Lori Droste. Courtesy: Facebook

An innovative pair of policies to encourage affordable housing and green policies passed the first hurdle by acclaim at the Berkeley City Council meeting on Tuesday night.

Councilwoman Lori Droste’s Green Affordable Housing Package designates units and funding for affordable housing by prioritizing housing over parking spaces in new, multi-unit developments, and proposes a streamlined development process to create more housing.

“I know flexibility around parking requirements makes some people nervous,” Droste said, explaining the first part of her proposal. “We’re just getting rid of outdated requirements. It’s just not asking for more parking than we need. Creating more parking leads to more congestion, less affordability, and dramatically worsens health outcomes.”  

A map prepared by Eric Panzer, which shows that most of Berkeley, with the exception of the North Berkeley hills, is within a 1/2-mile of 24-hour bus service or a BART station.

The second part, streamlining the development process for permanently affordable housing projects, is urgent, Droste said.

“It currently takes two to five years to build affordable housing when we need it today,” she said. “We need to address this issue now because we’re in an affordability crisis.”

Droste emphasized that her package was deliberately broad-brush, so that city staff could exercise freedom and creativity in working out the details (the full proposal is here, with amendments submitted yesterday). The key elements of the first part are:

  • Reduce or eliminate minimum residential parking requirements if car-sharing spaces, shared mobility devices or transit passes are provided.
  • Consider a cap on residential parking maximums.
  • Reduce or eliminate minimum parking requirements for new multi-unit housing that serves populations with reduced rates of car ownership.
  • Reduce or eliminate minimum parking requirements for transit-intensive housing, defined as within 1,200 feet of a transit corridor.
  • Re-evaluate and/or reduce parking space requirements per new residential unit in areas within a 1/2-mile walk of a transit hub.
  • Determine a process so that costs saved by parking reductions will be designated for affordable units or the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

On the second policy, improving and streamlining the development review process, Droste called for comparing Berkeley’s process to neighboring cities. Susan Friedland, executive director, Satellite Affordable Housing Associates, said at the meeting that getting entitlements for housing projects in Berkeley took twice the time as in Oakland.

It’s usual for action items at Berkeley’s City Council to be skewered, either by public commenters or by opposing council members. But Droste’s package met with universal approval.

“One thing that excites me about it is finding the sweet spot where someone can really trade parking for units,” said Dan Sawisleck, executive director of affordable housing non-profit Resources for Community Development. “I think it’s pretty visionary.”

“This is the best idea I’ve heard from the City Council in 10 years,” said Garrett Christensen, a UC Berkeley economist. “There’s no free lunch. You have to use land for either housing for people or housing for cars. I’d rather use it for people. I can’t see any reasonable Berkeley person opposing this.”

Council members were almost as effusive.

“I think this is a giant winner,” said Mayor Tom Bates.

“It’s practical and progressive,” said Councilman Darryl Moore.

“I’d like to commend Councilmember Droste on the outstanding research that brought this before us,” said Kriss Worthington.

“I want to also fawn all over Councilmember Droste,” said Councilman Laurie Capitelli. “I couldn’t be happier about this motion if I had written it myself.”

The unanimous council vote passed Droste’s proposal to the planning and transportation departments for detailed work by city staff.

In addition to Droste’s proposal, Mayor Tom Bates said that the council will have a worksession dedicated to housing on Dec. 1. A Worthington proposal to loan $1 million to the Housing Trust Fund, originally on last night’s agenda, will be considered at the council meeting on Dec. 1.

Adeline report highlights desire for affordable housing (09.01.15)
City may boost affordable housing with density bonus (04.29.15)
Op-ed: How to get more affordable housing in Berkeley (04.27.15)
Op-ed: Let’s build the housing that Berkeley needs (03.26.15)
At B-Side: Implications of downtown Berkeley initiative (07.22.14)
New affordable housing project headed for Berkeley (07.17.14)
Berkeley aims to bolster housing fund with fee discount (02.21.13)
Council sets fee for affordable housing mitigation (10.18.12)

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...