BART-Berkeley affordable housing plan faces criticism

The City of Berkeley has taken a step toward fighting the housing shortage by partnering with BART to build hundreds of affordable housing units near two stations. 

Both the city and the transit agency say this plan will solve two problems: address the region's shortage of affordable housing and combat climate change, but some residents say they are not so sure. 

"Both BART and the city of Berkeley will begin to work to change our rules, to begin planning to develop a project that we hope will begin construction in five years," said Mayor Jesse Arreguin of Berkeley.

City of Berkeley councilmembers voted unanimously Tuesday to work together to build housing, some of which will be low income at the Ashby BART station.

The location doesn't have much room to build out, but there is plenty of space going up. 

The city of Berkeley owns the air right meaning that anything that (is) built is also in the city jurisdiction," Mayor Arreguin told KTVU. 

The other location under the plan is the North Berkeley BART station, which is bordered by Sacramento, Delaware, Acton, and Virginia Streets.

Beyond the station are homes and the only open space is the BART parking lot, which is where the new housing would be built.

"We estimate that we could probably create about six hundred to eight hundred units at the North Berkeley Bart station alone," said the Berkeley mayor. 

The introduction of housing would be a reduction in the hundreds of parking spaces that are used by BART riders, which has drawn the ire of some residents.

"Removal of the parking lots effectively makes BART inaccessible to current residents because there are no available alternatives," said Mary Louise Han Tyson, a Berkeley Resident

According to the city's proposal, the larger idea is that building around mass transit will prompt residents to use other forms of transportation such as bicycles.

The long-term goal is to combat climate change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with a reduction in vehicle usage. 

"There are some that are concerned but change is going to happen regardless so how do we plan for change in a way that’s inclusive, that’s equitable and that’s sustainable," said Arreguin.

Even though the land where the housing would be built is on BART property, the agreement means the City of Berkeley will have a say in the project. 

The mayor told KTVU that if all goes as planned, the project could go out for bid in December 2020.