Berkeley City Council approves affordable housing overlay, social housing measures

photo of the city council building
Sunny Shen/Senior Staff
At its regular meeting Tuesday, Berkeley City Council voted to advance two affordable housing initiatives as well as a referral for a homelessness coordinator for Shattuck Avenue.

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Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to advance two citywide affordable housing initiatives as well as a budget referral for a homelessness coordinator for a portion of the south Shattuck Avenue area at its regular meeting Tuesday.

The Affordable Housing Overlay, one of the two housing initiatives on the consent calendar, was authored by Councilmember Terry Taplin and would add incentives and a streamlined permitting process for affordable housing. The council seeks to integrate this overlay into the upcoming Housing Element Update.

The other housing initiative, Resolution Recognizing Housing as Human Right, also authored by Taplin, will refer several proposed measures to the city manager to begin the process of developing social housing, which refers to affordable housing on city-owned properties. This includes an allocation of up to $300,000 to explore potential models for social housing in Berkeley.

“Our policy should be focused on trying to achieve that vision of housing as a human right,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín during the meeting. “I’m very excited to explore the potential for social housing in Berkeley.”

The council also approved a budget referral authored by Councilmember Ben Bartlett to allocate $200,000 for a homelessness outreach coordinator in part of District 3, spanning along the south Shattuck Avenue area starting at Dwight Way and extending south to Adeline Street at 62nd Street.

The outreach coordinator would “connect” the unhoused population along Shattuck Avenue and Adeline Street to available social services, including local and regional housing programs, according to the referral. The motion passed unanimously along with the rest of the consent calendar.

“As the person who benefits from having a district where the downtown business association has a social worker to work with homeless people, it makes an inordinate difference,” said Councilmember Kate Harrison during the meeting. “We’ve housed many, many people downtown with the help of these social workers.”

In an at-times contentious portion of the meeting, the council discussed a budget referral to allocate $500,000 in general city funds to support an AC Transit pilot program offering free fare Sundays.

Depending on available funding, the program would then expand free ridership during the week for youth, the elderly and the disabled, Harrison, who authored the referral, noted.

“We want to show people how great our buses can be,” Harrison said during the meeting. “And we want to encourage them to go along with us on our transit adventure and get our transit back into shape where it belongs.”

This funding would be contingent on the restoration of service to West Berkeley, which had a bus line that served “some of Berkeley’s lowest income neighborhoods” discontinued during the pandemic due to low ridership, according to the agenda item.

Arreguín sparred with AC Transit Board of Directors member Jovanka Beckles over this requirement, with Arreguín arguing for the need to restore service and Beckles describing the demand as “inserting a provision that would kill this program.”

The item was approved and will be taken up next by the city’s Budget and Finance Committee. Councilmember Susan Wengraf abstained after citing her disapproval of AC Transit’s lack of service to her district.

“I am very pessimistic about getting it through the budget process,” said Councilmember Rigel Robinson before voting yes.

At the end of the nearly six-hour meeting, the council voted to table the item concerning the recommendation of objective standards regarding density and building shadows, which could interfere with rooftop solar investments, for the city’s zoning code.

Berkeley resident Todd Darling chastised the council for its decision to table the item, which does not require them to address it in future meetings, saying the council would have been “booed and hooted” if it were in person.

Contact Alexander Wohl at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @dc_arwohl.