Affirming affordability

CITY AFFAIRS: While Berkeley’s new affordable housing mitigation fee may have unintended negative impacts, its overall result is positive.

Related Posts

Berkeley needs affordable housing. The city has the largest gap between rich and poor in the Bay Area, and 10 percent of households make less than $10,000 a year, according to The Bay Citizen. Thankfully, local leaders have established a tradition of promoting housing that the poorest residents can pay for — a laudable precedent that was further solidified through Berkeley’s new affordable housing mitigation fee.

Approved by the Berkeley City Council last week, the $28,000 fee per unit applies to developers who do not make 10 percent of their units affordable. Money from the fee would support the city’s Housing Trust Fund, which in turn finances affordable housing projects. The policy will keep developers in line with Berkeley values and facilitate the construction of affordable housing throughout the city.

While most new housing projects will need to pay if they don’t create such units, the council made the right decision to exempt the Berkeley Student Cooperative from the fee. Since the cooperative already provides affordable housing to hundreds of students in the Berkeley area, a costly fee shouldn’t prevent it from expanding its reach.

The fee’s high cost might hinder its success in other areas, however.  A few members of the local development community told The Daily Californian that the $28,000 fee is far too high and that most developers will probably choose to create affordable units rather than pay it. This means the fee could backfire if no one pays into the housing fund, thereby potentially diminishing the caliber of affordable housing projects it supports. Arguably, housing provided through the fund offers better services to residents because of the fund’s very specific affordability requirements.

Developers raise a concerning point. A lack of support for the housing fund could detract from the quality of and access to affordable housing, which is likely not the intent of creating the fee. Once implemented, the council must revisit the fee at a later point to determine its effectiveness. The fee should be re-evaluated if the city finds that the housing fund is failing to live up to its potential as a result of little support from the mitigation fee.

But even if no developers pay the fee, its very existence will still mean that Berkeley is providing more housing for low-income residents; the city’s goal will be accomplished either way. Because of the fee, Berkeley is set to see an increase in affordable housing units — a valuable asset for the city — no matter what.

The new affordable housing mitigation fee is founded on an admirable principle: the city should help ensure that its poorest residents can afford to live here. As students, we understand how expensive the cost of living is in Berkeley and the need for housing where very low-income residents can live. This fee will not bring people out of poverty, but it should at least help some residents keep a roof over their heads.