Opinion: City Councilwoman Kate Harrison pushes policies that make housing less affordable

Harrison and her appointees have consistently advocated for policies that would make new housing less affordable and produce fewer affordable homes.

City Councilwoman Kate Harrison claims to support affordable housing, but her record tells a different story: she and her appointees have consistently pushed policies that would make new housing less affordable and produce fewer affordable homes. When there’s an opportunity to support policies that create more affordable housing, she and her appointed commissioners are frequently on the wrong side of the issue.

Our housing shortage is a complex crisis. We need all options on the table. But Harrison and her allies have tried to sabotage many effective solutions. Two clear examples were her votes on a project at 2902 Adeline St. and on the city’s position on Senate Bill 1227—State Senator Nancy Skinner’s bill to create dedicated affordable units of student housing.

When 2902 Adeline came before City Council with a deal to provide 10 affordable units and funding for eviction prevention, Harrison stood by and abstained. It was only when the 10th affordable unit was cut (but community benefits were added) that she was willing to support it.

When the opportunity to support SB 1227 came before the City Council, Harrison voted against supporting the legislation.

It is surprisingly easy to feign support for “affordable housing” while making it impossible to build. Last year, Harrison ignored a bevy of experts on urban planning, displacement, and affordability by demanding fees that were not only too high but too variable and unpredictable, for builders to reasonably pay back their lenders—which, in many cases, are public pension funds.

Later in the year, she attempted to repeal and replace a cornerstone piece of Berkeley’s Downtown Plan—the significant community benefits package. When asked by the local press if she understood that her proposed “community benefits package” could stall the very developments intended to pay for these benefits, she dismissed the question entirely.

Her appointees to numerous commissions have pushed the same anti-housing agenda, too. To note a particularly baffling example: Carrie Olson, Harrison’s appointee to the Zoning Adjustments Board, voted to reject an apartment building in South Berkeley that would have brought $1 million into the Housing Trust Fund, because it would have cast shadows and provide “too much open space” on its roof deck.

Harrison’s appointed Landmarks Preservation Commissioner, Steve Finacom, attempted to landmark Campanile Way as a mechanism to prevent several new buildings from going up downtown. One of these buildings has proposed providing either 55 affordable units or paying over $10 million into the affordable housing trust fund.

One of Harrison’s reliable donors and appointed emergency stand-by officer, Kelly Hammargren, even wrote an op-ed in the Daily Cal extolling the importance of stopping this housing development at 2211 Harold Way. Later, Harrison’s husband, James Hendry, joined Hammargren in a lawsuit to block the building’s final permits.

A judge found many of the plaintiffs’ claims “unsupported by any authority,” “factually incorrect,” or simply “without merit,” but they succeeded in holding up a project that will be contributing $10 million to Berkeley’s Housing Trust Fund.

Meanwhile, Berkeley’s median home prices have risen to rival those of San Francisco and Marin County. It is worth asking exactly which community Harrison seeks to “benefit.”

Her policies do not benefit subsidized affordable housing or those who struggle to find it. When the City Council considered legislation to streamline the permitting process for 100% affordable housing,  Harrison and City Councilwoman Sophie Hahn tried to include amendments that would have rendered it wholly ineffective. Further, Harrison trotted out wholly irrelevant, classist, vaguely racist dog-whistles about brutalist architecture and low-income projects on the East Coast.

Nor has her record benefitted Berkeley homeowners who wish to add living capacity on their property to house a growing family. When Berkeley was reforming its regulations on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) to incentivize more “granny flats” in existing homes, Harrison co-sponsored legislation that would have violated state law to require more parking spots than necessary and “protect views from obstruction” from any new ADU construction. This would have made these homes impossible to permit in many of our neighborhoods. After denying its existence at several candidate forums, Harrison finally deleted this clause.

Given the company she keeps, and the record she is running on, it is doubtful that Harrison truly cares about how much affordable housing the city can provide—or how quickly it can do so. Ultimately, it does not really matter whether she earnestly believes her ill-advised proposals can indeed make Berkeley more affordable, or whether her rhetoric is merely a cynical scheme to obstruct much-needed housing and preserve the status quo. Either way, the outcome is the same.

Wise voters should reject the unfortunate status quo that Harrison represents. The rent is too damn high.

Diego Aguilar-Canabal is a member of the Berkeley Democratic Club. He is supporting Ben Gould and Greg Magofña for District 4. Jonathan Morris is a five-year-resident of Berkeley and formerly served as the Graduate Assembly External Affairs vice president. Adam Orford is the vice-president of finance for the Graduate Student Assembly. Andrew and Quinn Dombrowski and their three under-five children are residents of District 4 who are enjoying the challenges and opportunities of raising a family in the vibrant environment of Berkeley's downtown core.