EL CERRITO -- Construction has just begun on a $28 million, four-story development of affordable rental housing with commercial space on the ground floor.

The Ohlone Gardens project, at 6449 Portola Drive, is a block east of San Pablo Avenue, adjacent to the BART tracks and the Ohlone Greenway, roughly midway between the El Cerrito Plaza and El Cerrito Del Norte BART stations.

The residential portion of the project will include 18 one-bedroom, 21 two-bedroom and 18 three-bedroom apartments which will be restricted to tenants with incomes from 30 percent to 50 percent of the Bay Area median income or $27,600 to $46,000 for a family of four.

Ten of the units will be reserved for special needs residents, including households living with HIV/AIDS or mental health issues.

Rents are expected to range from $234 to $836 for a one-bedroom apartment, $601 to $1,003 for a two-bedroom unit and $696 to $1,160 for a three-bedroom unit.

The project will include a community room with a kitchen, a computer lab and meeting space, a fitness and teen room and a community laundry room.

The apartments will surround an interior courtyard and soundproofing will be installed that will muffle the noise from BART trains.

The developer, Berkeley-based Resources for Community Development, is looking for a tenant for the project's 3,189-square-foot commercial space.

The space could house a medical clinic or offices, said Carolyn Bookhart, RCD's housing development director.

"It could be split up, but it will most likely be leased to one tenant," she said.

RCD received approvals from the city for the project in 2009, but has waited until now to begin construction because of difficulties in lining up financing during the real estate downturn, she said.

The project was going to be a partnership with the Hatlen Center for the Blind in San Pablo, which was going to set up an educational center in the commercial space and place some of its clients in the apartments, Bookhart said.

"Eventually (Hatlen) decided to pursue a different business direction and left the partnership," she said.

Much of the funding for construction is coming from low-income housing tax credits, a common funding mechanism for developers of affordable housing.

The city is contributing $3.5 million and county and state agencies are providing about $5.6 million.

"We received all the financing we needed, and we got the building permits and everything mobilized," Bookhart said.

RCD expects the project to be completed by June of next year.

The project is similar to the Creekside project, which is scheduled to begin construction soon near the El Cerrito Plaza shopping center, and three other projects in the planning stages in the city.

RCD has developed and now owns 50 properties with about 1,900 units of affordable housing in Contra Costa, Alameda, Solano and Marin counties, many of which are apartment developments combined with retail space, Bookhart said.

Ceremony
The official groundbreaking for Ohlone Gardens will be held from 4:30 to 6 p.m. April 22 at the project site, 6495 Portola Drive.