The Golden Bear Hotel could become permanent housing for homeless residents

If approved, the hotel will be converted into 44 permanent affordable housing units for residents.

The Golden Bear Inn in Northwest Berkeley. Credit Supriya Yelimeli

Berkeley and Bay Area Community Services will apply for state funding to turn the Golden Bear Hotel in Northwest Berkeley into permanent supportive housing through the state Homekey program that began during the COVID-19 pandemic, following City Council approval Tuesday.

If the state grants the funding, it would be Berkeley’s first project of the kind, with 44 units of long-term housing, deed-restricted for 55 years as “Golden Bear Inn.” The city will reserve $8.4 million for the program and request an additional $15 million from the state, which will go directly to BACS and Memar Properties to buy the building.

It’s a permanent addition to the existing Roomkey program, which turned two Berkeley hotels (Rodeway Inn and, formerly, the Quality Inn) into temporary respite locations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents will live in the units like apartments, pets will be allowed and there will be no curfews, according to Jonathan Russell, chief strategy officer with BACS.

There was overwhelming support for the project during a special City Council meeting on Tuesday, though a handful of community members raised concerns over public safety and crime. In one instance, a business owner who expressed opposition to the plan at the beginning of the meeting changed his mind by the end of the discussion.

“Sometimes we forget that we are all humans, that they are human too — we hold prejudice against homeless people.” said Rajdeep Sidhu, who runs Mountain Mike’s Pizza directly adjacent to the Golden Bear Inn, which is at 1620 San Pablo Ave. He said he supports the project and welcomes it with open arms if the city can ensure safety.

“I don’t think anyone is going to be paying closer attention to the project, because we’re on the site at all times,” Sidhu added. “We look forward to the change, hopefully it’s for the better.”

Following his comments at City Council, Berkeley residents on social media also shared plans to patronize the business and deliver pizza to the new residents of the hotel in support of the whole neighborhood.

The Berkeley City Council at a special meeting to discuss affordable housing plans on Dec. 14, 2021.

The City Council voted unanimously to submit the grant funding application to the state. It’s one of the city’s several homeless housing options in Southwest and Northwest Berkeley created during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the 24-hour Grayson shelter, the safe-parking site attached to that shelter, the Rodeway and Quality inns and a home that housed about five residents in District 1, overseen by Council Member Rashi Kesarwani.

Some neighbors say they’ve felt the brunt of these housing options in their part of the city. Kesarwani pushed back on that notion Tuesday, and added that the city is in the process of pushing for zoning changes that would encourage supportive housing throughout.

“Every single time (homeless housing was considered), neighbors around these proposed sites were very concerned about the new neighbors. But I have to tell you, once these folks move in, I do not get any complaints.” Kesarwani said, adding that she asked Deputy City Manager Paul Buddenhagen to check 311 logs. “I can tell you when I do get complaints, I get complaints when people are unsheltered in parks, on sidewalks and in residential areas.”

Golden Bear Inn. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli

BACS, which currently runs the Pathways shelter in Berkeley, was chosen for the project several weeks ago and will submit the application to the state jointly with the city and the property owner.

The project moved relatively quickly; BACS responded to Berkeley’s request for contracts in early summer, the state announced funding availability in September and Tuesday’s decision pushed forward the application, which had a January 2022 deadline. The state will announce its approval by February.

Once it’s approved, potential residents will be able to apply for the housing through 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 job resources, healthcare providers and social services once they’re housed at the Golden Bear Inn to enable long-term stability.

“We’re very excited about this project — it’s recently remodeled and in great condition. We really see this as an opportunity to quickly and nimbly create housing for our neighbors who don’t have housing,” Russell said. “This is not a shelter, and this is not a program — this is deeply affordable housing.” 

The Golden Bear Inn project was among the $67 million in funding the City Council allocated at the special meeting Tuesday toward permanent and affordable housing. Other projects include renovating the 54-unit Ashby Lofts; predevelopment costs for an 82-unit development at  Ephesians Legacy Court; renovations of 12 SRO at MLK House; predevelopment costs for the 52-unit at St. Paul Terrace; and developing the 110-unit housing for Berkeley Unified Workforce Housing.

Supriya Yelimeli is Berkeleyside's homelessness and housing reporter. Email: supriya@berkeleyside.org. Twitter: SupriyaYelimeli. Phone: 510-585-8315.