Resources for Community Development is pulling out of UC Berkeley’s supportive housing project at People’s Park over delays stemming from ongoing court actions around the park, according to the nonprofit.
The supportive housing project is one piece of UC Berkeley’s plans for the embattled People’s Park site, where a 12-hour standoff last summer blocked the university’s attempts to begin construction. The university also hopes to build a 1,100-bed student housing development at People’s Park.
A lawsuit over state environmental laws (known as CEQA) and the projects’ Environmental Impact Report (EIR) brought the projects to a grinding halt days after the protests, and a judge has since sided with plaintiffs. The university is now appealing the case in the state Supreme Court with the support of the state and the city.
RCD did not comment on when they chose to back out of the project, but confirmed Wednesday they have notified UC Berkeley of their decision. UC Berkeley said it will pivot, but is still committed to supportive housing at People’s Park.
Lauren Lyon, spokesperson for RCD, said the court case jeopardized the project’s approval because the UC Regents’ approval of the project was contingent on UC Berkeley’s EIR being valid. An appeals court judge in February decided the university’s EIR was deficient because the university didn’t consider other sites for the project, or potential noise impacts of student housing in the Southside neighborhood.
“RCD continues to be deeply committed to providing housing solutions for low-income individuals and families, unhoused people, and those at risk of being unhoused,” Lyon said in a statement. With this commitment in mind, RCD is reallocating our non-profit organization’s limited resources to other developments.”
RCD declined to comment on whether ongoing protests, pushback and controversy around People’s Park shaped or influenced the nonprofit’s decision to back out of the project, or whether it will remain a party to the university’s Supreme Court appeal.
Dan Mogulof, UC spokesperson, said the university “respects and understands” RCD’s move, but will “miss the partnership and wise counsel they have provided.” He reiterated the university’s commitment to building supportive housing at the site.
The project hasn’t moved forward tangibly since September 2021, when the UC Regents approved RCD and the university’s plans (Cal is developing the student housing portion itself.) At the time, RCD committed to a supportive housing complex for about 125 extremely low-income, unhoused or formerly housed people. About 2 acres of the park are intended to remain green space.
The supportive housing element of the project emerged from conversations between UC Berkeley and the city of Berkeley, and the $82.6 million settlement between the two entities in July 21 over town-and-gown relations and the university’s expansion plans. Under the terms of the agreement, the city agreed not to block development at People’s Park.
Since the settlement, the City Council has vehemently backed the People’s Park development project, with dissent coming from longtime activists, former unhoused residents at the park and student activists.
Mayor Jesse Arreguín did not mince words, placing the blame for RCD dropping the project squarely on plaintiffs in the lawsuit over Cal’s development, and others who have halted construction.
“The blame does not fall on RCD, but rather the minority of people who are determined to stop progress,” Arreguín wrote in a statement Wednesday night. “They have used the homeless as a prop to support their campaign of obstruction, all the while denying 125 units of needed permanent supportive housing for our formerly homeless neighbors.”
Hundreds of students and grassroots organizers have stepped up to call for an end to construction since last summer and well before, and several groups have distinct demands over what should happen at the park — including a return of the land to indigenous groups.
Federal funding for the project fell through last year
Both the city and plaintiffs in the lawsuit are lobbing claims that the other’s actions led to RCD losing the option of federal funding for supportive housing through project-based Section 8 vouchers.
The Berkeley Housing Authority (which is in charge of the city’s Section 8 program) was coordinating that process for RCD with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) last year.
According to emails between HUD and BHA that were shared with Berkeleyside by a member of People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group, the potential funding fell through in December 2022.
The problem stemmed from the UC involving RCD’s supportive housing in its court arguments.
Last winter, the appeals court said that UC Berkeley didn’t consider other sites adequately. UC, in a counterargument to the court, put forward that the supportive housing portion of the project wouldn’t work at other sites.
RCD had been moving forward with acquiring funding independently, but UC’s argument attached their project to the student housing construction in the eyes of HUD. The agency decided that when UC attempted to start construction at the site over the summer — it violated terms that said RCD had to complete an environmental review before any construction.
This ultimately disqualified them for the HUD funding, according to the emails reviewed by Berkeleyside.
The developer and the local housing authority withdrew their funding application because the UC wouldn’t halt its plans for RCD to do a separate environmental review on the supportive housing project, according to the emails.
“The ability to demonstrate that the supportive housing was a separate project completely independent of UC’s projects was negated when UC entered a brief in court defending the CEQA arguing that alternate sites for Housing Project #2 were not studied because they would not fit both UC’s programs along with the supportive housing, which was intrinsic and interrelated to the UC development at People’s Park,” the Berkeley Housing Authority wrote in a notice to HUD on Dec. 12, 2022. “Since UC is not willing to delay its projects for the completion of NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act], no federal funds may be used on the supportive housing.”
RCD and UC Berkeley declined to comment on the loss of funding, and whether that led to RCD’s ultimate decision to back out of the project.
Mayor Arreguín and Southside councilmember Rigel Robinson said the dropped federal funding was also the fault of plaintiffs.
“Their campaign of ‘no’ has resulted in the loss of millions of dollars and project based Section 8 vouchers which would have helped us achieve our goal of housing for those living in Peoples Park and on the streets,” Arreguín said. “And now their delays have put the project to a complete halt.”
Harvey Smith, a member of the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group, said the mayor’s statements are part of a continued “campaign of misinformation” painting the lawsuit plaintiffs as a NIMBY, neighborhood group opposed to affordable housing and development. He said RCD’s decision to drop out of the project is indicative of the university’s bad planning from the start, and emphasized the importance of a park for the people of Southside Berkeley.
“Both the city and the university want to increase the number of people that live in the Southside — but we need a park, that’s totally essential,” Smith said. “It was a bad idea from the beginning — the whole project.”
Mogulof said it’s premature to talk about a new developer or funding for the project, but the university is “confident” it will ultimately secure funding and partnerships for its plans.
The city has allocated about $14 million to the supportive housing project.