Berkeley allocates more than $2M to homeless programs, aid

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The city of Berkeley will allocate more than $2 million to fund multiple homeless aid programs, as unanimously approved by City Council at its regular meeting Tuesday night.

These funds are a part of $3.5 million worth of allocations of excess equity from the General Fund, which were outlined in Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s summary of proposed December 2017 budget expenditures. These allocations include proposals to fund the Pathways Project, an expanded winter shelter program, the Berkeley Food and Housing Project and portable public restrooms.

An allocation of $300,000 would also be made for an expanded winter shelter program. The program, which would remain open from December 2017 to June 2018, will house up to 130 beds in addition to the 140 shelter beds that are funded year-round, bringing the total number of available shelter beds up to 320, according to Arreguín.

“Berkeley is facing an unprecedented housing crisis,” Arreguín said at the meeting. “There’s a significant gap between the amount of people that are identified as unsheltered and the amount of shelter we have.”

Arreguín emphasized that his recommendations marked a “significant step” toward addressing the homelessness crisis in Berkeley. The budget allocates $1,900,000 to the Pathways Project — more than half of the proposed budget — which will provide shelter for 50 individuals at a time through the STAIR Center and match a Department of Housing and Urban Development grant for the Bridge Living Community, which is a transitional housing community set to house 25 people for stays of six months or longer.

Councilmember Susan Wengraf raised the issue of the budget, expressing her hope that the Pathways Project would be evaluated for its effectiveness in the future. Councilmember Sophie Hahn agreed, supporting the idea of evaluations, but responded with a reminder that examining the Pathways Project would require time because the project combines several agencies.

“It’s called the pathways project because it’s a path,” Hahn said. “I want to make sure that our skepticism doesn’t overwhelm our hopefulness, and if we are going to do evaluations that we do them in a reasonable manner and in a reasonable time frame.”

The budget also proposes funding the Berkeley Food and Housing Project, or BFHP, in order to bridge a funding gap and allow BFHP Men’s and Women’s shelters to remain open on weekends.

Additional allocations include Berkeley Youth Alternatives’ after-school center, an impact assessment for the closure of Alta Bates and the improvement of traffic for the areas of California Street and Dwight Way— where a young child on a bike was injured in April after colliding with a moving car — as well as University and Grant avenues.

“I’ve really tried my best to ensure balance geographically and to meet a variety of needs that we’ve heard over the past six months,” Arreguín said at the meeting.

City Council also unanimously passed an item to amend a zoning ordinance and allow for more standardized zoning approval for affordable housing projects with more than 50 percent of housing units below market rate, as well as projects that receive Housing Trust Fund money.

Councilmember Kate Harrison said the item would “streamline” the process of affordable housing, an idea which resonated with multiple public commenters.

Councilmembers Ben Bartlett and Kriss Worthington both spoke in support of the item, urging the council to move it forward. Bartlett called the resulting decrease in review time “imperative.” Worthington emphasized the fact that the item would speed up the approval process for only a small number of housing projects per year, which already often go uncompleted due to strict timelines.

“We need affordable housing yesterday,” Victoria Fierce, an organizer for East Bay For Everyone said at the meeting. “The best time to build housing was 20 years ago, the second-best time is today.”

The council is set to convene again for a special meeting Thursday.

Contact Elena Aguirre at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @eaguirreDC.