Resources for Community Development: Standing Tall in the Downturn
Fallout from the housing crisis and the continuing economic slowdown have been hard on the affordable housing industry. But one organization to not only survive but thrive during the downturn is Resources for Community Development (RCD), a Berkeley, California-based housing provider showing remarkable resilience despite the brisk headwinds.
Founded in 1984, RCD has developed more than 1,750 affordable housing units serving more than 3,500 low-income residents, including more than a third who have special needs. RCD began by serving Berkeley, and has since expanded to Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano, and Marin counties.
"RCD is an organization that understands its mission and performs it exceedingly well," said Jonathan Klein, Senior Vice President of Union Bank's CDF group and its Northern California market manager. "They have a thoughtful and well-planned approach to meeting the needs of their residents, and have created a business that is both strong and sustainable."
A CDF client since 2006, RCD has worked with Union Bank on six projects, recently including the Park Alameda, which will transform the former Alameda Islander motel into 62 units of high-quality affordable housing just blocks from a vibrant commercial district.
Dan Sawislak, RCD's Executive Director, credits the firm's strength in part to its capable staff of 25, who helped build a robust pipeline of projects before the demise of redevelopment agencies in the state earlier this year.
"We try to be very forward-thinking, looking down the road five to seven years," Sawislak said. "Thanks to our strong portfolio, we see ourselves as sustainable even without the funding sources we've lost."
While RCD is firmly rooted in its East Bay home base, the firm prides itself on the wide variety of communities it serves. Highlighting its versatility are two projects financed in part by CDF. In 2008, RCD completed Villa Vasconcellos, a senior housing development in the thriving suburban community of Walnut Creek. Approximately 15 miles away, in a very different landscape, is Fox Courts, completed in 2009 and offering housing for low-income families in downtown Oakland. "When we built on the site, it was old parking lots and auto shops," Sawislak said. "We've been able to develop in affluent communities while also supporting the revitalization of disadvantaged areas throughout the Bay Area."
Fortunately, in recent years the area surrounding Fox Courts has been completely transformed, with significant help from the City of Oakland.
"Looking ahead, there's reason for cautious optimism about affordable housing in California," said Sawislak, who joined RCD in 1993. "This is definitely one of the most difficult times I've seen in the business," he said, noting that some in the industry compare it to a bleak stretch in the 1980s after federal housing assistance was curtailed and before the advent of low-income housing tax credits.
Still, he believes the ongoing need for affordable housing will lead governments to find replacements for redevelopment funding, a process which will accelerate once the economy finally turns around. "There's reason for hope — but it could take a little while," he said.