California State Treasurer Fiona Ma released data indicating “impressive” increases in affordable housing production around the state in 2020.
Ma’s office worked with other state agencies to draft a statement that pointed to a mix of temporary and long-term housing initiatives aimed to provide affordable housing across the state. Ma added that new housing unit construction in California increased by 144% compared to 2019. In 2020, there were 19,035 new housing units constructed in addition to the rehabilitation of 4,736 affordable housing units – numbers Ma called “astounding” given that they were achieved during a global pandemic.
“Our four agencies are working collaboratively for the first time in many, many decades,” Ma said. “We are all focused on trying to alleviate the housing crisis, making sure families have safe places to stay in, even while unemployment is unstable in this moment.”
Several Berkeley city council members noted, however, that the state’s programs are aimed towards counties, making it difficult for cities to access them.
One program Berkeley has been working with is Project Roomkey, a temporary housing initiative that allows cities to lease rooms for at-risk homeless residents. Councilmember Terry Taplin said the program works through a referral system currently, but the council is actively seeking to buy out hotels to provide more sustainable housing, according to Councilmember Kate Harrison.
“We were all involved in these discussions on how we can buy hotels and provide permanent affordable housing,” Harrison said. “Now that we have the time, I am interested.”
The process that Harrison outlined is the basis of Project Homekey, a statewide initiative that funds the revitalization of buildings such as hotels, motels and other empty properties to provide permanent affordable housing.
There are currently 94 Homekey projects statewide providing 6,029 housing units for homeless people across California. More than half of these projects are being funded through the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund.
While affordable housing numbers statewide have significantly increased according to state officials, smaller cities such as Berkeley have had to “fill the gaps” where state funding has lacked, Harrison said.
The approval of Measure O in 2018 designated the city of Berkeley with $135 million to spend on developing affordable housing, according to Mayor Jesse Arreguín. Arreguín added that because of Measure O, the city was able to make historic developments such as Berkeley Way, a 142-unit affordable housing complex in Downtown Berkeley.
Taplin also mentioned future initiatives by other council members to increase affordable housing including Councilmember Lori Droste’s efforts to legalize fourplexes and five-unit buildings, as well as the elimination of single-family zoning.
“I have made it a priority to accelerate the development of affordable housing in Berkeley and we are getting results,” Arreguín said in an email. “Advancing development of affordable housing is necessary in creating equitable communities that for too long have been overcome by displacement.”