Opinion: It’s time for Berkeley to address the housing crisis in our city

With the elections over, REAL Berkeley believes it is time for the City Council to address the city’s housing crisis, which is not the same as the homelessness crisis.

With the elections over, Real Equity & Access to a Livable (REAL) Berkeley believes it is now time for the Council to address what is widely accepted as a housing crisis in our city. This crisis is not the same as the homeless problem, which requires a different set of solutions.

REAL Berkeley first addressed the City Council in February 2016 and then again in July 2016, expressing our support for a comprehensive housing plan that addresses all income levels, including middle-income working people, low-income residents, young people entering the workforce, seniors, people with disabilities and people experiencing homelessness.

More housing at all levels is required to meet the crisis gripping our city, undermining the economic, social and multiracial diversity of Berkeley.

Developing new housing – especially along Berkeley’s main transit corridors – must be a priority.

Providing new workforce, affordable AND market rate housing is the clearest path to meeting the critical shortage of housing in our city.

To accomplish this, the City Council has to act more boldly.

Although the housing problems and solutions are regional and national, Berkeley needs to implement local solutions. According to city records, there has been real success in doing that over the past four years:

  • 973 market-rate and 118 low-income units are under construction or actively pursuing building permits;
  • 65 of the 118 units are being built by nonprofits;
  • The Harold Way project (355 market-rate units) will pay $10 million into the Housing Trust Fund.

Additional monies were generated in the last election that can help fund development of workforce and affordable housing. These include revenues from Measure A1, the Alameda County Housing Bond, and Measure U1. Additionally, the city increased the affordable housing impact fee last year to $30,000 per market rate unit. However, these funds are nowhere near enough to meet the shortage crisis.

The adoption of a City Density Bonus will allow Berkeley to require more workforce housing from developers. In exchange for allowing greater heights along transit corridors, new buildings on these corridors can be required to set aside a greater portion of family units at prices affordable to teachers, healthcare workers and the like, who work in Berkeley. This is smart city policy.

To leverage this, the city must continue to work with both for-profit and nonprofit developers to bring about the necessary mix of market rate, workforce and affordable housing.

REAL Berkeley urges the Council to build on past successes and continue to focus on putting new housing along transit corridors. Development along these corridors enhances the character of the City, reducing the need for more cars, bringing people into areas that need the residential and foot traffic, leading to more shops, restaurants and businesses to serve the population growth and generate tax revenues.

In general, we think that all transit corridors should be reviewed for development potential because we need to approach this on a much bigger scale. We urge the Council to develop this mindset and, as it does so, involve adjacent neighborhoods so we can build projects that benefit the whole city, bring in revenues, a diversified population and businesses.

To that end, we recommend:

  • Get more affordable units by leveraging the strong demand for market-rate housing
  • Develop a plan to get non-profit developers more into the mix
  • Develop a city density bonus
  • Explore putting affordable units above the city’s senior centers
  • Look at all transit corridors as places for development

None of this is easy or simple. Every inch of progress we make in planning for more housing, even in the downtown, has been challenged and delayed. However, the character of our city is at stake. We need plans and programs that can be realized and that benefit all Berkeley’s residents.

The Steering Committee of REAL Berkeley (Real Equity & Access to a Livable): Stephanie Allan, Josh Daniels, Barry Fike, Calvin Fong, Tim Frank, Jack Kurzweil, Darryl Moore, Julie Sinai, Kad Smith and Jeff Vincent.