A one-story building with a tree in front of it. The door reads "Public Affairs."
The UC Berkeley Public Affairs building will be turned into a multi-story student housing project. It is one of the next two sites identified for student housing in a UC Berkeley presentation. Credit: Zac Farber

UC Berkeley has identified its next two sites for student housing development in Berkeley. Both are in Southside and together could add up to 2,700 more beds. 

The Public Affairs Office at Bancroft Way and Fulton Street would be replaced with student dorms with an estimated 1,200 beds, though the actual numbers have not been determined yet. Dorms rising from the site of the parking garage and tennis courts on Channing Way and Ellsworth Street would be even larger, with about 1,500 beds.

The developments are still in early stages. UC Berkeley is reviewing submissions from architects and the projects won’t break ground for another two-and-a-half or three years. But if the plans come to fruition, they could be the university’s largest student housing projects to date.

The two projects would significantly increase the total number of university-owned beds for Cal students. The university aimed to “maximize density” and hit “aggressive” targets for the number of student beds, said Peter Gorman, director of housing development at UC Berkeley, during a meeting between the city, UC Berkeley and Cal students. 

A birds eye view of the block of Fulton St between Bancroft and Durant. A red dotted line outlines the site of the Public Affairs building.
The Public Affairs Office at Bancroft Way and Fulton Street would be replaced with student dorms with 1,200 to 1,500 beds. Credit: UC Berkeley
The Channing Ellsworth parking garage and tennis courts will be developed into multi-story student housing. Credit: UC Berkeley

Currently, UC Berkeley houses the smallest percentage of students in the UC system, with about 30% of undergraduates and 8% of graduate students living in student housing owned and operated by UC Berkeley. Under Chancellor Carol Christ’s housing plan, the university aims to double the number of spots available in its student housing and eventually guarantee housing to all freshmen for two years, transfer students for one year and incoming graduate students for one year. 

Cal is still far from meeting those goals but it is making some progress. The last new student housing buildings to open were Blackwell Hall in 2018 (750 beds) and Intersection Apartments in Emeryville in 2021 (145 beds). When projects at Anchor House and Albany Village are completed, the university will be able to offer another 1,500 beds.

A project to build 1,100 student beds, plus supportive housing, on People’s Park was disrupted by protesters last summer as crews began to close the park in preparation for construction, and it has since been stopped indefinitely by a court decision ruling that UC Berkeley failed to meet CEQA requirements. Cal plans to take the case to the state Supreme Court.

“Legal challenges remain the single greatest barrier to delivering affordable and accessible housing for our students,” Gorma said. “And it also points out that if any one of these — or more than one of these — projects are stalled, then it puts more pressure on developing the rest of them.” 

Critics of the UC’s plan to develop at People’s Park have asked the university why it won’t build housing elsewhere. UC Berkeley officials have repeated the same line about building on all available sites. “This isn’t really an either/or pick and choose which sites we can develop. We really have to develop all of these,” Gorman repeated at the meeting.

It has been years since the university has dipped into its budget to construct a student housing project, according to Gorman, instead relying on major donors and partnering with private developers like American Campus Communities. (Construction for the People’s Park project is funded by the campus, however.)

Correction: A previous version of this story reported an inaccurate estimate for the number of beds UC Berkeley plans to build due to an outdated presentation given by Cal officials at an April 19 meeting between city leaders and representatives from the university. The estimated number from the two projects is 2,700, not 4,000.

Ally Markovich, who covers the school beat for Berkeleyside, is a former high school English teacher. Her work has appeared in The Oaklandside, The New York Times, Huffington Post and Washington Post,...