The Northern California Land Trust plans to convert its longtime building into a seven-story, 65-unit co-op and condo model for permanently affordable housing in South Berkeley, with space reserved for existing community organizations.
The building spans 3120-3130 Shattuck Ave. (at Woolsey Street) and is home to the land trust headquarters of 50 years, the Long Haul Infoshop and the Homeless Action Center (HAC). The block includes the Starry Plough Pub and La Peña Cultural Center and has a rich history of working-class organizing and service providers for both housed and homeless residents.
It’s also in the core of South Berkeley — once a historic Black neighborhood — and the NCLT hopes the new building will prioritize residents who were pushed out of the neighborhood due to gentrification.
The city is working on a “Right of Return” plan to help displaced residents place roots back in Berkeley. NCLT executive director Ian Winters envisions the new housing as part of that plan, especially for future residents to own property and build wealth in the city.
“For (Right of Return) to really mean something, there’s got to be somewhere you can afford to return to,” Winters said. “We’re pretty explicitly hoping that this can be that.”
The ambitious “Woolsey Gardens” project would cost between $40 million to $50 million, according to the land trust, and eventually become the nonprofit’s most extensive affordable housing development. The land trust acquired an eight-unit apartment complex on Tenth Street last year and a seven-bedroom “safe haven” house operated by HAC downtown.
The project is in the initial stages and includes 65 units (co-op and condos) priced for people with incomes between 30% and 80% of the area median income. It would consist of 5,700 square feet of commercial space for “micro-entrepreneur spaces” and the nonprofits currently occupying the building, a rooftop and community space.
The Long Haul Infoshop began renting space from the land trust in the late 1970s after a grocery store closed down at the location. It’s a radical organizing space, printshop, and the headquarters for the Slingshot Collective, which produces a leftist magazine and calendar and has served as an incubator for generations of local writers. A massive archive of alternative Bay Area publications lines the walls of the Long Haul space.
If the land trust secures funding and plans move forward, construction will begin in the summer of 2024 and be completed about two years later.
The collective that organizes Long Haul is concerned that they would be displaced indefinitely and that the DIY ethos of their space — built with generations of handiwork — could be permanently altered.
The land trust has extended offers to HAC and Long Haul to maintain their original lease and collaborate on fundraising for temporary relocation. Conversations are ongoing.
Sarah Holtz, a member of the collective, said many people are concerned the development could feel very “sterile” and lack the spirit of its current location. They’re also not certain they can trust that they’ll have input in the development plans or be able to return if there is a delay in funding or other reasons.
Essential services like Berkeley NEED, a safe needle exchange program, use the Long Haul space. It also offers an open kitchen, communal meeting areas and sometimes — like during an extremely frigid winter — simply a warm space to sit. Physically, it interacts with the communities who visit HAC next door and stays open later in the evening.
Holtz said this service is vital to unhoused people, who may not necessarily be candidates for the affordable housing planned at the property.
“Spaces like ours and groups like ours, we’re kind of an endangered species, for lack of a better word, in the Bay Area,” Holtz said. “I think that’s the fear. Community change is inevitable, but we don’t want these things to disappear.”
Winters emphasized that HAC and Long Haul are important to the future of the building if they agree to be a part of it.
“NCLT drove organizing to buy the building and keep it permanently affordable —specifically to focus on hosting community orgs and being a long-term home for them,” he said of the building’s history.
The project has only secured about $1 million in grants for environmental features so far, but Winters said he’s confident it will be an “extremely competitive” candidate for numerous sources of state and local funding.
It will also include features to better the neighborhood — like providing a “resilience hub” that could maintain services offered at HAC, for example, if there’s a power outage.
Notably, he wants the building to be accessible and safe for a host of community organizations and said it’s well past its “design life” as a former grocery store, now a service hub.
Alan Haber, a founder of Long Haul, was actively involved in Berkeley. Even from afar, he still has a vested interest in the space and adjacent movements like People’s Park.
He handmade some pieces of the space that still exist today and spoke lovingly of its architecture — including a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired skylight that lends a glow to Long Haul’s exhaustive paper archive in the mornings and afternoons.
Haber said the land trust’s plan on paper could be of immense value to the neighborhood as long as they unfold hand-in-hand with the history of the block.
“There’s a lot of shell games played with good intentions,” Haber said.
“I can’t say that a bunch of anarchist lunatics running around with funny newsletters is more important than affordable housing for a bunch of poor people, but it’s all part of the picture,” he said. “The Long Haul is an amazing social institution — just as People’s Park has become, and people who think in terms of money often don’t recognize that.”