Journal of Housing & Community Development
Featured Story

Awards of Excellence: Acts Cyrene Apartments

May 24, 2019

The Oakland Housing Authority (OHA) wins a 2018 Award of Excellence in Community Revitalization for partnering with local stakeholders to provide affordable housing and combat displacement in Oakland, Calif. Nominated from among the NAHRO Award of Merit winners each year, the Awards of Excellence winners are chosen by national juries and honored at the annual National Conference and Exhibition in October. They represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development.  

Like all major cities across the country, Oakland is dealing with large-scale gentrification and a shrinking amount of affordable housing stock. The tech boom in the San Francisco Bay and Silicon Valley areas brought in scores of new homeowners and renters, devastating this historically black neighborhood’s limited housing stock. Oakland, once known as the “Harlem of the West,” has thefastest-rising rents in the nation, leading to the mass displacement of the black community whose families lived there for generations.  

Acts Full Gospel Church, a faith-based organization with over 7,500 members, had seen a surge in economic hardship among its congregants, as well as an increased number of members moving away to more affordable suburbs. The church decided to combat this displacement by developing housing and commercial space to help revitalize their community. Over 13 years, they bought 13 blighted neighborhood sites in East Oakland that would later become the Acts Cyrene apartments. 

The church created the Acts Community Development Corp. and partnered with Related California, a real estate firm experienced in building mixed-income/mixed-use developments, and the City of Oakland to apply for Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) to start their development. However, their LIHTC applications were unsuccessful until the Oakland Housing Authority (OHA) joined their partnership and made their application more competitive by contributing $2.6 million to the project.  

The sites purchased by the church were located on the newly renamed International Boulevard, a major roadway that links East Oakland to the downtown commercial center a few miles away. Also known as State Route 185, and renamed to East 14th Street in the 1990s, the corridor was once a thriving and vibrant area, served by streetcars and well-connected to the rest of the city. Unfortunately, the demise of the streetcars increased suburbanization in surrounding areas and decreased investment in the urban neighborhoods along the boulevard. Over time, the neighborhood’s amenities, safety, and economic viability declined.  

The Acts Cyrene apartments are the result of the community’s efforts to bring in economic prosperity and combat gentrification in Oakland. Completed in November 2017, Acts Cyrene is a gated 59-unit affordable family housing community situated along International Boulevard. The project’s design pairs well with the Bay Area’s distinctive mixed-use communities. Its contemporary design resembles individual apartment buildings, and the structures were stacked compactly and efficiently to reduce construction costs. The apartments also feature community outdoor spaces such as a tot-lot for children and a barbeque area where residents can gather.  

Inside the building, residents have access to a double-height study and lounge area, computer room, a lending library with a seating area with views of the hills, and a community/lounge space that also serves a study area for school-age children. Also, a large community room is available to residents as a gathering place and a community kitchen; classes, job training and workshops are also offered there.  The building is CalGreen compliant and is in the process of achieving a Green Point Rated Gold certification. Sustainability features include:  

  • Stormwater runoff from the roof and the parking area drains into a bioswale;  
  • The grounds have native drought-tolerant landscaping with a high-efficiency irrigation system;  
  • Energy Star-rated appliances in the units; 
  • Low flow plumbing fixtures; and  
  • Low V.O.C. finishes to maintain indoor air quality.  

OHA provided $2.6 million of public funding, partnered with Acts Full Church on a successful LIHTC application (which in turn secured $16.6 million in additional funding), and contributed 14 Project-Based Vouchers to the project. Forty percent of the units were reserved for households with incomes less than 30 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI). When OHA started leasing units, residents of Oakland, members of the military, veterans, and those being displaced from their housing in Oakland received priority preferences. Also, 14 units were saved for homeless individuals. Ten percent of the units are wheelchair accessible and the other units are adaptable. Lastly, there are three units for the hearing or visually impaired.  

Sixteen people were hired due to construction – 12 new employees were Oakland residents and seven were Section 3 hires. The ground floor commercial space will also bring additional jobs into the community and will benefit from having a bus stop in front of the development. To provide easier transportation to community members and residents, the area’s transportation system will be overhauled to accommodate more traffic and a bus stop may be installed to connect residents to their jobs, retail and grocery stores, services, and recreational activities in multiple cities.

Community members and leaders saw the negative changes in their community and decided to fight back. By enlisting the help of OHA and other partners, they were able to create new affordable housing, and jumpstart revitalization in a city rich with history and culture.   

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