When data from the 2020 census were released last summer, a picture emerged of a changing Berkeley, one that is more densely populated than a decade ago, with more Latino and Asian people, but a continued decline in Black residents.
Berkeleyside dug into the data, analyzing how each neighborhood in Berkeley has changed. We broke down shifts in population, housing and racial demographics to individual blocks.
Berkeley now has a population of about 124,000 people, up by 11,700 residents in the last 10 years for a growth rate of 10%. Berkeley grew more slowly than Oakland (13%), but more rapidly than San Francisco (8.5%).
But the city is changing in very different ways depending on where you look.
Southside, a neighborhood just south of the Cal campus that is by far Berkeley’s most densely populated, is now denser, with students packing into the new mid-rise apartments that have gone up along Telegraph Avenue and Dwight Way.
On one block in Southside, over 1,000 new students moved into the densely packed dorms lining Channing Way and Durant Avenue, more than the population growth in the entire Berkeley Hills. Overall, Southside’s population grew 34% in the last decade.
A significant portion of Berkeley’s growth is attributable to rising enrollment at UC Berkeley, which now has 6,500 more students than it did a decade ago. About three-quarters of Cal students live in Berkeley, according to a survey conducted by the university in fall 2021.
A couple neighborhoods bordering campus saw a slight population decline. But keep in mind that the census was conducted during the pandemic, when many college students were living off-campus, attending school remotely (though it was possible to fill out the census form from afar). The number of UC Berkeley students living in Berkeley now is likely much higher.
But one other neighborhood is changing even more rapidly. Industrial West Berkeley — the city’s largest census tract, which is largely bounded by Sixth Street and includes the Marina, Aquatic Park and part of Westbrae — was once the least densely populated part of the city. Now, it’s the fastest growing, owing primarily to a handful of new apartment buildings along University Avenue and an increase in the number of unhoused people.
Outside of industrial West Berkeley and Southside, Berkeley is growing — and racially diversifying — at a much slower rate. The rest of the city’s population is rising modestly, with new smaller apartments, condos and duplexes peppering the city. But the population growth is not just because of new construction. Even in some places where there was no new housing, the population went up. In other words, it’s likely that people are cramming in tighter.
Another trend is playing out with Berkeley’s Black population. Black residents are the only racial group to see a decline in the last decade, from 10% of the city’s population to 8%, with 1,400 fewer Black people overall. It’s a change that’s particularly visceral in historically Black South Berkeley, where the Black population shrunk by 30% in 10 years.
The city’s overall Black population is now just a third what it was half a century ago.
The Latino population grew by 4,800 people (40%) and the Asian population increased by 3,200 people (13%). For both groups, growth was concentrated in the neighborhoods near the UC Berkeley campus, particularly so for Latinos. Berkeley’s white population increased by 900 people but declined slightly as a share of the population. There are fewer white people living in the eastern parts of the city, but more in South and West Berkeley.
Editor’s note: The data used in this analysis come from the 2020 and 2010 decennial census. To protect people’s privacy, the census introduced noise and error into the block data, which makes it harder to identify where people live and produces some improbable results. We’re publishing the block data because it provides a high-level insight into how Berkeley is changing. You shouldn’t make too much of individual blocks. We did not publish the block-level data for race and ethnicity, knowing that smaller numbers could mean a greater likelihood for inaccuracy.
Scroll to the bottom of this story for more about how we analyzed census data.
Where Berkeley’s population grew the most
Berkeley now has a population of about 124,000 people, up by 11,700 residents in the last 10 years.
From 1950 to 2010, Berkeley’s population remained relatively stagnant, declining multiple decades in a row. Only in the last 20 years has the city’s population grown in significant numbers, and 2020 is the first time Berkeley’s population eclipsed its previous 1970 high.
The city’s fastest growing neighborhoods — downtown, Southside, and industrial West Berkeley — have 6,300 more residents than in 2010, according to census data, amounting to half of the city’s population growth.
In addition to the 2,900 more residents living in Southside and 1,000 more downtown, there was also an increase of about 650 residents in the Clark Kerr student dorms in The Elmwood. That growth is a basis for one of the high-profile lawsuits filed against UC Berkeley by Phil Bokovoy and the group Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, which argued that the university violated its own agreement to cap the number of students living on the Clark Kerr campus.
The population in industrial West Berkeley — the only part of the city that includes zoning for both homes and manufacturing — more than doubled. With 2,400 more residents in 2020 than in 2010, the neighborhood accounts for a fifth of the city’s total population growth.
