Speak up on Tuesday for affordable housing in Berkeley

Becky O'Malley
Friday June 09, 2017 - 09:57:00 AM

If you’re part of the majority of Berkeleyans who voted to throw the rascals out in the recent November and March elections, Tuesday is your chance to speak up for what you voted for.

That would be, by most counts, to put an end to turning the prime downtown building sites, the ones close to BART and other transit opportunities, completely over to unbridled luxury market rate housing developers, the ones targeting San Francisco’s tech overflow, which are cleverly designed to absorb flight capital from Russia, China and elsewhere. If you think we don’t need any more of that kind of trash, you should show up on Tuesday to support just-seated Downtown Councilmember Kate Harrison’s proposal to , at least, exact a decent number of reasonably priced units from speculative developers to prevent wholesale gentrification of our city's core.

That would be Item 53 on Tuesday’s Council agenda, which requires developers to provide $34,000 per market rate unit or 20% of the total units in their buildings for affordable housing. That means genuinely affordable housing, accessible for low income people, not just for the well-heeled. The figures are based on a consultant’s study completed for the city of Berkeley in 2015 based on 2014 data. Even that study doesn’t even take into account that rents have risen by 22% to 28% since then, so it should be well within builders’ ability to comply.

The Berkeley Progressive Alliance, which backed the newly elected councilmembers, summarizes it thus:

  • Sets the affordable housing fee that developers would pay at $34,000 per market rate unit if paid when construction begins, or $37,000 per market rate unit when the building is occupied (usually two to three years later.)
  • Requires that 20% of all units be affordable to Low and Very Low income families if developers opt not to pay the fee.
  • Adds an inflation adjustment to the fee based on the California Construction Cost Index every two years AND
  • Requires that developers state upfront whether they will pay the fee or build the units. Currently, developers can wait until the project is almost complete to make this decision, making it difficult for the city and non-profit housing developers to plan.
This is a good start to reform the practices of the previous council, which have allowed a vast oversupply of unaffordable (and ugly) Big Boxes to be built all over Berkeley, luring affluent San Francisco commuters but doing nothing for strapped local renters .

Berkeleyans should be warned that the noxious Trickle-Down crowd, the San Francisco BARFers, a developer-funded group which masquerades under the faux flag of Bay Area Renters Federation, seem to be planning a full court press at Tuesday’s meeting, bringing in their arrogant supporters from elsewhere to lobby against the proposal. One would hope that the newly elected councilmembers and the mayor won’t be fooled, but Councilmembers Droste, Maio and Wengraf, holdovers from the last bunch, might be tempted to vote with BARF.

As we discussed in this space last week, the idea that market-rate (read pricey) developments eventually become available to the less affluent has been widely discredited, in disparate locations like London and India, not just in San Francisco and Berkeley.

It’s really too bad that it still seems to take a parade of public commenters to pass the simplest,most obvious reforms at the Berkeley City Council, but that seems to be the case. Showing up is half the battle. At least the new council is starting the meeting earlier, so it will be over by a reasonable hour. Come on down to speak up for Item 53.


Berkeley City Council Public Hearing

June 13; 6:00 p.m. (note earlier starting time)

Council Chambers, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way

And if you can’t make it, please write to council@cityofberkeley.info to express your opinion.