Support Affordable Housing at Berkeley’s BART stations

From Rob Wrenn

E-mail Council by Monday, April 18th: council@cityofberkeley.info, Tell City Council:
  1. Zone Berkeley’s BART stations for Below Market Affordable Housing. The maximum height allowed should be 7 stories as recommended by City staff. Reject the Planning Commission majority plan for unaffordable market rate high-rises at our BART stations.
  2. Public Land should be used for Public Benefit. Non-profit affordable housing developers should be chosen to develop both our BART stations.
Then Speak up at the Council meeting on April 19th, 6pm. Zoom link here:  https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87841008933
The BART station item is the second item on the agenda.Background:
The City Council is close to deciding the final zoning for the development at BART stations. All the preceding meetings and votes (including last Wednesday’s Planning Commission’s) have been advisory, not binding. This Tuesday (April 19) the Council meets to discuss the issue, before their final vote in May. Find the agenda with staff report here.

Last Wednesday, at the last minute and by a 5-4 margin, the Planning Commission voted to recommend 12 stories at the BART sites! 2 commissioners were replacements: Laurie Capitelli and Bern Gould who voted for the excessive height. This action flies in the face of three years of community testimony and emails, public hearings, and advisory committee meetings. The City’s Planning staff had recommended a 7 story maximum. If  the City allows a market rate developer to be chosen and they provide only 10% affordable units, they could receive a density bonus and other concessions which could increase the height to 16 stories or more.

Higher building Costs: 12 story buildings cost a lot more build per square foot than 4-6 story buildings. Non profit affordable housing developers rely on public funds, including local funds from Berkeley’s Housing Trust Fund and Berkeley’s Measure O bond funds. They don’t build more expensive 12 story buildings, which would be a bad use of public money. Affordable housing built downtown on Oxford on the former public parking lot, and now under construction on the City’s Berkeley Way parking lot, are both six stories, a height that works for non-profit developers, who want to make efficient use of public funds. If a market rate developer were chosen and provide only 10% affordable units, they could receive a density bonus and other concessions which could increase the height to 16 stories or more.

Lower Land Cost on Public Land: The cost of acquiring land to build on, especially in today’s overheated housing market, adds substantially to the cost of building below market affordable units. When non-profits build affordable housing on public land, land cost can be reduced or eliminated altogether. BART has adopted a policy of discounting land cost by up to 60% below fair market value for affordable housing projects. It’s hard for the nonprofits who build affordable housing to compete with market rate developers for expensive private sites. By prioritizing public land like BART stations for affordable housing, the city can make sure that available local affordable housing funds stretch as far as possible and produce the largest possible number of affordable units.

Use Fruitvale BART as a Model not MacArthur BART: When construction of the current phase of housing development is complete at Fruitvale BART, almost 90% of the housing built there will be affordable to people at varying income levels who can’t afford market rate housing. By contrast, only 17% of the housing units at MacArthur BART are below market affordable units. The market rate units in the high rise building there have high rents: studios over $2500 a month; 1 bedrooms from around $2800+ to over $3300 on higher floors based on currently advertised rents. It’s not just the percentage of affordable units at Fruitvale that’s higher, the total number of below market affordable units is also higher at Fruitvale despite its smaller low-rise scale. The City’s Adeline Corridor Plan calls for 100% below market affordable housing at Ashby BART. South Berkeley needs housing for families who can’t afford to pay $4000 for a high-rise two-bedroom unit. The City Council should help implement the Adeline Corridor Plan zoning for affordable housing with a maximum height of 7 stories. And North Berkeley should have its share of affordable housing too and North Berkeley BART as a public site is an ideal location.

Negative Environmental Impacts: 12 story and taller buildings use a lot more concrete and steel. Cement is the main component of concrete, and the manufacture of cement is very energy intensive and is responsible for an estimated 8% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Wood frame construction of four to six story buildings, with less use of concrete, has fewer negative environmental impacts. Most of the city’s non-profit built affordable buildings have rooftop solar panels that provide hot water and, in some cases electricity. Using solar to help meet a building’s energy needs is not practical with high-rise buildings

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