Ashby, North Berkeley BART housing developments aim for affordability

image of Ashby BART station
Ryan Kendrick/Staff
A $53 million housing investment around the Ashby and North Berkeley BART stations was approved by Berkeley City Council. According to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, Berkeley has a memorandum of understanding with BART to reach “35% affordability at both sites."

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Berkeley City Council approved a $53 million investment in building housing around the Ashby and North Berkeley BART stations to ameliorate the city’s long-standing affordable housing crisis.

BART will leverage this investment to secure greater federal and state funding for the project, Rebecca Saltzman, vice president of the BART Board of Directors added.

“Berkeley is really leading in this and is going to be a model for the rest of the region,” Saltzman said. “We need the rest to invest this much money in affordable housing.”

Saltzman noted how it is rare that so much public land is available for housing development. Berkeley Tenants Union secretary Matthew Lewis said this drastically reduces the cost of the project, making these sites ripe opportunities for affordable housing construction.

Lars Skjerping, deputy chief of staff to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, said in an email that Berkeley has a memorandum of understanding with BART to reach “35% affordability at both sites,” making headway on the systemwide goal of 35% affordable housing around all Bay Area BART stations.

“Development of the Ashby and North Berkeley BART stations could deliver more than 1,600 new homes in two of the most transit-rich, high opportunity locations in the region,” said Abby Thorne-Lyman, a Transit-Oriented Development program manager at BART, in an email. “These developments will set a national benchmark for sustainable and equitable development.”

Transit-oriented housing has myriad benefits, Saltzman emphasized, especially when it is affordable.

Thorne-Lyman noted that lower-income households residing by public transit drive half as much as the average household, which reduces the significant environmental impacts of transportation. Lewis added that affordable transit-oriented housing allows long-distance commuters to instead ride local transit systems, reducing local greenhouse gas emissions.

“Oftentimes, when people are talking about transit housing, it’s market rate, not affordable,” Lewis said. “But who uses mass transit? Working-class people. If you build market-rate housing, they can’t afford it.”

According to Lewis, “well-off” individuals searching for market-rate housing are likely to forgo mass transit, even if they reside nearby, because of their access to personal vehicles. As a result, the equity and sustainability benefits of transit-oriented housing disappear, he added.

Moreover, Lewis noted that Friends of Adeline, a local advocacy group, “made it explicitly clear” to the city that the Berkeley community would prefer the developments be entirely affordable housing.

“(100% affordable housing) is what the community has asked for,” Lewis said. “Given that these are low-income folks being subjected to gentrification … 65% market rate is completely unacceptable, and the city and BART would both be to blame if that happened.”

When more high-income people enter an area, they increase the area median income, the metric by which housing developments earmark their projects as “affordable,” according to Lewis. More affluent individuals send price signals to the region’s landlords, Lewis added, causing them to raise their rents, perpetuating a cycle of decreasing affordability.

However, Saltzman noted that “it’s going to be years” before the project is completed. There will be many opportunities for public comment at the project’s advisory and planning groups, as well as at Berkeley City Council meetings.

“It’s important specifically to be building affordable housing and earmarking affordability actions,” Lewis said. “Market-rate housing doesn’t solve the housing crisis anywhere.”

Contact Katherine Shok at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @katherineshok.