordable housing fund.
Newark officials also previously approved turning over the city’s entire allocation of Alameda County Measure A1 affordable housing funding to the project — a little more than $5.4 million.
“Affordable housing has been one of our primary goals in the last number of years, and to focus on some of the most vulnerable residents in our community, namely our seniors, we thank you for this project,” Councilmember Michael Hannon told the developer at the meeting.
He encouraged Eden to work to keep the pricing at deeper levels of affordability.
“We need to make sure we include the most vulnerable in terms of finances as part of this project,” he said.
The apartments would only be rented to people who are age 62 or older, Eden and city officials said Friday in an email.
Newark officials also said the project will likely give rental preference to current city residents and workers. To justify the local preference, Alameda County needs to approve a currently in-progress study being conducted by Eden, which “describes the local displacement threats to the community and how providing a local preference would address that need,” according to city reports.
Eden and city officials said they were confident the study would be approved, but Councilmember Mike Bucci said he was concerned about what might happen if it isn’t.
“I’m not going to be happy if 90% of the people there aren’t from Newark and we spent several million dollars of our affordable housing money on it,” Bucci said.
“That’s all money that we got in our coffers through other Newark projects that have impacts on Newark people and that I could argue is part of the reason for the increased cost in housing, which has helped displace people from Newark,” he said.
“I think everybody knows that seniors and everybody else is being displaced at this point,” he added.
Turner said at the meeting that if the displacement study were to fail, the city would still be allowed to “heavily market to our community” to make sure people are aware of the opportunity to apply for a unit.
Construction on the project could begin as soon as sometime in 2022, and would take 18 months to two years, city reports said.