UC Berkeley’s Richmond Global Campus expected to spur housing construction

The panel of housing experts presents their research to the city council (Photo by Paayal Zaveri)

The panel of housing experts presents their research to the city council (Photo by Paayal Zaveri)

City planners are betting that a new university campus will fuel a construction boom in Richmond to help fill the chronic gap in the community’s housing supply.

During a City Council meeting Tuesday, city officials and development experts presented policy initiatives to improve the availability, quality and development of affordable housing. The presentation centered on how the University of California at Berkeley’s Richmond Global Campus will increase development in the city.

“One of the things that distinguishes Richmond from many places in the Bay Area is that we have almost no new housing development for about a decade,” said Mayor Tom Butt.

That may be starting to change. The city has applications under review for 200 new housing units, more than officials have seen in recent memory. Now, housing specials hope the UC campus will bring even more.

“The Richmond Bay Specific Plan will accommodate more than 4,000 residential units, which accounts for more than 10 percent of existing housing units available in the city,” Senior City Planner Lina Velasco said.

Richmond is regarded as one of the few remaining places in the Bay Area with reasonably affordable housing. Skyrocketing rents and home prices elsewhere suggest more and more people will be looking to move here.

Meea Kang, president of Domus Development, said California’s growing population also is driving more housing demand in Richmond. She said the key issue is how the growth will be managed.

“We know that all our areas are going to grow, so we need to think about smart growth and where we’re going to plan this housing and where it’s going to go,” Kang said.

Future economic development sites besides the UC Berkeley Global Campus include the Hilltop Mall revitalization, Richmond Main Street Initiative and Point Molate Revitalization. All those should contribute to increasing Richmond housing supply.

Felix AuYeung, senior manager of EAH housing, said that Richmond, despite its reputation for high crime and industrial pollution, has a lot to attract would-be developers. Transportation, for instance, is a plus, with three BART stations, Amtrak, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and a planned ferry service to the inner Bay Area.

The prospect of a large public university expansion could further help turn things around.

“The Berkeley Global campus has the potential to catalyze all forms of development on the south shoreline,” he said.

Addressing the City Council, Richmond resident Mike Parker said he wasn’t convinced, suggesting the pattern of growth threatens to split the city.

“It’s not just a question of the quantity of affordable housing, it’s also where it is. And whether we’re creating affordable housing so that there are ghettos of affordable housing on one side of 580 and then luxury buildings on the other side,” he said.

Butt’s office is launching a task force on affordable housing to continue research and to propose policy efforts to increase the affordable housing stock.

“It’s just the beginning in trying to address our affordable housing gap here in Richmond,” Butt said.

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