Berkeley and Bay Area Community Services will apply for state funding to convert the Golden Bear Hotel in northwest Berkeley into permanent supportive housing through the government’s Homekey Program that began during the COVID-19 pandemic, following city council approval Tuesday.
If the state grants the funding, it will be the first of its kind in Berkeley, with 44 long-term housing units, tied down by a 55-year deed to the name “Golden Bear Inn.” The city will allocate $8.4 million for the program and will request an additional $15 million from the state, which will go directly to BACS and Memar Properties to purchase the building.
It’s a permanent addition to the existing Roomkey program, which has turned two Berkeley hotels (the Rodeway Inn, and formerly Quality Inn) into temporary locations for rest during the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents will live in units like apartments, pets will be allowed and there will be no curfews, according to Jonathan Russell, BACS’ chief strategy officer.
There was overwhelming support for the project during a special city council meeting on Tuesday, although a handful of community members raised concerns about public safety and crime. In one case, an employer who expressed opposition to the plan at the beginning of the meeting changed their mind by the end of the discussion.
“Sometimes we forget that we are all human, and that they are human too – we bias against the homeless.” said Rajdeep Sidhu, who runs Mountain Mike’s Pizza right next door to the Golden Bear Inn. He said he supports the project and welcomes it with open arms if the city can guarantee safety.
“I don’t think anyone would pay more attention to the project, because we are on site at all times,” Seydoux added. “Look forward to the change, hopefully for the better.”
Following his comments at the city council, Berkeley residents also shared on social media plans to sponsor the business and deliver pizza to the hotel’s new residents to support the entire neighborhood.
The city council voted unanimously to submit the grant funding request to the state. It’s one of the city’s many homeless housing options in southwest and northwest Berkeley that were established during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the 24-hour Grayson Shelter, the secure parking site attached to this shelter, the Rodeway and Quality Inn and the home of about five A resident of District 1, under the supervision of council member Rashid Kesrouani.
Some neighbors say they have felt the pinch of these housing options in their part of town. Kesarwani backtracked on that idea on Tuesday, adding that the city is on track to push zoning changes that would encourage supportive housing throughout.
“Every time (homeless housing was considered), the neighbors around these proposed sites have been very concerned about the new neighbors. But I have to tell you, once these people move in, I get no complaints.” Kesrouani said she had asked the city’s deputy mayor, Paul Bodenhagen, to examine 311 records. “I can tell you when I get complaints, I get complaints when people are homeless in parks, on sidewalks and in residential areas.”
BACS, which currently operates the Pathways Shelter in Berkeley, was selected for the project several weeks in advance and will apply to the state jointly with the city and property owner.
The project moved relatively quickly; BACS responded to Berkeley’s request for contracts in early summer, and the state announced the availability of funding in September and Tuesday’s decision pushed the request, whose deadline was January 2022. The state will announce its approval by next February.
Once approved, potential residents will be able to apply for housing through the existing supportive housing channels. They will pay 30% of their income in rent (which is $0 if someone has no income), and Russell said residents will be connected to labor resources, health care providers and social services once they are housed in the Golden Bear Inn to enable them for long-term stability.
“We are very excited about this project – it has recently been remodeled and is in great shape. We really see this as an opportunity to find quick, agile housing for our homeless neighbors,” said Russell. “This is not a shelter, this is not a program – this is very affordable housing.”
The Golden Bear Inn project was among the $67 million in city council funding allocated at Tuesday’s special meeting toward affordable and permanent housing. Other projects include the renovation of 54 Ashby Lofts housing units. Pre-development costs for the development of 82 units at Ephesians Legacy Court; 12 SRO renovation at MLK House; Pre-development costs for Unit 52 in St. Paul Terrace; and the development of 110 housing units for unified workforce housing in Berkeley.