On Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, one of the Berkeley Walgreens locations closed for good, soon to be demolished to make way for a 25-story, 326-unit apartment building, according to Berkeleyside.
Some of Berkeley’s major construction projects for more housing include an affordable housing project at 1740 San Pablo Avenue, a BART site, or the Berkeley Unified School District Workforce Housing project located at the BUSD Adult School.
“I’ve been renting apartments in East Bay since 2009. And so when I first moved back up here from Santa Barbara in 2009, (it had) been maybe $800 for a studio apartment,” said Alex Day, a Universal Ninth Grade Ethnic Studies and Social Living teacher, “Not the best, not the worst. But since then, if I’ve been on the market, there’s been very little that I can actually afford.”
Mark Humbert, Berkeley City Council Member representing District 8, echoed this sentiment, saying that he rented a small apartment for just $250 dollars a month in 1979.
“I could pay for it easily on part-time earnings as I attended the law school at UC Berkeley,” said Humbert, “This is no longer possible. The average price for a one-bedroom apartment in that neighborhood is $2800 plus, more than 10 times what I paid. Income has not risen nearly that fast.”
According to Rigel Robinson, the Berkeley City Council Member for District 7, the recent increase in Downtown Berkeley housing is a result of the City of Berkeley’s Housing Element Plan, which plans to build around 9,000 new housing units by 2031.
“It is an important opportunity for Berkeley’s residents and community members to come together to assess housing needs, identify policy and resource priorities, and find solutions to implement a wide range of housing choices,” stated a City of Berkeley website on the Housing Element plan. “The plan contains goals, policies, and programs that will guide the city’s decision-making around the development and rehabilitation of housing.”
Humbert also mentioned that most of the recently constructed and planned buildings include affordable housing in order to obtain a state “density bonus” as well as contributing to the Berkeley Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The Trust fund, which was created in 1990, pools various sources of funding to support the development and preservation of affordable housing projects.
According to Humbert, the state “density bonus” allows developers to construct taller buildings than the zoning for the parcel, a property land, would generally allow and therefore increase the number of units built, if the developer makes certain percentages of units affordable.
Robinson also stated that Downtown Berkeley is undergoing a long overdue transformation, and the new construction is helping to meet a backlog for the need for housing due to a failure to build enough housing in the 20th century.
“Through strategic rezoning and multimodal transit projects, we can create a more sustainable, walkable, and affordable future for Berkeley,” said Robinson. “New construction helps open up our older, more affordable housing stock to more families.”
As a result of the shortage of housing and a tremendous need for housing in Berkeley, according to Humbert, Berkeley can expect to see an increase in new housing.
“Construction in other parts of Berkeley is also responsive to our need for housing. Berkeley prevented housing from being easily built for decades,” said Humbert. “This caused a shortage of housing, which has contributed to the high cost of homes, both rental and homes for sale.”
Deborah Matthews, a real estate broker and co-founder of South Berkeley Now! an organization that advocates for housing, equity, diversity, and investment in South Berkeley, added that with the young worker demographics and the lifestyle influences of living near the action, there is a demand for affordable housing in Downtown Berkeley.
“Mixed-income housing in the downtown area is exciting,” said Matthews. “The revitalization of the downtown is critical to having viable, exciting destination points in the heart of the city, and housing development is now playing a very critical role in this revitalization.”
Humbart added that the new housing could help Downtown Berkeley to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, with more people living downtown, causing the neighborhood to become livelier and, therefore, improve its economy. According to Matthews, housing development is critical to Downtown Berkeley’s long-term vitality and success.
Matthews discussed the impact that COVID-19 has had on housing throughout the last three years. “The Bay Area has experienced many business closures due to mandated safety restrictions, lack of available supplies, limited staffing, few customers, and huge financial sacrifices,” Matthews said. “Many business owners, after several pivots, were unfortunately forced to shutter their establishments. We must re-evaluate how to address the housing and business challenges throughout our city effectively and provide affordable housing and small business opportunities for all.”