City Council set to tackle tiny homes and short-term housing at Tuesday meeting

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Berkeley City Council will convene Tuesday to discuss taking steps to implement a tiny home program and placing further regulations on short-term housing, among other items.

A referral to the city manager suggesting the pursuit of the “Step-Up Housing” initiative is listed on the consent calendar and is expected to pass Tuesday. When put into effect, the initiative will set the foundations for a tiny home implementation plan, aimed to aid the city’s low-income and homeless populations.

The plan includes the construction of a building made up of 100 stackable modular units, according to the agenda item. Construction of the building would be privately financed, and the city would lease the units for $1,000 per unit per month.

The building would be operated and managed by a housing nonprofit, with residency tied to a needs-based criteria, prioritizing seniors, disabled people and Berkeley natives who have become homeless, according to the agenda item.

“Multiple companies will be able to bid to be a part of this,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “If we were able to get important units to get 100 homeless people off the street, that would be huge.”

But First They Came for the Homeless, a homeless advocacy group, shared a Facebook post by Thomas Lord, a Berkeley Housing Advisory Commission member, that criticizes the item.

“The ‘Step up housing’ Initiative proposes 100 micro-units of ‘supportive’ or ‘assisted-living’ housing for some of the ‘most vulnerable members of our community,’ ” Lord said in the Facebook post. “What is proposed, then, is a sort of treatment facility: a new form of residential clinic or hospital; a new form of sanitarium or asylum.”

Lord went on to question the cognitive impacts of living in very small spaces in the post and whether increased housing options will prompt harsher policing of unhoused people.

At the meeting, the council will also discuss an item that would create a legal category for short-term rentals in Berkeley.

“Currently there is no provision in the Berkeley zoning (ordinance) to allow for short-term rentals,” said Carol Johnson, director of Berkeley’s Department of Planning and Development. “The habit of people renting out portions or all of their dwellings for short-term rental is currently a violation of the zoning ordinance.”

The item initially passed at the Nov. 29 City Council meeting, but was held over to January on its second reading, shortly after new council members were sworn in in December. According to Johnson, the newly seated council members thought they might need more time to think about the issue.

Now, Worthington expects the new regulations to pass quickly.

Airbnb and other short-term rentals will likely continue under a new legal category, subject to the transient occupancy tax, according to Johnson.

“Hosting on Airbnb is an economic lifeline for many Berkeley residents, many of whom use the extra income to pay their mortgage, put food on the table, and save for retirement,” said Jasmine Mora, an Airbnb spokesperson in an email. “Berkeley has few hotels and home sharing allows those visiting to have more accommodation options.”

Contact Edward Booth at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Edward_E_Booth.