Berkeley City Council approves item to convert parking spaces into housing

Tracy Lam/Staff

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At its Tuesday meeting, Berkeley City Council unanimously voted to adopt an item that would lessen the requirements for the implementation of parking spaces.

The affordable housing package is designed to reduce the construction of underutilized parking spaces, particularly in areas that are in close proximity to public transit stations. The newly partitioned spaces could then be used for housing developments.

“There’s a housing crisis, and there’s a fixed quantity of land,” said Garret Christensen, a UC Berkeley researcher in the economics department who was at the meeting. “There is a huge demand, and if you want the price to go down, you need more housing.”

The average price for a rent-controlled, one-bedroom apartment in Berkeley is $1,400 per month, while the average price for a nonrent-controlled apartment is $3,526 per month, according to the item.

Berkeley residents also lauded the item during public comment for the positive environmental effect it would have by discouraging the use of cars.

“We support any work to prioritize people over cars,” said Eric Panzer, chair of Livable Berkeley, an organization that supports measures that aim to improve Berkeley residents’ quality of life.

Some council members, however, were worried the money saved through the provisions would not find its way to affordable housing in the city.

“The overall question I have is: How, by doing this, are we going to assure that the money saved (in parking) is going to go to affordable housing?” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin. “Parking is a pretty significant cost to a project, and developers are going to pocket that money if they can.”

Councilmember Susan Wengraf also voiced concern during the meeting, noting the shortage of parking in residential areas, particularly during the workday, when campus faculty and city employees often park in surrounding neighborhoods.

Councilmember Lori Droste, who drafted the agenda item, said the program would not eliminate access to parking but would rather use the excess for new affordable housing units.

“It’s not forcing people to create less parking,” Droste said. “It’s just allowing more flexibility to not make parking that would be underutilized.”

The council also deferred votes on whether to contribute $1 million to the city’s Housing Trust Fund and raise the cap on predevelopment of affordable housing projects.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who proposed the loan, stressed that with nonprofit grant cycles coming up in January, March, June and July, the city needs to focus on increasing funds for predevelopment soon in order to make the maximum amount of progress on creating more affordable housing.

“If we get five nonprofits grants from predevelopment funds, they could bring more than $20 million (to) Berkeley for affordable housing units,” Worthington said. “That’s a really good return on your investment.”

Contact Jessica Lynn and Brenna Smith at [email protected].