Formerly Berkeley Food & Housing Project
We are excited to welcome Scott Barshay to the BFHP Board of Directors. Scott brings a wealth of experience and expertise to our organization, having served as a lawyer in the field of affordable housing for over 30 years. As a founding partner of Gubb & Barshay LLP, Scott has devoted his career to advocating for and representing affordable housing developers, working tirelessly to bring affordable housing access to communities across the state. We are confident that his expertise and passion will greatly benefit BFHP in our efforts to provide access to affordable housing for all. We are grateful to have Scott join us on this journey and look forward to working with him to make a meaningful impact on the lives we serve.
Learn about Scott’s story and his career in affordable housing from our interview below.
My name is Scott Barshay. I have been an attorney working in the field of housing law for about 35 years. We represented nonprofit housing clients all over California trying to develop property mostly through the use of low-income housing tax credits or other federal and state programs. I have lived in the area of North Berkeley for nearly 40 years, and I’ve got two kids who are 24 and 26 and mostly on their way in the world. Since retiring earlier this year, I’ve been doing volunteer work in a sixth grade class at King Middle School. I’ve also started to work at a used bookstore for the Friends of the Berkeley Public Library and I’ve recently joined the board here in hopes to help it make an impact in Berkeley and other regions.
It took me a little while to adjust to not having to sit behind a desk for 10 hours a day returning email. (laughs) It took a few months for my hands to decompress from all the typing, right? Also to think about what things would I enjoy doing? What kinds of things are within my comfort zone that I can give back to the community. After almost a year now, I think I’ve got a good balance.
Complete serendipity. While in law school, I found out what I enjoyed was tax law… which I’m sure to most people sounds incredibly boring. Even to me it sounds a little boring (laughs). But really, tax law is kind of like economics or philosophy in the sense that you’re dealing with models and principles, making changes to those models, and analyzing how that affects the outcome. So after law school, I started doing tax work at a law firm in San Francisco. This was right when the low income housing tax credit had been enacted by Congress. It was a moment when there were a lot of housing lawyers out here, but none of them knew how the low income housing tax credit worked.
A colleague of mine, Natalie Gubb, jumped right in. She left our tax department and began working at a housing law firm where she wrote some of the California legislation for how the credit worked. Then she got so busy, I joined the firm to help her. The two of us split off a few years later and started our own firm, Gubb & Barshay, that we led for over 30 years.
Editor’s Note: The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit provides a tax incentive to construct or rehabilitate affordable rental housing for low-income households. The LIHTC program was enacted as part of the 1986 Tax Reform Act and has been modified numerous times. Since the mid-1990’s, the program has supported the construction or rehabilitation of over 2 million units. Source: Tax Policy Center of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution
Well, the low-income housing tax credit became the primary driver of affordable housing in the United States. We were lucky enough to be able to use this tax knowledge we had acquired in another context for producing these favorable outcomes for housing. We were grappling with so much at the beginning – aspects of the program that are now well settled.
In the early years, no one really knew how it worked, so we got to work with state regulatory agencies and attorneys for investors to try to figure out how to make the tax credit a viable program. Looking back now, it’s amazing how we were in the right place at the right time when the program started and things grew from there.
Bringing an affordable housing unit to life requires navigating a complex web of requirements, but we have always approached this challenge with a long-term perspective and a commitment to partnering closely with our clients. By working closely with all stakeholders, including lenders, investors, and government agencies, we were able to educate and inform them about the importance of affordable housing and the unique challenges that come with developing it.
By building strong relationships and cultivating trust, we could work together towards the common goal of getting the housing built, even if there were delays or changes along the way. Everyone was on the same team, in the sense that everyone’s ultimate goal was to get the housing built. But of course, all parties have their own sub-goals and rules they have to follow to get there. If you could eventually get all the stakeholders on the same page, you could get the project built.
One that I get to drive by all the time is Jordan Court, which is the first affordable project built in North Berkeley for 30 years. While it’s not the biggest project, it was desperately needed for the senior community. There were concerns for the project and its financial stability, as well as from the neighboring community. For such a small project, there were a lot of complications navigating the requirements and concerns of the government agencies, the land owner, and neighbors in the community.
People can be blinded by their own prejudices, especially those still stuck in a 1960’s idea that development is bad and will have negative economic and social impacts. They end up not understanding all the positive benefits to development or thinking about where people are going to live. But based on the studies I’ve seen, these projects are actually helping neighborhoods. Certainly the projects built with a good team behind it.
I first really noticed it when I lived three blocks from the Hope Center. And so I would walk by it all the time, particularly when the pandemic started. Everyone was working from home then (laughs), so I took a lot of walks and would watch the progress of the Center. I was familiar with the building and Bridge Housing, but not as familiar with the Berkeley Food and Housing Project yet. But as I was watching the progress of the building and started looking into the organization, I could see that they were doing a lot of incredible things and how they were putting together this amazing Hope Center for the City of Berkeley.
The main thing is that the Hope Center combines all of the different facilities into one building. That’s not really been done very much in this space. And that’s the beauty of it. You have everything all together in one structure built right into the community.
Having organizations like BFHP and Bridge Housing who are willing to take that step knowing that they can design the building and design the programs in a way that will allow them to operate it properly. Fitting a building like that into this neighborhood is difficult to do and they’ve done a magnificent job at it.
Building more affordable housing and providing more support to homeless individuals through initiatives like the Hope Center requires a multi-faceted approach.
We must consider land use decisions and work to pass legislation that makes it easier to develop affordable housing on underutilized land, such as churches. There is currently a bill trying to be passed now that would allow churches to develop their land into housing more easily. So that’s a big step in the right direction.
Additionally, we must find permanent financing sources to provide the necessary subsidies to serve low-income individuals. While we have made progress in this area, with cities like LA and Sacramento providing significant funding for housing, we need to ensure that this support is sustainable and not reliant on the fluctuations of the economy. It will take a significant investment of resources, billions and billions per year for the next decade, but the end result of providing safe and stable housing for all members of our communities is worth the cost.