Southside Plan will increase affordable housing around campus

Following longstanding efforts to increase affordable housing throughout the city of Berkeley, the Berkeley City Council’s passage of the Southside Plan last week will further promote the development of affordable units over the next few years as the city seeks to increase the availability of low-cost housing for UC Berkeley students.

One of the main goals of the plan — which affects more than 11,000 year-round residents, students and employees of UC Berkeley in the area south of campus — is to increase affordable housing development to encourage the Southside population to live in close proximity to the campus and rely more on public transportation.

“Over 10 years ago, when the city was developing a draft Southside Plan, there was an affordable housing crisis in Berkeley,” said Councilmember Jesse

Arreguin, who has been working on the Southside Plan for several years. “As rents skyrocketed, many students found it difficult to find a place to live —  forcing some to crash on people’s couches and even forcing one student to sleep in the BART station.”

Today, approximately 57 percent of the Southside area is made up of 5,350 campus, campus-affiliated nonprofit and private sector housing units. For this reason, Igor Tregub, commissioner for the city’s Rent Stabilization Board, said the goal of increased affordable housing is very important for students.

“Affordable housing was one of the driving factors behind the Southside Plan to begin with — particularly important for students,” said Elizabeth Greene, senior planner for the Southside Plan. “The point of affordable housing is to make sure that people who want to live in area can live there … students going to (college) are usually not the wealthiest people in world.”

During last week’s discussion to pass the plan, council members proposed three additional amendments involving affordable housing specifically set aside for students, including development on university-owned and additional surface parking lots, according to Greene.

Representatives from the Berkeley Student Cooperative, which provides low-cost housing for approximately 1,300 UC Berkeley students, attended last week’s meeting to advocate for affordable student housing and an exemption from the capital renewal fee — which charges a 4 percent assessment on the total budget of a housing development on campus property totaling over $100,000.

“Working with the University and the City, we think we have a lot to contribute to the goals of the Southside Plan and to a commitment shared by all three parties to attract an economically diverse group of students to Berkeley,” said Elaina Marshalek, president of the BSC Board of Directors, in an email.

The council’s third suggestion calls on the campus to allow student housing development to be exempt from the capital renewal fee. The new fee — created this summer — replaced the parking replacement fee which required developers of low-cost student housing on former campus property to pay the campus approximately $35,000 for each parking space lost to this type of development.

“There have been some meaningful changes to the zoning on Southside that will encourage housing closer to campus,” said Andy Katz, a former ASUC official who worked on the Southside Plan when he was a UC Berkeley student. “In my comment to the council, I told them, ‘It was about time.’”

Anjuli Sastry covers housing.