Now lining University Avenue, a few strides from a booming shopping district, are new apartment complexes catering to young professionals, some college students and a few families. Between The Aquatic, Fourth & U, and Avalon — just off University Avenue on Addison Street — the three complexes are home to almost 900 Berkeley residents, block data show. Outside of those apartments, there was hardly any development but the population rose, suggesting there may be more people sharing homes.
Many people living in this part of Berkeley are adults in their 30s or 40s, and many have young kids, according to 2020 American Community Survey data.
But the census numbers may not reflect the current population growth in the rest of West Berkeley.
According to the data, when the census was conducted in 2020, there were 1,000 or so unhoused people living between Gilman Street and San Pablo Avenue in Northwest Berkeley. That figure counts, for example, over 350 people living on the block where Whole Foods stands. (Unhoused people can be inferred from census data in places where the census counts residents but no housing units.) Compare that to a “point in time” survey conducted by the nonprofit EveryOne Home that counted 1,057 unhoused people living in all of Berkeley on Feb. 23.
The rest of the city grew denser overall, but at a much slower rate. While over 1,000 more students packed into dorms on one block between Durant Avenue and Channing Way, half of the blocks in the city didn’t see the population increase by even one resident. On average, each census block in Berkeley gained six new residents.
Elsewhere, the city’s population growth was concentrated along major thoroughfares, especially along University Avenue in Central Berkeley between Sacramento and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, parts of the Harmon District in Southwest Berkeley near Adeline Street, and Hearst Avenue on the north side of campus.
The only parts of Berkeley that lost residents were student dorms and fraternities along Prospect Street, the eastern portion of North Berkeley, and LeConte, much of which can be attributed to the pandemic.
New housing is concentrated along major thoroughfares
Berkeley has 2,877 more housing units than a decade ago — a 6% jump.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of new units have been built in the downtown and Southside neighborhoods and along major thoroughfares — University, Shattuck and Telegraph avenues and Dwight Way.
That’s in line with the city’s zoning map and development plans. And the city could soon make it easier to build taller apartments in downtown and Southside, as well as smaller apartments elsewhere in the city.
The census defines a housing unit as any house, apartment, single room or group of rooms that is intended as “separate living quarters.”
On average, each of the city’s 33 census tracts gained 87 new units. Compare that with downtown and Southside, where, together, 1,138 new units went up in the last 10 years.
Industrial West Berkeley saw the largest increase in new homes of any census tract, the number of housing units nearly doubling in the last decade, mostly thanks to the apartments on University Avenue, which made up close to a fifth of the total housing growth in the entire city.
By contrast, most census blocks (70%) had no new housing built or lost housing units in the last 10 years.
Berkeley is adding people faster than housing units
Across the Bay Area, there are reports of overcrowding forced by sky-high rents. And in Berkeley, population growth outpaced housing growth in the last decade: On average, a single census block in Berkeley added about six people and one new housing unit.
The number of people per home rose only slightly in the last decade, from 2.3 to 2.4, when averaged out across the city.
That increase may seem small, but it could indicate people packing into smaller spaces.
Since many of the new units in town are apartments and likely smaller than the existing homes, you might expect that the number of people in each unit would go down. But we’ve seen the opposite.
“It's not a dramatic rise, but given that you added smaller units and you still saw a population per household increase, that may be significant,” said Shelley Lapkoff, who runs a demography consulting company that has worked with clients in the Bay Area. (Other things might help explain the numbers, though. Perhaps the number of unhoused people made a difference, or the college students who returned home during the pandemic.)
Near campus, the number of people living in the average home is more than twice the citywide average. There are on average five people per unit in Southside, though this number may be skewed by how the census counts dorms.
In the rest of the city, there are about the same number of people living in each unit, despite the fact that the homes vary quite a bit in size. Homes in the hills tend to have six, seven, or eight rooms, versus two, three, or four rooms in most other parts of the city, according to 2020 data from the American Community Survey.
Some neighborhoods, including San Pablo Park, Panoramic Hill and Frat Row, and parts of North Berkeley along Milvia and Shattuck actually lost housing units compared with a decade ago. This could be the result of multi-unit homes being converted back into single-family homes, or could be a miscount by the census.
The number of vacant units shot up around the UC Berkeley campus, likely the result of students staying elsewhere during the pandemic.
More Latino, Asian and multiracial residents but Black population is declining
In the last 10 years, Berkeley became more racially diverse overall, with more Latino, Asian and multiracial people living in the city now. But the number of Black residents continues to decline.
In 2020, Berkeley was 50% white (down from 55% in 2010), 20% Asian (up from 19%), 14% Hispanic (up from 11%), 8% Black (down from 10%) and 7% multiracial (up from 5%), according to the latest census numbers.
