A developer plans to build approximately 280 units of student housing in Berkeley beginning in 2024 — fielding support from some and criticism from others who believe that the planned units are not affordable enough.
Riaz Capital plans to build at 3030 Telegraph Ave., 2300 Ellsworth St. and a site on Dwight Way near Shattuck Avenue. Each is expected to begin construction in spring or summer of 2024 and be completed after 18 to 22 months, according to Lisa Vilhauer, the company’s vice president of entitlement and design.
“This will actually be our third project that will be submitted to the city of Berkeley,” Vilhauer said of the Dwight Way development. “We’ve been known as an Oakland developer that does workforce housing, and we are moving into the student housing space in Berkeley.”
The site at 3030 Telegraph Ave., located one mile from campus, is furthest along in the approval process, and also offers the largest amount of housing — 144 units spread across five stories. It will replace the Alta Bates Campus Telegraph Care Center and two duplexes, according to official filings.
The site at 2300 Ellsworth St., located across Bancroft Avenue from campus’s Recreational Sports Facility, will be the site of a seven-story building with nearly 69 units of housing, according to Vilhauer. The development will replace two apartment buildings and a building currently occupied by Cafe Blue Door, Jitensha Studio and La Petite Hair Salon.
The site at 2127-2159 Dwight Way, which is four blocks from campus’s southeast corner, currently contains four buildings each with four apartments. The filings note two of the four buildings would be demolished to make way for a six-story, 66-unit development.
Vilhauer noted that the three developments will primarily be oriented toward students, although the one at 3030 Telegraph Ave., being located the farthest from campus, would likely attract more older students compared to the Dwight Way and Ellsworth Street sites. For its student housing, Riaz Capital focuses on a model where each unit has a greater number of smaller bedrooms to allow each resident of an apartment to have their own space, she noted.
“We typically do workforce housing and entry-level housing for people, and we’ve really checked in with a lot of that in this design as well,” Vilhauer said. “It’s more focused on the private space for each individual.”
Following the passage of a state law eliminating parking requirements within one half mile of public transit, none of the sites will provide car parking, according to the filings. Bike parking will be provided at each development in accordance with Berkeley city ordinance.
Amid the housing crisis, Riaz’s housing projects have drawn support from some — including YIMBY Law, a pro-housing law firm, which sent a letter to the Berkeley Planning and Development Department in support of the Ellsworth development. But others have criticized Riaz’s plans for not providing enough affordable housing.
“Now is not the time to be rolling out the red carpet for developers to build housing that most people in our community cannot afford to live in,” said Berkeley Tenants Union secretary Jonah Gottlieb in an email. “Now is the time for our city to use the many tools available to it to incentivize the construction of affordable housing.”
The number of affordable and rent-controlled units in each project was primarily shaped by two laws. The Housing Crisis Act of 2019 requires developers to replace all demolished housing units that were rent controlled or low-income, and also mandates relocation benefits and the “right of first refusal” to current tenants. Another law gives developers a density bonus — the right to create denser housing than would ordinarily be allowed — if a certain portion of the units are low-income. The law allows the developer to use some of the same units to fulfill both obligations.
To fulfill the replacement and density unit requirements for each of its developments, Riaz Capital would provide eight low-income or rent controlled units at Telegraph and 10 at Dwight, the filings read. These values are at or near the minimum units to fulfill the requirements of the law.
Gottlieb criticized developments that did the bare minimum required under the law for producing affordable units. He suggested that the city council amend the Rent Control Ordinance to require replacement and density bonus units to be fully subject to rent control.
While declining to speak on any specific development, ASUC External Affairs Vice President Bailey Henderson noted that the requirements for affordable housing in Berkeley were insufficient and should be increased so that more affordable housing can be leveraged out of developers.
Yasmeen Alaoey, a resident of one of the buildings at the Dwight Way complex to be demolished, shared some concerns about developers demolishing old housing and not building a sufficient amount of affordable housing. As a full-time nanny and student, she noted having to move was disappointing — although she wasn’t too worried about finding a new place.
“These are really nice, cheap places. They were a really good find, but obviously, everything good goes at the end of the day,” Alaoey said of her current building. “On the bright side, at least they can provide more housing for others.”