Guest Editorial

How affordable homes can really happen at the Concord NWS

Guest EditorialCONCORD, CA (Mar. 20, 2022) — After years of work, the Concord City Council is moving forward to transform the Concord Naval Weapons Station into a vibrant part of our community. Housing costs and homelessness are two of the greatest challenges in the East Bay, and utilizing this public land is a valuable opportunity to address these problems.

Concord First, the City’s chosen master developer, has signed up for a big challenge. Our member organizations build affordable homes with the same materials, quality finishes, and skilled union labor as more expensive homes, but we use specialized processes and funding to ensure affordability while contributing to overall economic growth.

As mission-driven housing providers, we want the community to understand the process and ensure that the full benefit of this opportunity is realized. So, we are writing today to share with you a bit about what we know from decades of regional experience, including 15 years of advocating and advising on the Base Reuse Project.

Did you know, the project already has a requirement that 25% of the homes will be affordable to people who make less than 80% of the area median income? That’s more than 3,000 homes – a visionary commitment to house Contra Costa residents. These homes will be affordable, for example, to an elderly couple living on social security or a single mother with children. Hundreds must be set aside for people currently experiencing homelessness, which, in the best practices of experienced developers, helps people stay stably housed when paired with supportive services and integrated with the neighborhood.

For this mixed-income community to take shape, the developer will have to identify or contribute funding to start piecing together a complex array of funding sources. A project usually must have some local funds to be competitive for state grants or federal tax credits that are set aside for affordable housing. That’s why committing to affordable housing and making a plan early on is important. The City and County’s affordable housing funds are limited, so Concord First’s contribution of land and some funding will be critical to the project’s success.

The details of how homes are built matter a lot when we create affordable housing. To meet the city’s goal of a “world-class project” the homes and the plan need to be done right. For example, less than 5% of homes nationwide are accessible to people with mobility difficulties who need accessible design to safely move through their homes, and disabled people are much more likely to be low-income.

Affordable apartment homes are often built as accessible homes connected with transit that residents need to reach promised amenities – schools, sports fields, and a new regional park. This new community is next to the North Concord BART Station, so it should be designed to give residents – disabled or not, lower-income or triple-digit earners, white, Black, or brown – every incentive to hop on the train.

We can build the homes we need, prevent and reduce homelessness, and ensure connections to transit to keep Highway 4 less congested for current and future residents. In April, the City Council has the opportunity to hold Concord First to high standards; and Concord First has a chance to partner with non-profits, make their vision real with a financial commitment, and do affordable housing right.

This article is a Guest Editorial published in the March 18, 2022 issue of The Concord Clayton Pioneer.

Gloria Bruce

Gloria Bruce is the MCP, Executive Director at East Bay Housing Organizations. EBHO is a member-driven organization working to preserve, protect, and create affordable housing opportunities for low-income communities in the East Bay by educating, advocating, organizing, and building coalitions.