Berkeley City Council members propose affordable ‘missing middle housing’

Different types of middle housing with descriptions
Ashley Zhang/Staff

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Berkeley City Council members drafted a proposal to begin the process of implementing “missing middle housing,” which will be discussed at a meeting Feb. 26.

Missing middle housing refers to clustered or multi-unit housing in an area the size of a single-family home. It can also refer to housing that is affordable for people earning about median income.

“Missing middle housing is a middle ground between single-family homes … and apartments with real density,” said Councilmember Rigel Robinson.

According to the proposal, co-sponsored by Councilmembers Lori Droste, Rashi Kesarwani, Ben Bartlett and Rigel Robinson, more than half of Berkeley’s residential areas are currently zoned in a way that does not allow for missing middle housing. This proposal suggests potential revisions to the current zoning code to allow for more forms of housing and identifies areas where middle housing will best fit.

This process addresses three issues currently affecting the Berkeley community: affordable housing, the environment and de facto segregation.

The median price of a single-family home in Berkeley is $1.2 million, and the median rent is $3,663 per month, according to the proposal, which added that many residents and students often cannot afford these prices.

“Additionally, most students are unable to access Berkeley’s below-market-rate units due to eligibility restrictions,” said ASUC External Affairs Vice President Nuha Khalfay in an email.

The median price for a single-family home in Berkeley has risen by 65 percent since December 2013. Missing middle housing would allow those who want to live in locations where single-family homes are prevalent to do so for lesser prices.

“This is encouraging grandma to share her mansion,” said ASUC President Alexander Wilfert.

City Council has discussed affordable housing options for middle and low-income residents at many of its recent meetings.

Missing middle housing attempts to increase the prevalence of affordable housing by allowing more people to live in a smaller space and by decreasing the cost per person. Half of Berkeley’s housing stock — the number of residences in an area — is currently composed of single-family units, according to the proposal, which added that this proportion may be impacted by introducing missing middle housing to Berkeley.

Missing middle housing may also potentially decrease each household’s environmental impact. A Berkeley study cited in the proposal concluded that policy at the local level could lower the amount of consumption-based greenhouse gases produced. This proposal addresses the study’s conclusions by suggesting that missing middle housing be created near job sources and urban transportation.

De facto racial segregation is still present in the Bay Area today, according to a study conducted by the UC Berkeley Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. Robinson added he believes zoning is a “racial justice issue.”

“Here in Berkeley, the vestiges of residential segregation continue to keep entire neighborhoods unaffordable,” Robinson said in an email. “Legalizing more diverse types of housing is our next great challenge in the fight for equity.”

Contact Megha Krishnan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @_meghakrishnan_ ‏.