City Council to present information reports on affordable housing

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Berkeley City Council will meet Tuesday evening during a special meeting to discuss issues regarding regional, market-rate, nonprofit and public housing.

Rent and home sale prices in Berkeley have been rising sharply in recent years due to the increase in construction costs. According to an information report from interim city manager Dee Williams-Ridley, Berkeley’s estimated market rent increased by 12 percent over the past year. The rise in housing prices affects everyone, particularly low-income families, students, seniors and disabled individuals.

At the meeting, 13 speakers — including Mayor Tom Bates and campus city and regional planning professor Karen Chapple — will be presenting to City Council regarding existing challenges and solutions to the city’s shifting housing landscape.

The area is attracting employment, but the city is having a hard time increasing housing,” said Carrie Lutjens, assistant project manager for Satellite Affordable Housing Associates.

The Bay Area is also affected by insufficient sites for housing. According to Susan Friedland, executive director of Satellite Affordable Housing Associates, who will present at the meeting, sites for housing have to be the right size and price and in the right zone and conditions.

The sites cannot be in industrial zones … and some sites that are available are too expensive,” Friedland said.

To address the issue of affordable housing, the city has adopted certain measures — such as the Housing Trust Fund — to collect funds for affordable housing construction. But as of February, the fund had only $1.1 million, which is not enough to fund more than one project in the city.

Since 2002, housing trust fund loans helped with the construction and preservation of 1,036 units, including Sacramento Senior Homes and the Oxford Plaza.

Although Berkeley is doing a good job relative to some of the other cities in the area with affordable housing measures, it is never enough — the pressure on the housing market is too much right now,Lutjens said.

According to Councilmember Kriss Worthington, some additional revenue for the trust fund comes from a surplus transfer tax, which is a fee that people pay to the city when they sell their homes. With the increase in housing prices, the city receives more money per unit sold.

Another measure that the city plans to use —  but has so far been postponed — is a short-term rentals tax, where buildings operated as hotels that are rented out daily will be affected. Revenue from the tax would also be added to the fund.

The mayor and City Council are delaying policies and funding that we need to get affordable housing … the City Council has reduced the money that goes toward housing,” Worthington said.

John Ellis, a campus lecturer in the department of city and regional planning, encourages the development of micro-units, which are high-rise buildings with small units, and quick fabrication, which is the process of constructing units at a factory, loading them on trucks and assembling them quickly on site.

Ellis added that previously, student housing was occupying spaces for family housing, but with the introduction of micro-units — which are compact and often do not have parking spaces — there will be more land “liberated” for families.

According to Friedland, each project has about eight different sources of funding including city, state, county and federal funding. City funding constitutes around 25 percent of the total funds for a project.

Some effective measures include a combination of local resources and funding, expediting the process of getting design and planning approvals and reducing parking requirements,” Friedland said.

City Council will reconvene Feb. 23 to discuss a report regarding campaign financing, as well as potential ballot measures for the upcoming municipal elections.

Contact Sooyoung Hu at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SHu_DCal