Impatience Pays Off for Mandela Gateway Townhomes

OAKLAND, CALIF. The éclat that accompanied BRIDGE Housing's opening of a transformational new transit village a stone's throw north of the West Oakland Bay Area Rapid Transit station reached a high point in October 2004. Mandela Gateway first came alive then, with 168 affordable family rental apartments, family restaurants, and a bank.

But the plan called for more. A must for the project—for-sale three-bedroom townhomes and condominium flats that would introduce 14 low- and moderateincome families to homeownership— was MIA, snagged in cost and insurance roadblocks for more than three years.

After a decade-plus hiatus, BRIDGE was bent on getting back into homeownership as an essential ingredient of its economic development goals, not just for Mandela Gateway, but for a number of projects that would put more than 300 new for-sale units into its pipeline for this year.

Much of the puzzle was in place— including the fact that Oakland Housing Authority (OHA) handed developers the five-acre site for $1. Still from 2004 up to when construction began in March 2007, the townhomes were touch-and-go. Eleventh hour changes in the insurance market in 2006 and another assist from the city of Oakland and the OHA finally aligned the stars in favor of the $5.9 million project.

“We had to move quickly once we got the go,” says BRIDGE project manager Kristy Wang. Home Bricks, BRIDGE's marketing arm, clocked in with closings on half the units opening weekend, Wang says. Buyers with incomes that range from less than 65 percent of the area median income (AMI) to less than 100 percent of the AMI each received extensive coaching and credit counseling leading up to their first go at owning.

“The owners have a great stake in the community, which is charged up because the Mandela Foods Cooperative grocery store just opened in June,” says Wang. “It's exciting to have it all come together.” —John McManus

A Model for Revival

PHILADELPHIA Solve the jack-o'-lantern effect in one North Philly neighborhood, and you might have found yourself a national model for scattered urban redevelopment that could transform run-down communities.

So it goes with the $18.4 million Ludlow Homeownership project, a 22-block part of the Ludlow Scattered Site HOPE VI development the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) undertook to add a strong for-sale stake among its 89 or so affordable rental units in lower North Philadelphia.

“It wasn't necessarily by design, but all over the country you're seeing foreclosures, vacancies, and home abandonments proliferating in urban areas, so this project takes on added meaning and gives hope for what can be done,” says PHA CEO Carl Greene. “We paid no cost for takings or demolition or land, and didn't displace residents. We just took the abandoned parcels owned publicly, and we've transformed the neighborhood's look and feel with these homes.”

The PHA worked with 27 certified housing counseling agencies and regional banks to prepare people making up to 80 percent of the area median income—between $21,000 and $57,000—to take on homeownership.

Developers retained existing streets and infrastructure of a neighborhood whose bygone heyday was when workers could and would walk to their jobs. Lot sizes were expanded without the need for rezoning, and the 50 new three- and four-bedroom townhomes—going for $160,000 to $175,000—got a brick, vinyl, and stucco look that harmonizes with the neighborhood's historical streetscape.

“Having a strong ownership group, with a homeowners association and a neighborhood association, makes it so that people in the community have more of a stake in how things look and how they work,” says Greene. “It's like re-gentrification, but instead of the blocks being taken over by higher-income new residents, we have lower- to moderate-income longtime residents as part of the change.” —John McManus


Developer: BRIDGE Housing Corp.

Major Funders: Oakland Housing Authority; Oakland Redevelopment Agency; Department of Housing and Urban Development; City of Oakland; Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco with Mechanics Bank; Purchase Proceeds; BRIDGE/Bank of America


Developer: Philadelphia Housing Authority

Major Funders: City of Philadelphia Office of Housing and Community Redevelopment; Department of Housing and Urban Development; State Housing Redevelopment Fund; Purchase Proceeds