A local Jewish organization is looking for residents to invest in condos — that they’ll eventually live in — after securing a zoning permit for a 36-unit co-housing project in West Berkeley last month.
Berkeley Moshav began the process in 2019, when they bought the parcel containing a small one-story building at San Pablo Avenue and Channing Way that was home to a previous location of the now-closed Ohmega Salvage. Roger Studley of Moshav said planning was underway when the pandemic hit, and the development also stalled while they reconfigured their budget.
With the new plans, Berkeley Moshav received their use permit from the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board on March 30. The 50-foot, four-story building will have 36 condo units, 19 car and 42 bicycle parking spaces and cost roughly $50 million.
The co-housing model means the people paying to build the condos, each running between $900,000 to $1.5 million for 1- to 3-bedroom homes, will be the people living in them once construction is completed.
Berkeley Moshav currently has 15 households who have made the initial investment of about $50,000, and is seeking the remainder 21 households to move forward with the project. Studley said construction is expected to begin next year, and all 36 residents would by then have invested the amount that is traditionally a downpayment to kick off the building process.
Studley said they contemplated “long and hard” on including affordable condos in the project, but the cost of developing in the Bay Area made it infeasible for them to try and use local and state affordable housing subsidies (especially for a project that’s already at the “cusp” of market rate.)
“We’ve had people who aren’t Jewish — people of different ethnicities — who are interested, but really at the end of the day, the biggest obstacle has been cost,” Studley said of the ongoing outreach process.
But unlike other market-rate condo developments, Studley said this project will be an intentional community that engages its surrounding community.
The households that are currently participating are varied. They range in age from 30 to 80; some have very young children; one pair is two retired astrophysicists; and another, a couple who met in the Peace Corps together and now have a 3-month-old son. Studley said Moshav is making concerted efforts to reach a balanced, multigenerational group of people.
The project will have kids’ play areas, a lounge and multi-purpose rooms that Studley hopes the neighborhood could eventually use for movie nights or seasonal celebrations.
“This isn’t meant to be just an inwardly facing project,” Studley said, referring to the many benefits co-housing has for the residents who live within its walls, but also those who live around it. “It wouldn’t nearly be as meaningful if it would be just for us.”
He said he hopes it will fill a gap in modern society — one he called the “intermediate cradle of community” — that exists between homes and workplaces, without a third place to enjoy oneself or meet neighbors. He said children from the neighborhood could have a safe place to play within the co-housing project, away from the cars and streets, and families could plan group activities.
The plans are ambitious, and Studley said it will ultimately depend on the group of people who can finance and move into the homes.
West Berkeley Council Member Terry Taplin said Moshav’s proposed housing model fits into the culture of West Berkeley, and he’s enthused about the permit approval.
“People are becoming more and more interested in intentional and communicable living spaces. West Berkeley has always been a place for people of all walks of life and different backgrounds — where they can not only build a home but build community,” Taplin said.
He added that though the development is at market rate, Berkeley needs housing that addresses housing across the income spectrum, and the co-housing plans do not interfere with any of the city’s projected increases in affordable housing.
Many of the initial planning meetings for the Moshav housing were at Congregation Netivot Shalom on University Avenue at Acton Street, also in West Berkeley. Taplin said it’s a bonus that many of the co-housing’s future residents would be able to walk to their synagogue.