An apartment building under construction on Shattuck Avenue and Channing in Downtown Berkeley in October 2022. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

California approved Berkeley’s Housing Element this week, allowing the city to access state funding and move forward with ambitious plans for housing growth over the next eight years.

Berkeley began crafting its Housing Element in 2021 and submitted the plan in January, which includes a concerted push for more density in wealthier neighborhoods and almost 9,000 new homes throughout the city.

The state rejected the city’s submission on Jan. 30 and told it to go even further in upzoning neighborhoods around Elmwood and Solano and Shattuck avenues in North Berkeley. After the city made changes to its Housing Element in February, the state approved the plan Tuesday.

The city said in its updated Housing Element that most of these changes were “non-substantive.”

Paul McDougall, state Housing and Community Development senior program manager, had written in the original rejection that Berkeley needed to clarify specific numerical targets for homes built in wealthier areas, include commitments to evaluating progress and lay out more evidence for how it will build on currently occupied sites, among other things.

In its amendments, the city clarified its goal to build about 2,000 new homes in wealthier neighborhoods (already outlined in the Housing Element), added more data to show how non-vacant sites will be developed and specified a mid-term evaluation for its goals.

Berkeley now joins Alameda, San Francisco and Oakland (which also had its initial plan rejected) as Bay Area cities with approved housing elements, which the state reviews every eight years.

If Berkeley hadn’t gained approval for its Housing Element, it would have been blocked from receiving several state grants, like the Community Development Block Grant and the Caltrans Sustainable Communities Grant Program.

It may have also been subject to a “builder’s remedy,” which allows developers to get approval in non-compliant cities for housing projects of any size where at least 20% of units in the building are affordable.

A state dashboard that doesn’t yet reflect Berkeley’s approval status shows that about half of the state’s Housing Elements comply. Most cities in the nine-county Association of Bay Area Governments are currently listed as out of compliance, but this week’s new approvals will be updated.

Supriya Yelimeli is a housing and homelessness reporter for Berkeleyside and joined the staff in May 2020 after contributing reporting since 2018 as a freelance writer. Yelimeli grew up in Fremont and...