Federal Reserve Bank gains first-hand view of EBALDC’s holistic, healthy neighborhoods approach

Nov 4, 2014
By Monique Beeler
 
Fostering healthy neighborhoods through partnership is an EBALDC byword, one that an early fall tour of organization properties along the San Pablo Avenue Corridor made clear to guests from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, including bank President and CEO John Williams.
 
Joshua Simon, executive director for the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation, led the tour that took participants for a brief visit to the San Pablo Hotel and a stop outside EBALDC partner St. Mary’s Center, followed by a more extensive tour of California Hotel, encompassing visits to the thriving community garden operated by EBALDC partner People’s Garden and ground floor commercial space that will soon host area businesses.
 
The early October tour also highlighted the San Pablo Avenue Corridor Collaborative, an EBALDC PIP project. As a Partners in Progress -- or PIP -- grantee, EBALDC is building new partnerships to further promote health and community development that benefit residents living along the 1.5-mile San Pablo Avenue Corridor.
Image of Emily Chin, John Williams, Scott Turner and Josh Simon in front of California Hotel fireplace.
As tour participants travelled by van along San Pablo Avenue, home to many of the poorest families in Oakland, Simon pointed out sites near Brush Street and West Grand Avenue where EBALDC is preparing future housing projects or, as he put it, “setting up a pipeline for years to come.”
 
“We’re planning family housing with a ground floor Head Start program,” said Simon, as he pointed out a trio of buildings on a corner behind a storage business.
 
“When did you purchase the sites,” asked John Moon, district manager for Community Development for the Federal Reserve Bank.
 
“During the recession,” Simon said.
 
“Ah, smart,” Moon said.
 
In addition to Williams and Moon, tour participants included Scott Turner, vice president for Community Engagement for the Federal Reserve Bank, and Emily Lin, vice chair of the EBALDC Board of Directors. Additional EBALDC staff members on hand to answer questions were Chief Operating Officer Charise Fong and Healthy Neighborhoods Manager Romi Hall. Amber Lamason, resident service supervisor, joined the group at the California Hotel.
 
In its 39-year history, Simon said, EBALDC has added 2,046 housing units to Oakland and the East Bay, and 150 more are on the way with the projects he discussed with the Federal Reserve Bank representatives. But property prices in the area are recovering and rents have jumped 20 percent in the past year, he noted. Given the economic recovery from the recession and the growing number of jobs it’s expected to bring to the region, additional EBALDC housing will be welcome. The effects of a recession often hit low-income individuals hardest and benefit them last when the recovery comes, Simon observed.
 
“What’s important is (EBALDC’s new Brush Street housing) will be for families,” Simon said. “A lot of these families are going to be priced out of the area. It’s basically workforce housing.”
 
It’s an issue of particular importance to those in the business community, said Williams, a member of the executive committee for the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored public policy advocacy organization.
 
“Business leaders, this is their biggest concern: Where are their employees going to be able to live?” Williams said.
 
Moments later, the van idled briefly in front of the gates to St. Mary’s Center, a PIP initiative partner. Simon illustrated how neighborhood health isn’t only about high quality, affordable housing, by pointing out a small green space across the street with potential to become a safe and vibrant meeting place that contributes to neighborhood health. On this sunny weekday afternoon, however, the park’s tiny patch of lawn is dominated by a group of men lounging and gibing each other raucously. 
 
While no action is imminent, the green space known as St. Andrew’s Plaza represents the types of prospective projects that EBALDC and its seven PIP partners, including the Federal Reserve Bank and St. Mary’s Center, have trained their sights on. 
EBALDC is one of 14 recipients nationwide of a $250,000 PIP grant. The grant model calls for EBALDC to serve as a “community quarterback” that coordinates and leads a coalition of community partners. Their goal? Improve neighborhood safety, healthy food access, public spaces, transportation, education and economic opportunities in the San Pablo Avenue Corridor. EBALDC’s other PIP partners include Alameda County Public Health Department, City of Oakland Planning Department, East Bay Housing Organizations, Healthy Communities, LifeLong Medical Center and People’s Grocery.
 
