Opinion: New homes in District 8 can fund affordable housing and bring in more tax revenue

There are many things Berkeley has to do, but existing taxpayer pockets are limited. It’s time to build new homes and grow the tax base.

Funding affordable housing. Fixing aging streets and sewers. Fulfilling pension obligations and raising workers’ pay to keep up with the cost of living. There are many things Berkeley has to do, but existing taxpayer pockets are limited. It’s time to build new homes and grow the tax base.

There’s efficiency in numbers. Back in my student days, I lived in the co-ops, in a pair of hundred-year-old mansions expanded into a 58-person community via additions in the back. On the Zero Waste Commission, I’ve seen how the cost per household to pick up trash, compost and recycling is lower at apartments. Many of Berkeley’s biggest costs — retrofitting Old City Hall, reopening Willard Pool, saving Alta Bates, housing the homeless — are fixed costs that can be more affordable if there are more of us to split the bill with.

I support Measure O and P to fund affordable housing. That said, it’s only the first scoop in a deep bucket, and it’ll be tough to ask homeowners – many retired and living on fixed incomes — to shoulder the rest of the load. We don’t have to. New market rate housing is one of our largest sources of affordable housing funding – a large building brings in several million dollars of funds at no cost to existing taxpayers.

In District 8, where land is valuable — yet almost nothing has been built — projects can support higher levels of community benefits and greater percentages of affordable units. For example, Oakland has three development fee zones, with buildings in places such as Rockridge and Downtown charged the highest level of fees.

As for where new homes can grow in District 8:

  • At bus stops along College, Telegraph, and near the Claremont Hotel, new apartment buildings of 4-6 stories, with a couple taller ones at locations with minimal shadow impact such as the Whole Foods parking lot.
  • In the hills, legalizing the division of large houses into multiple homes. To avoid parking and traffic impacts, the number of residential parking permits can be capped.
  • Elsewhere, allowing small apartment buildings of 2-4 units to be built behind existing homes, similar to the many that already exist in backyards along and west of College.

Getting this to work without causing a traffic and parking crisis, Berkeley can move away from the 20th-century model of driving being the default choice. I know that many existing residents have established commutes and daily routines that need a car, therefore, the focus should be on new residents. I’ll continue and expand the program where new housing is approved on the condition that it does not come with parking permits, and expand RPP zones to cover more areas. I personally make 99% of trips on foot, bike, or mass transit.

There’s an economic benefit to driving less. Berkeley doesn’t make cars, and we don’t produce oil either. Reducing car use yields a green dividend – more money recirculating in the local economy instead of being spent on gas.

By sharing the space in our city, we share the costs of running it – and also share in the colorful culture and experiment that is Berkeley. I’m proud to have the first-choice endorsement of Cal Berkeley Democrats, Our Revolution East Bay, East Bay Young Democrats, and many others, as well as the second-choice endorsement of League of Conservation Voters East Bay and UC Berkeley Progressive Student Association.

Alfred Twu is a designer, artist and candidate for the District 8 seat on the Berkeley City Council.