The city has 4,800 more Latino people, 3,200 more Asian people, 3,500 more multiracial people and 900 more white people than a decade ago. The number of Black residents fell by 1,400.
Many of the new Latino and Asian residents are UC Berkeley students, but it’s hard to say exactly how many. The university added 2,800 Latino students and 2,600 Asian students in the last decade. Growth for both racial and ethnic groups was concentrated near campus, but this was especially true for Latinos.
The number of Latinos rose by 2,000 in the last decade in the Southside neighborhood, nearly tripling the population. The Latino population about doubled in Northside and the census tract representing Elmwood-Claremont. Industrial West Berkeley added 450 new Latino residents. In nearly every census tract, the Latino population grew, but at a lower rate than in these neighborhoods.
The Asian population rose by 540 (33%) in downtown, 450 (12%) in Southside and 250 (210%) in industrial West Berkeley. In a few areas near campus — the Cal campus proper, Panoramic Hill and the neighborhood between People’s Park and Willard Park — the Asian population declined, most likely due to fewer Cal students being counted in the census, with classes remote during the pandemic.
The number of multiracial residents, the city’s fastest growing demographic, is rising relatively consistently throughout Berkeley, with their numbers growing in nearly every census tract. Half of the city’s multiracial population is Asian and white. The overall number of multiracial residents rose by 60% in the last decade.
MLK Jr. Way — a dividing line remade
MLK Jr. Way has long been a racial dividing line in Berkeley. For decades, nonwhite people were barred from living east of what was then called Grove Street. The legacies of redlining and other exclusionary policies remain visible in the racial segregation of the city.
Now, the line marks a movement of Black people out of the city, a decline felt most sharply in South Berkeley, where Black people were almost entirely relegated when they began moving to Berkeley in larger numbers during, and in the decades after, World War II.
In 1970, there were three times as many Black people living in Berkeley as there are now, most of whom lived in South and West Berkeley. The San Pablo Park neighborhood, for instance, was 86% Black in 1970, compared with 22% Black in 2020.
In just the last decade, South Berkeley’s Black population has dropped by 1,600 residents, as 1,350 more white people — as well as 550 more Asian residents and 415 more Latino residents — have moved in.
As in the rest of Berkeley, home and rental prices have exploded in South Berkeley in the last decade and, though the area still offers some of the city’s least expensive housing, examples of houses going for twice their price a decade ago are common. In a part of the city where hundreds of people receive food stamps, some homes are selling for upward of $2 million.
There are fewer Black people living in nearly every part of San Pablo Park, the Harmon Tract and the Lorin District in South Berkeley. That’s true for several neighborhoods in West Berkeley and Central Berkeley, too.
Only in downtown, in parts of new West Berkeley with big new developments and in several neighborhoods surrounding UC Berkeley did the numbers of Black residents increase. Numbers also rose in homeless encampments in Northwest Berkeley.
To the east of MLK Jr. Way, downtown and the Berkeley Hills are losing white residents, though at slower rates. In the Berkeley Hills, white people still make up 70% of the population, but the number of white people in those tracts declined by about 500 residents since 2010. The number of white people also fell in most of North Berkeley and in the southeastern part of the city.
How we used census data
As of publication, the census has released only basic data on population, housing and race for the 2020 census. More detailed data, including on age and housing characteristics, is expected to be released in 2023.
Census data is imperfect. The census has historically undercounted or overcounted certain groups, and the pandemic made the data even less reliable. In Berkeley, census completion rates near UC Berkeley in particular were low.
The block data is particularly noisy. The census reports data down to census blocks, which often but not always align with city blocks. More notably, the census introduced errors into block data to protect people’s privacy. Plus, the exact location of the block and its boundaries shift. As a result, changes to individual blocks are calculated using a weighted formula provided by the census that estimates population changes. In other words, you can’t put too much stake in individual blocks, but when analyzed holistically, the block data should paint a relatively clear picture.
The maps below are color-coded based on the change in the total number of residents, not the shift in relative demographic percentages, so that it’s easier to compare changing neighborhoods to Berkeley as a whole.
The maps for this project were created by Darrell Owens, a GIS programmer, with help from Berkeleyside reporter Ally Markovich and Doug Ng, Cityside's News Platforms Director and tech wizard. Owens is a pro-housing and transit advocate with East Bay for Everyone. Berkeleyside verified Owens’ data, Ng edited the visualization, and Berkeleyside analyzed the data — using Google Sheets and the statistical programming language R — independently of Owens.
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