Berkeley City Council approves establishing modular-based housing units

Aren Saunders-Gonzalez/Staff

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The city of Berkeley could soon have modular-based housing because of a recommendation passed by Berkeley City Council on Tuesday.

At its special meeting, the council approved a recommendation that will establish modular-based housing in the city, with seven council members voting in favor and two choosing to abstain. The houses will be built in a factory before being transported on-site to Second Street between Cedar and Virginia streets. There, they will serve as enhanced homeless shelters with support staff and meals on demand but no curfews.

The motion refers to the proposal as the combined STAIR Center and Bridge Living Community, which is part of the Pathways Project, a plan drafted by Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Councilmember Sophie Hahn that aims to reduce homelessness in Berkeley.

“This is a pop-up facility,” Arreguín said at the meeting. “We need to get something in place immediately, given the large number of homeless people on the street.”

Earlier this year, City Council allocated $400,000 for capital costs for the project. According to Hahn, $137,000 of private donations are also “highly likely to come forward.” The program is estimated to cost $2.8 million in its first year and $2.6 million for each year after the first.

But Councilmember Lori Droste, who abstained, said the plan is not as fleshed out as it should be.

“Part of the issue with this model … is that it is modeled on San Francisco,” Droste said during the meeting. “San Francisco is a city and a county — they’re able to get those county funds. We have $220 million less to spend on homeless services than San Francisco (does). … We would be doing a disservice to our homeless population if we set up a building but we don’t provide that sort of holistic services and staffing.”

At the meeting, Hahn said she thought modular-based housing is better than “tiny homes” because these structures are rented and don’t belong to the city. She added that this is “a very flexible way” for the city to tackle the affordable housing crisis.

Councilmember Cheryl Davila, who also abstained, repeatedly expressed concern about the air quality of Second Street. Many community members at the meeting echoed her sentiment, including Adam Bredenberg, who has been actively involved with the Berkeley homeless community in the past.

“You should go down to Second Street, and you should breathe that air,” Bredenberg said to the council members who supported the measure.

Councilmember Linda Maio, however, said it was difficult to find a location for the housing units, adding that Second Street is “not perfect.” She also said some homeless people are already living near Second Street with “nothing at all.”

Councilmember Kate Harrison, who voted in favor of the measure, said that although she would have preferred tiny homes to modular-based housing, she thought that this recommendation was a good start to tackling the affordable housing crisis.

“I don’t love this because it feels (like) we are doing it midway and we haven’t thought it through,” Harrison said during the meeting. “But it’s October. I know we will keep working on the other aspects of this to provide real housing and real sanitary facilities. … We have to start. This is our start.”

Contact Anjali Shrivastava at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anjalii_shrivas.