Low Income Housing Draws Opposition

Hannah Christopher, Staff Writer

In September of this year, Eden Housing, a housing development company for the disadvantaged, will finish construction of a new lower-income senior housing project in downtown Orinda, providing 67 affordable rental apartments while also helping out the environment.
Eden Housing’s Orinda Senior Apartments aim to provide affordable housing for seniors earning at or below thirty to fifty percent of the Contra Costa County Area median income, by requiring that residents pay only thirty percent of their income for rent.
With a Green Point Rated score of more than 150 points, which measures the quality of energy efficiency, the housing will include solar-heated water and photovoltaic systems to achieve a highly sustainable design. According to Eden Housing, seniors will be provided with a large community room containing a kitchen, an exercise room, a learning center with computers and a library, laundry facilities, and a large courtyard with a barbecue and a community garden. Onsite free supportive services will help guide seniors in living a healthy life in a safe environment while also having access to downtown transportation, restaurants, and other amenities.
Orinda residents may have noticed this construction as well as other new low-income housing near the Orinda police station. Both of these were enacted by the Associate of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), which fulfill California’s mandated duty to use data to assign affordable, below-market-rate (BMR) housing quotas for each city.  These new projects are also apart of Plan Bay Area, a plan to manage population grown through 2040 by changing zoning laws to create apartments and condominiums around BART stations for low, moderate, and high incomes. By locating these new housing projects near transportation hotspots, PBA aims to reduce greenhouse gases.
This new housing has seen opposition from organizations, such as Orinda Watch and Save Orinda: “The high-rise, high density development forces will certainly be seeking to advance their own self-serving agenda… (an) unfortunate “new urbanism” planning philosophy, evidenced by stack-and-pack housing,” a representative of Save Orinda said. However, these groups also recognize that with the approval from the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), Orinda will be able to continue the funds allocated through Measure J for road maintenance.
Lower income, high-density housing has also met opposition in Lafayette. The Lafayette City Council has written several letters to PBA, asking for fewer housing units assigned to the downtown area. Mayor Mike Anderson expressed his concerns regarding unmanageable traffic, parking, and other problems that the housing might cause.
“PBA has no effect on Orinda’s ability to continue to review and approve or deny development proposals in our community,” Orinda City Manager Janet Keeter said. She surfaces an important point: that as residents of Orinda, locals have the ultimate say in what happens to the city. The ability to use this voice to either support or dismantle future planning in Orinda is significant.