South Berkeley Black churches are building affordable housing on their properties

The parcels are part of the ongoing Adeline Corridor Plan near Ashby BART.

Rev. Anthony Hughes of St. Paul AME Church in South Berkeley, which was founded in 1933. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli

Historically Black churches in Berkeley are building affordable housing on their properties as part of the new Adeline corridor plan, creating new units for low-income, senior and homeless residents.

St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church and Ephesian Church of God in Christ are partnering with the city and Richmond-based Community Housing Development Corporation (CHDC), a housing nonprofit, to create the 52-unit St. Paul Terrace at 2024 Ashby Ave. and the 82-unit Ephesians Legacy Court at 1708 Harmon St.

If the nonprofit is able to secure state SB 35 funds, CHDC will reserve 11 units at St. Paul Terrace and 20 units at Ephesians Legacy Court for people who were formerly homeless.

Both projects are in the initial stages and are receiving part of a $67 million allocation from the city toward affordable housing projects from Measure O and general funds. The projects, part of ongoing discussions around gentrification and housing segregation in Berkeley, are expected to start construction in the summer.

The $9.8 million St. Paul Terrace project will be built on the church’s existing worship center, or multi-purpose room, and parking lot for all households earning between 30% to 60% of the area median income (AMI).

Rev. Anthony Hughes at St. Paul AME said, like the city and county, the church has a moral obligation to contribute to region-wide efforts in ending the housing crisis. He said funding in this project isn’t specifically earmarked for a certain demographic, but adding even one unit to the overall housing stock would help alleviate the burden on shelters and transitional housing.

A rendering of low-income housing at the St. Paul AME Church in South Berkeley. Credit: St. Paul AME

“I think something has to be done so that we get back to the idea that housing is a right, rather than a privilege,” said Hughes, explaining that the church congregation overwhelmingly supported the new development, even though it requires demolishing a space where many people got married, celebrated birthdays and other special occasions.

He added that the church hopes to do more outreach in the surrounding community to inform people of the plans and receive feedback.

The nearly century-old Ephesian church, on Alcatraz Avenue, has a parking lot and a vacant building on Harmon Street that would be converted into a $13 million housing complex for seniors earning between 33% to 60% of AMI.

Discussions to turn the church properties into housing began in 2020 following input from community members, and both parcels were adopted into the Adeline Corridor Plan in 2021. The projects received dozens of letters of support from members of their congregations, as well as neighbors.

“It’s so important for the African American community to be able to decide … how we use [our land],” West Berkeley Councilmember Terry Taplin said at the time, commenting on the church properties.

The Adeline Corridor Plan lays out a decade-long vision to reconfigure the South Berkeley neighborhood surrounding Ashby BART. It noted that while many neighborhood institutions like Black churches and shops remain in the area, their congregations and patrons have been priced out of South Berkeley and North Oakland.

Building more housing for the neighborhood overall is one step toward ensuring people can afford to live in Berkeley, Hughes said.

Other Berkeley churches have also used their property for affordable housing

The interior of the McGee Avenue Baptist Church on Stuart Street in South Berkeley. Credit: McGee Avenue Baptist Church

Multiple church properties have partnered with the city to create housing on their properties in the last few years. All Souls Episcopal Parish broke ground on the 34-unit Jordan Court, North Berkeley’s first affordable housing project in nearly 30 years, in 2020.

The project also houses seniors whose income is between 20% and 60% of the median income in the area. After the building was completed, a waitlist for units closed last fall and residents have begun moving into the building on a weekly basis, according to property manager Sam Fakiri.

In September 2019, the century-old McGee Avenue Baptist Church on Stuart Street in South Berkeley secured a $1 million loan from the city to transform an existing eight-unit apartment complex and cottage on its property into affordable housing.

The project, in partnership with the Bay Area Land Trust, was the first to tap into the city’s “small sites” program making use of a property the church had owned since the 1970s.

Affordable housing projects such as these will factor into the city’s plan to create nearly 9,000 housing units in the next decade to meet state housing goals.

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