On Thursday, Berkeley City Council heard a proposal to permit the construction of duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes in areas currently zoned exclusively for single-family homes in an effort to address the city’s “missing middle housing.”
Local law prohibits the new construction of multifamily housing in certain Berkeley neighborhoods or the conversion of existing homes into multifamily units. The proposal, if passed on to the city’s Planning Commission and approved by a later vote, would reverse the restrictions, addressing the shortage of affordable homes for middle and low-income households in the Bay Area, according to a report by the Berkeley City Council Land Use, Housing and Economic Development Committee.
Exclusionary zoning results in racial and economic “segregation,” according to Councilmember Lori Droste, the chief architect of the proposal. In a study by UC Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute, researchers recommended changing zoning laws around single-family homes as part of a multi-pronged strategy to enhance racial integration in the city.
“We all know low-income families are struggling to live here, we can see on our streets people are unhoused,” Droste said during the meeting. “Our very own 1,000-person plan told us that if we want to address homelessness in a meaningful way, we have to address our land-use policies.”
Berkeley was the first city in the country to adopt exclusive single-family zoning, excluding racial minorities from majority-white neighborhoods, according to the proposal’s co-author and Councilmember Sophie Hahn. Now, this proposal hopes to set “a new standard for planning all over the country,” according to Councilmember Rigel Robinson, who also authored the proposal.
In the public comment portion of the meeting, several residents raised concerns about ensuring the affordability of the new units. The lack of explicit price control provisions in the proposal and the feasibility for developers to exploit opportunities for financial gain while not conferring those benefits to homebuyers made the proposal objectionable in the eyes of commenters, such as representatives from Berkeley Tenants Union and former Councilmember Cheryl Davila.
“When new housing is built, it’s not affordable for everybody,” Davila said during the meeting. “This is, to me, a gentrifying move, a displacement move, a developer move, and who do you guys (councilmembers) work for? You work for the constituents and not for the developers.”
Many other participants during the public comment, however, expressed support for the proposal.
Two Berkeley residents who live in rental units emphasized the lack of options for residents wanting to move out of rental properties to buy their own homes but are stalled by the unattainable prices attached to single-family houses.
“We need more housing,” said UC Berkeley alumna Adriana Valencia during the meeting. “We needed it 30 years ago. Let’s start building it. Let’s make Berkeley truly diverse and accessible … Let’s be accountable to the future and not to the past.”