Berkeley City Council votes to adopt housing recommendations from NAACP

Maggie Soun/Staff

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Berkeley City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt affordable housing recommendations brought forward by the NAACP and the Housing Advisory Commission.

Built from about a year of community outreach by the NAACP, the recommendations include prioritizing the construction of new affordable housing in South Berkeley, hosting a housing workshop with representatives from minority action groups and monitoring the development of the Berkeley Way parking lot into supportive housing.

“(Gentrification) is propelling Berkeley in the direction of Palo Alto,” said Councilmember Max Anderson. “It’s these kinds of policies that keep us from becoming a homogenous city that excludes diverse people economically and racially.”

In July 2013, the NAACP held a town hall meeting to express concerns about gentrification and supportive or affordable housing in Berkeley and since then has worked within the community to gather information for the recommendations. A workshop focused on affordable housing will take place in August and will be organized by Anderson and Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

Besides the construction of more supportive housing, the NAACP recommended the removal of a requirement that new residential buildings must provide one parking space per 1,000 square feet of floor space, which they said would hinder development of new low-income housing.

“The lack of affordable housing has led to a huge exodus of the African American population and forced out a lot of low-income families,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin. “It’s changing the demographics of our city.”

Much of the housing built in Berkeley is “very high income,” according to Arreguin, who said that only about 17 percent of people who work in Berkeley live within the city.
In 2010, 10 percent of Berkeley residents were black or African American, down from 20 percent in 1980.

Housing prices have skyrocketed in Berkeley, making it difficult for working families and individuals to rent or buy units, said Dan Sawislak, executive director of Resources for Community Development, an affordable housing nonprofit based in Berkeley.

“The prices take up a large percentage of somebody’s income,” he said. “It’s challenging for the elderly and has kept people homeless. It’s not just a Berkeley problem but a California and national problem.”

In addition to the creation of more supportive housing, the NAACP urged the city of Berkeley to make its housing boards more indicative of ethnic demographics by appointing more blacks, Latinos, Asians and Pacific Islanders to those positions.

Arreguin believes that minimum wage increases in conjunction with affordable housing will slow gentrification and demographic change in the long term.

“Berkeley has one of the biggest wealth gaps in the entire Bay Area,” he said. “We need to do something to improve wages and create affordable housing options so that we can maintain a diverse community.”

Contact Madeleine Pauker at [email protected].