Lower San Antonio
Lower San Antonio
The Lower San Antonio is an eclectic, multi-ethnic neighborhood made up mostly of African American, Latino and Asian American families. Historically, the area has received less than its proportional share of public investment and social services, which has contributed to its high levels of economic distress. However, since the implementation of the Making Connections initiatives, enormous changes have happened in the LSA.
Eastside Arts Alliance (ESAA)
Eastside Arts Alliance is one of the many organizations that was able to increase its neighborhood impact due to the LSA Fund. A multi-cultural, multi-media community arts center, ESAA brings together Asian, Latino, Native and African American communities in the Lower San Antonio to create a cultural dialogue of understanding and solidarity, social and political involvement, and leadership development. ESAA was created in 1999 by a group of artists, cultural workers, and community organizers who met once a month to share their vision and ideas for their community, and dreamed one day of purchasing their own building to create a multi-ethnic cultural center.
With a loan from NCCLF, Eastside Arts Alliance purchased a building that had been abandoned for 30 years, and the Eastside Cultural Center was born. “NCCLF was crucial in helping us navigate the purchase,” says Elena Serrano, Program Director at ESAA. “It’s an organization that walks like a bank but doesn’t talk like a bank, and that’s what made the process so easy.” The Center now presents weekly performances and ongoing arts workshops, and has open rooms for recording artists, videography and printmaking. The renovated building also includes a second floor with 16 units of affordable housing.
Orchards Senior Housing
In addition to providing loans, the LSA Fund offers small grants to nonprofit developers to cover predevelopment expenses – the range of upfront costs needed to evaluate the feasibility of a site or project. To date, NCCLF has disbursed ten grants of $50,000 to nine qualified organizations. These grants were used for survey fees, market studies, impact studies, architectural costs, etc. One such “site characterization” grant to Affordable Housing Associates (AHA) revealed the need for low-income senior housing. In response, AHA developed Orchards Senior Housing, a 65-unit complex serving low-income elderly residents.
After this initial grant, AHA received an additional $100,000 in predevelopment funds from the LSA Fund to help pay for environmental assessment costs, engineering costs, real estate taxes, legal fees and tax credit fees. A loan through the City of Oakland financed the construction costs, and the Orchards on Foothill opened in late 2008. The building includes universal design features for residents with disabilities, inviting community rooms decorated with art quilts, and a community garden where tenants can plant a small garden.
St. Joseph’s Senior and Family Housing
An imposing brick building on 1.32 acres of land, St. Josephs was originally built in 1912 as a convalescent home for the elderly. Most recently, this massive structure was utilized as office space. “The community impact study, which was funded by the site characterization grant, showed a definite need for affordable housing in the LSA,” says Smitha Seshadri, the Project Manager of the St. Joseph’s facility for BRIDGE Economic Development Corporation. “With that in hand, we were able to move forward with the construction.”
As with any project this venturesome, there were roadblocks along the way. As the site is a designated Oakland historical landmark, some of the buildings could not be demolished. However, this gave BRIDGE the opportunity to use Historic Tax Credits towards restoration, and these venerable buildings were turned into affordable housing for seniors. BRIDGE had also planned 12 units of affordable housing in the construction. But, in light of the home ownership financing market, the focus shifted to affordable family rentals instead. “As with any project, you have to be ready to adjust to changes as they come up,” says Seshadri. “But as long as we can achieve our goal of creating affordable housing for those who need it the most, we have succeeded.”
The impact of The Lower San Antonio Fund on the neighborhood it was created to serve has been striking. Where an abandoned building once stood, a thriving cultural center lives and breathes; a vacant industrial property is now a home for low-income seniors; a nearly 100-year-old convalescent home provides housing for low-income families. These are just a few examples of how lives can change for the better when organizations and individuals come together to invest in local communities. It is happening now in Lower San Antonio, paving the way for brighter futures for generations to come.