HAC was delighted to welcome Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín to a recent Regulatory Committee meeting and discuss his views on housing in Berkeley and the broader Bay Area.
Mayor Arreguín was elected in 2015, becoming the second-youngest mayor in Berkeley’s history. He has helped spearhead much of Berkeley’s recent pro-housing legislation and shared his vision for Berkeley’s housing future.
Mayor Arreguín’s housing views have evolved during his term. Running on a tenant protection platform, he initially opposed market rate housing developments. However, with homelessness and displacement on the rise, he began to view market rate housing as an essential component, along with affordable homes, to reduce displacement and increase affordability.
This transformation has been remarkable, especially considering that Berkeley’s City Council recently voted to begin the process of ending exclusionary single-family zoning over the next two years, with Mayor Arreguín helping to lead the way. He cites Berkeley’s place in history as the first American city to implement single family zoning with the explicit intent of preventing people of color from living in wealthy, white neighborhoods. Beyond being a moral decision, he believes that allowing quadplexes citywide could provide valuable “missing middle” housing for families that Berkeley desperately needs.
While the fight over single family zoning has attracted a lot of attention, it’s just one of many pro-housing developments happening in Berkeley. The city recently finished an updated Adeline corridor plan, upzoning the area surrounding the Ashby Street BART station. This neighborhood has seen rapid displacement, and the plan will increase height limits to allow for more density in this transit-rich area. In fact, Mayor Arreguín is working with BART to provide more than 1,000 homes at both of Berkeley’s BART stations. He is also exploring parking maximums due to the high cost of parking and to incentivize residents utilizing Berkeley’s robust transit system. Mayor Arreguín also supports City Councilmember Taplin’s proposed affordable housing overlay, which would provide a major incentive for affordable home construction in Berkeley.
A unique component to Berkeley’s housing challenge is student housing. Over 30,000 Cal students live off-campus, many in Berkeley. Unfortunately, the Bay Area’s affordability crisis is also hitting students, with many left homeless. Student housing is a high priority for Mayor Arreguín, and Berkeley recently upzoned the Southside neighborhood to allow for 16 story student housing complexes.
Mayor Arreguín is busy outside of Berkeley as well. As the head of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), he had a busy 2020 updating the Bay Area’s RHNA allocations. And as someone who experienced displacement growing up in dotcom boom era San Francisco, affordable housing is a deeply personal issue for the Mayor. Every city must do its part to build more housing, and ABAG is currently working with local governments to make the necessary zoning and housing element changes to accommodate increased housing requirements.
In his own backyard, Berkeley will need to produce 9,000 units by 2031, and he looks forward to tackling that challenge. Building all these homes means tackling major impediments to construction, and he views streamlining Berkeley’s permit process as essential to meeting the city’s housing goals. ABAG also introduced the Bay Area Housing Financing Authority (BAHFA) last year, which he hopes will provide more funding for affordable housing in the near future.
As an organization, we want to again emphasize how impressed we are with the steps Berkeley has taken to increase housing production, take a stand against racism in housing policy, and effectively address our affordability and displacement crisis. With Mayor Arreguín at the helm, we’re excited about Berkeley’s momentum in 2021 and beyond!