Ed Roberts Dream
Ed Roberts Vision Becomes a Reality
Visionary and activist Ed Roberts dedicated his life to creating a world where people with disabilities could live independently and with the freedom to make their own choices on how to live their lives. He was the first person with significant disabilities to attend UC Berkeley – a right he had to fight to obtain – and he founded the UC’s Physically Disabled Students Program, which became the model for Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living. Roberts became the first California State Director of Rehabilitation with a disability, and was co-founder and president of the World Institute on Disability.
After Robert’s death in 1995, disability community leaders, together with city council representatives, agreed to commemorate his life and service by establishing the Ed Roberts Campus (ERC), dedicated to improving the services and opportunities for people with disabilities locally and worldwide. “The creation of the Campus has given the disability community more visibility. For the first time we feel we have a voice in the community,” said Dmitri Belser, Executive Director for the Center for Accessible Technology, one of the founding organizations that will reside at ERC.
The ERC is a multi-tenant center that includes the seven founding partner groups – Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program, Center for Accessible Technology, Center for Independent Living, Computer Technologies Program, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Through the Looking Glass and World Institute on Disability – along with other agencies that provide a variety of services for the disability community. The project is guided by the principles of universal design, which seeks to create a user-friendly environment for all people regardless of age or disability, and also incorporates green and transit-oriented concepts.
The 80,000 sq. ft. building boasts accessible elevators and automatic doors, as well as specially designed signage and “way-finding” devices that guide people who are blind or otherwise sight-impaired. The natural ventilation and non-toxic materials create a healthy indoor air quality, and the roof-top photovoltaic and energy-efficient building systems reduce energy consumption by over 50%. As a transit-oriented campus located at the Ashby BART Station in Berkeley, it connects riders to the San Francisco and Oakland International Airports, and Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District buses. The paths and walkways surrounding the building are designed to maximize access and safety for pedestrians, wheelchair users and cyclists.
The ERC was financed through a multi-million dollar public-private partnership, including a $2,187,500 construction loan from NCCLF in partnership with Catholic Healthcare West and Mercy Partnership Fund. NCCLF then allocated New Market Tax Credit (NMTC) financing in the amount of $25 million which, combined with a $14.5 million Tax Credit through the National Development Council, and an equity investment from JP Morgan Chase, provided ERC with very low-cost financing for this pivotal project. “We’re delighted that the Ed Roberts Campus was the first organization to take advantage of our NMTC financing capacity,” noted Dutch Haarsma, NCCLF Senior Vice President, who oversees the new program.
The NMTC program is designed to spark investment in economic development projects throughout the country. The U.S. Treasury Department awards tax credit allocations to certified Community Development Entities (CDEs) such as NCCLF. In turn, CDEs provide the tax credits to private investors to leverage private sector capital into often overlooked low-income communities. In exchange for investing in a qualified project, an investor claims the tax credits over a seven year period. To date, NCCLF has been awarded a total of $60 million in NMTCs. “It took a lot of time to raise the money to complete this project,” said Dmitri. “I don’t think we would have celebrated our grand opening last month if it weren’t for NCCLF’s help with the New Market Tax Credits.”
The Ed Roberts Campus is not only a model for the Independent Living Movement, but also serves the entire community by providing jobs and services for people living in the Berkeley area. In honor of his contributions providing greater equality for people with disabilities, former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger designated January 23 Ed Roberts Day in California. The campus celebrated its grand opening April 9 2011, launching the legacy of a man who refused to allow his disability to keep him from achieving the goals he, and so many like him, had been denied in the past. “Ed’s life was about collaboration,” said Dmitri. “And this project was a community effort where everyone came together and made this miracle a reality.”
For another successful NCCLF project using New Markets Tax Credits, click here.