Old City Hall. Photo by Melati Citrawireja

Berkeley voters are set to have a chance in November to consider a $135 million bond measure officials hope will create more affordable housing in Berkeley to fight displacement and help working families and individuals.

Mayor Jesse Arreguín said the affordable housing bond will help the city begin to create housing to address displacement and protect the city’s diversity.

It could fund “a variety of projects,” such as those from non-profits that want to buy land, as well as housing for teachers, should the Berkeley Unified School District pursue it. It would fund housing at different affordability levels, and include annual independent audits, the mayor said.

“This is probably the greatest opportunity we have this decade to make a significant and meaningful impact on the lack of affordability in Berkeley,” Councilwoman Sophie Hahn said.

The city will be able to leverage much of the bond money to get more resources from the state, too, she added. Hahn said the bond measure could potentially get Berkeley to “10% affordable” by 2030, and called the measure “a momentous opportunity for Berkeley to achieve its highest goals.”

According to the staff report for Tuesday night’s meeting, the goal of the bond would be to help “veterans, seniors, local artists, the disabled, current or former foster youth, victims of abuse, people experiencing homelessness, and individuals suffering from mental health or substance abuse illnesses, and other vulnerable populations” who have struggled to buy or rent in Berkeley.

Council members approved two slightly different versions of the proposed bond language, as state law regarding how to frame that language is currently in flux.

Officials are still also working to come to an agreement on how private developers or partners might fit into the equation. The idea would be for non-profits and other public entities to spearhead the projects, but non-profit representatives noted that sometimes financing relies on having some type of private entity involved to qualify for, and be competitive for, grants and other money.

The measure would need to be approved by two-thirds of the voters to go into effect.

A recent telephone survey of likely voters conducted on behalf of the city found that two-thirds of the respondents would support a $100 million bond measure, while 56% would be in favor of a $150 million bond measure for affordable housing.

According to the staff report, the bond would cost approximately $97 per year, over 36 years, “for a home with the city’s mean assessed valuation of $425,000.”

(This story was updated after publication to include the annual cost calculated by the city.) 

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...