After months of delay, Berkeley City Council passes Missing Middle Report, Sanctuary Contract Ordinance

A city council meeting
Kristen Tamsil/Staff

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Berkeley may soon follow in the footsteps of cities such as Seattle, Chicago and Portland, Oregon in addressing the ongoing housing shortage by implementing wide-scale changes to residential areas.

Berkeley City Council members voted to conduct a study to explore changes to the city’s zoning laws to permit multi-unit structures on properties that currently restrict denser development. Council members unanimously referred the creation of a report on missing middle housing — a term typically describing complexes with two to four units — to city staff at Tuesday night’s regular City Council meeting.

In a city where homeownership is often out of reach, even for some city employees such as librarians, teachers and police officers, the Missing Middle Report seeks to explore policies for establishing housing options between suburban homes and apartment complexes. It also hopes to make the city more accessible to the middle class. The report further aims to understand the effects of historic redlining — racial segregation that restricted homeownership for people of color.

“Single-family zoning tends to exclude lower — and even middle — income households and has been used alongside red-lining to reinforce economic and racial segregation,” said Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, in a letter urging the Berkeley City Council to pass the item. “Allowing more missing middle housing is key to solving Berkeley’s housing shortage and affordability crisis, as well as our global climate crisis.”

The report marks the first step toward realizing the zoning changes that would accomplish the goals outlined in the referral for the report. The Tuesday night vote came after months of delay — it was initially brought before the council in February but was pushed back at multiple meetings.

Some of the strongest support for the Missing Middle Report came from UC Berkeley students, especially representatives from the ASUC, which has voiced support for other recent pro-housing-development causes before the City Council.

“We, as students, advocate at the University, Local, and the State level because we know that there are necessary changes that need to happen on every level in order to properly tackle the housing affordability crisis for not only UC students but also all of California,” said Sarah Abdeshahian, campus organizing director for the ASUC Office of the External Affairs Vice President, in an email.

Firing back against delays and criticism of missing middle housing, one community member displayed a sign that read, “It’s just a f#[email protected]&%g study!” quoting a tweet posted by Councilmember Rigel Robinson when the proposal was initially postponed.

The council also passed the Sanctuary Contracting Ordinance on Tuesday after months of postponement. It is designed to prevent the city from entering into contracts with businesses that act as data brokers or provide extreme vetting services to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The ordinance would put in place an annual analysis to ensure city departments refrain from doing business with any companies that provide information that could lead to the detention of undocumented immigrants. The proposal for the ordinance was initially heard in February.

“Besides saying we are a sanctuary state or city, we want to be putting action to those values,” said Sameena Usman, government relations coordinator with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which advocated that the city adopt the ordinance. “This is kind of an economic boycott from Berkeley, and we hope to have this expand to other cities.”

Brandon Yung is the lead city government reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @brandonyung1.