BART vice president speaks about mitigating housing crisis at Berkeley Forum event

Josh Kahen/Staff

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BART Vice President and UC Berkeley alumna Rebecca Saltzman spoke to UC Berkeley students and community members about the relationship between BART’s development plans and Berkeley’s housing crisis at Monday’s event hosted by the Berkeley Forum.

Saltzman represents BART’s District 3, which includes Alameda and Contra Costa counties. According to Saltzman, BART has an ambitious goal of creating 20,000 housing units at or near BART stations by 2040, 35% of which will be affordable.

Former California Gov. Jerry Brown passed legislation in September 2018 that gave BART more authority over its guidelines for transit-oriented development, or TOD, according to AB 2923. AB 2923 requires that 20% of housing units be made affordable for low-income households. BART is working closely with many housing developers and cities – including the city of Berkeley – to conduct location studies and initiate several affordable housing projects through both local and state funding sources, according to Saltzman.

“BART can’t fund (the development of affordable housing on BART property) alone … we don’t have any affordable housing funds,” Saltzman said. “What’s been great in the past few years is there are a lot more funding sources that prioritize affordable housing near transit, because I think there’s this acknowledgment that that’s the most expensive housing (and) that’s where people want to live.”

According to Saltzman, it is important to build dense housing near transit stations and prioritize affordable units. As BART fronts the TOD movement in the Bay Area, many cities, such as Berkeley, are recognizing BART’s work plan.

In addition to housing, BART is focused on generating more jobs in the East Bay, according to Saltzman.

“Our region is set up so that pretty much all of the jobs are in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and that’s part of the BART crunch, and why it’s so crowded,” Saltzman said.

BART owns 250 acres of developable land. According to BART’s website, the development of commercial spaces near transit stations could provide an array of economic, environmental, safety and health benefits.

Saltzman added that by moving more job opportunities to the East Bay, BART will have more capacity to support commuters.

At the end of her talk, Saltzman referenced BART’s current homeless initiatives, such as outreach programs in San Francisco and Contra Costa County.

“We’ve seen, in the last several years especially, more and more homeless people using BART stations … BART trains as a place of refuge,” Saltzman said. “We want to help connect people to services, connect people to housing, but obviously (as) BART, we do not offer these services and housing, so we need to work with our county partners.”

Contact Skylar Schoemig at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sschoemig_dc.