Preserving Affordable Housing in West Oakland

When Oakland Planning and Development Corporation (OPDC) purchased the 30-unit apartment building at 141 Robinson Street in December of 2008, it had one goal in mind: to preserve quality affordable housing in Oakland.

The building is in a prime location in West Oakland, as it sits within a block of Carlow University and three major development sites, and is within walking distance of all major Oakland universities, hospitals, bus lines, and the Forbes Avenue and Fifth Avenue retail district. With a few months of tender loving care made possible with funding from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) of Pittsburgh, Allegheny Health Choices and other foundations, OPDC will restore the building and help it live up to its potential.

OPDC purchased 141 Robinson Street from Breachmenders Ministries to maintain affordable housing in a neighborhood with significant development pressures. The neighborhood has experienced a steady turnover of market-rate units that are marketed to students and new construction that is pushing up property values. Although this is a boon to the neighborhood, it is important for the stabilization of the community to maintain affordable housing near employment centers and transit hubs.

One of the first items on the “to-do” list when OPDC purchased the building was to get to know the current tenants at 141 Robinson Street and to make sure that everyone was safe in their apartment. OPDC made appointments with each tenant at their residence in order to take note of any maintenance issues that needed addressed, and to become better acquainted with the residents and their families.

Many of the tenants have lived in Oakland for years, and some have been in the building for close to a decade. After talking with each tenant, OPDC found that they enjoy living at 141 Robinson St., and many are hopeful and confident that the new owners of the building will put the necessary time and attention into rehabilitation efforts and the management of the property.

Elaine Jackson (Percy), a tenant of 141 Robinson Street for 13 years, welcomes and appreciates the hard work that OPDC has put into the building.  She feels that all the changes are “restoring a sense of safety and pride in the units that had been lacking in the past years.”

One of her favorite improvements is the project to light the parking lot, which will definitely make her feel safe and secure.  The new heating system is also a much welcome upgrade, as Mrs. Jackson had experienced problems with her heating in the past.

“OPDC are definitely moving forward with bringing the entire building up to par through remodeling, upgrading and addressing safety concerns.”

Before new paint and carpet can be applied to the common areas of the building or any of the units, OPDC is concentrating on bringing the building up to code and increasing energy efficiency. The new modular boiler system that will be installed this winter is projected to lower monthly gas bills by at least 30%. The next order of business is to restore the vacant units so that they can be rented, and to apply new finishes and make necessary repairs to the laundry room, hallways, stairwells and exterior of the building.

Some of the grant funds that OPDC received for apartment maintenance came through the URA from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s HOME Investment Partnership (HOME) program and the Community Housing Development Organizations (CHDO) program. This funding is contingent upon the designation of 7 units in the building as “affordable,” where the URA will put HOME and CHDO program restrictions on the units and the tenants that live in these apartments. All of the current tenants’ rents are considered affordable, and when all 30 units have been occupied, a minimum of 19 out of 30 units will be affordable. A unit will be considered affordable if the rent is at or below the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) 2009 Fair Market Rents for the Pittsburgh region.

OPDC formed great partnerships with Community Human Services to provide apartments for people recovering from homelessness, and with Allegheny Health Choices to provide affordable housing to people with disabilities. These relationships not only help to reach difficult to serve clients, but also help to keep the units occupied.

The staff at OPDC is confident that this building will be a successful and valuable asset to the neighborhood, and plans to renovate all the empty units for full lease up by summer. One of the organization’s goals is to purchase and renovate up to 100 at-risk residential rental units in the Oakland neighborhoods between 2004 and 2009, and the acquisition of 141 Robinson Street brings them closer to their goal with a total rental stock of 82 units. After rehabilitating the apartments, OPDC will maintain and market these quality affordable units to low/moderate income families.

Read an article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the 141 Robinson Street rehab