Downtown Berkeley to see spike in housing developments

Downtown Berkeley Association/Courtesy
Fidelity Apartments, located near the intersection of Shattuck and Bancroft, will be one of many new housing developments in Downtown Berkeley.

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Hard hats and construction trucks may become a familiar sight to Berkeley residents within the next few years as Downtown Berkeley experiences a surge in housing developments.

More than 1,400 new housing units in Downtown Berkeley are set for completion by 2018, a number the Downtown Berkeley Association expects will both affect rent prices and nearly double the city’s population, bringing the number of Downtown residents up to 5,500.

Many of the developments underway could serve as rent-controlled, student-friendly apartments for UC Berkeley students upon completion.

Lance Goree, operations manager for the Downtown Berkeley Association, said because of its location and easy access to public transportation, Berkeley is now a “hot destination” for those looking for housing. The association is an independent organization that is facilitating the housing projects and represents nearly 200 property owners and their business tenants.

Though all the projects are predicted to be completed by 2018, some are expected to be ready earlier. Goree said he expects Fidelity Apartments, which are located near the intersection of Shattuck and Bancroft, to be finished within six months.

Some of the projects have already received requests to reserve rooms in advance — including those that have not yet passed zoning laws. One project, Berkeley Central, filled about one-third of its rooms within one month of opening last year.

“Berkeley is a very good location, but our rental supply is very low, and that’s why rentals are really hitting hard now,” Goree said. “It’s just such a needed commodity. To keep rents at a somewhat affordable level, you need to supply (the demand).”

Although Goree reasoned that the additional apartments will curb the steady rise in rent rates, unit prices are still expected to increase.

According to a market report from Cassidy Turley, a commercial real estate service firm, Alameda County leads the Bay Area in rental costs. The asking price for rentals in the county increased by more than 8 percent over the last year.

When faced with rising rent, students can look into alternative options to the traditional apartment route. The Open Door Development Group, a real estate development firm that creates co-living communities in cities across the Bay Area, stresses sharing economy practices — like car- and meal-sharing — to reduce residents’ living expenses.

Open Door has recently established a space less than a mile west from the Downtown Berkeley BART station called the Farm House. The house, set to open April 1, is currently accepting applications from prospective residents.

“Inspiration, impact and income — that’s the purpose of the house,” said Jay Standish, co-founder of Open Door. “That’s why we started it — to create a platform for people to live together in that inquiry and help each other live lives of significance.”

Standish explained that because the house is geared more toward older generations, it may be more of interest to graduate students than undergraduates.

Whether residents will be students, professionals or families, populations are expected to rise. To combat concerns about crowding and traffic issues, Goree said developers are already thinking in advance for solutions, and a number of the plans include bicycle receptacles and underground garages.

“Issues that you never could have thought of are going to come up, and they’re going to have to be solved,” he said. “Nothing is going to be completely smooth.”

Contact Tahmina Achekzai at [email protected]