Moving on to the main stop on the tour, participants filed into the airy, light-filled lobby at the California Hotel, a living space that demonstrates what’s possible when residents and EBALDC team up. Simon shared a brief history of the hotel, from its role as a cultural centerpiece for 30 years to its more recent past when residents rallied to protest a proposal to demolish the building and insisted that the previous building owner move on.
 
“It really was the residents of this building who demanded it not be torn down,” Simon explained. “EBALDC stepped in, and we’re glad we did.”
 
Today, California Hotel provides 137 apartment homes to individuals from babies to elders, including formerly homeless residents and some who live with mental health issues. 
 
After stops in the residents’ computer center and the spacious community room and kitchen, tour participants stepped into the demonstration garden at the back of the building run by People’s Grocery, another PIP initiative partner.
 
Standing amid a riot of leafy chard, raspberries on the vine, fragrant rosemary shrubs and trees bearing fruit from lemons to plums, Garden and Greenhouse Coordinator Larry Davis, an Oakland native, greeted the party and gave them a brief orientation. 
 
“We have a California Garden out here we do for the residents and try to increase food awareness,” he said. “We’ve got everything growing out here that’s in season.” 
 
“We have a permaculture over here. We have raised beds on the side. Everything out here is edible. We have chickens, we have beehives, we just planted 10 new fruit trees.”
 
Programs offered through the People’s Grocery team include a Thursday night Flavasof the Garden gathering and regular opportunities to plant, harvest and tend to the garden. Davis also proudly mentions that they’ve gotten the kids who live at California Hotel eating collard green wraps and clamoring for smoothies, not to mention some adults who have used the garden’s bounty to turn their health around.
 
“We have a few people here who have been reducing their medication, because we’ve got them on a smoothie campaign,” Davis said.
 
As tour participants left the garden area, Simon observed: “This is the essence of the Healthy Neighborhood work: It’s not our job to do everything, it’s our job to support people.” 
 
“This is amazing work you’re doing here,” Williams said. 
 
The tour concluded with a viewing of a large commercial space on the ground floor of California Hotel. EBALDC’s Fong explained that future tenants are chosen based in part on their compatibility with a Healthy Neighborhoods approach. For instance, restaurants occupying EBALDC space must offer at least one healthy dish under $5. 
 
Following the tour, Williams of the Federal Reserve Bank said he appreciated hearing about “all the positives,” including EBALDC’s foresight in buying properties before the economic recovery.
 
“The thing that stands out is the vision to think of this as a community holistically,” he said. “It’s not just about putting roofs over people’s heads. (They’re) thinking about people’s health, people’s health care, eating fresh fruits and vegetables and thinking about quality of life more broadly.”
 
Not only did the tour shine a spotlight on EBALDC accomplishments and ongoing progress, it strengthened a key connection. Simon credited the Federal Reserve Bank’s research and resources for helping to guide EBALDC thinking, including sharing lessons from around the country about effective healthy neighborhoods approaches.
 
Said Simon: “It was a great opportunity to talk about the importance of organizations working together, the importance of addressing the problems of displacement as the economy improves and addressing the fact that although many people are benefiting from the recovery, many people are struggling.” 
 
About East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation
EBALDC works with and for all the diverse populations of the East Bay to build healthy, vibrant and safe neighborhoods. EBALDC develops and manages 23 high quality affordable apartments and commercial spaces totalling more than 300,000 square feet for small businesses and community organizations, while fostering increased economic opportunities for low-income families and individuals. These comprehensive programs help families and individuals begin a path toward financial security and access the resources they need to lead healthy, stable and fulfilling lives. www.ebaldc.org
 
About Partners in Progress
Partners in Progress is a new initiative created by the Citi Foundation and the Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) to advance economic progress in low-income communities. This initiative is aimed at transforming not only the community development field, but also the lives of people across the country. In 2014, PIP will provide $3.25 million to 13 grantees in communities across the country, including EBALDC.