East Bay Area Cities Debate Backyard Homes Amid Increasing Wildfire Risk
In 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed two laws streamlining the process for building accessory dwelling units, defined as new units or repurposed rooms intended to house more people than a home was originally designed to house. The laws limited the ability of cities to zone ADUs out of existence; they set a minimum size that local ADU regulations must adhere to and speed up the approval process. Much like a suite of over 30 bills signed by Newsom last month, it was intended to boost the supply of affordable housing across the state. But now that cities in the East Bay are rewriting their local ADU laws to conform with the new state laws, some are arguing that there’s a fire risk inherent to over-developing some neighborhoods.
In Berkeley, Council Member Susan Wengraf, who represents the affluent Berkeley Hills neighborhood, argues that any new ADUs in the area need to be smaller and require other restrictions, risking a potential legal fight with the state according to reporting from Berkeleyside. Wengraf believes that a denser population in the neighborhood would lead to congested roads that could prove fatal should the population face a catastrophic wildfire. Others, including Debra Sanderson of the city’s ADU taskforce, told Berkeleyside these concerns are unwarranted given the slow pace of ADU construction in the area.
In Oakland, a proposal from the city planning commission would set even tighter restrictions than those in Berkeley, banning exterior ADUs in certain fire-prone neighborhoods with narrow roads in the Oakland hills, according to Oakland North. Interior ADUs like basement apartments would still be allowed under the proposal. Some neighbors who remember the October 1991 Oakland Tunnel Fire, in which 25 residents died, believe these restrictions don’t go far enough, and that the state needs to better consider new construction in areas with wildfire risk.
Denver Church Gets Second Life as Supportive Housing
In Denver, the former Warren Church in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood reopened as 48 units of supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness, according to The Denver Gazette. Units at the Saint Francis Warren Residences will be set aside for people making less than 30 percent of the city’s AMI, or 22,050 for a single individual, according to the Gazette.
The space will have on-site case management and vocational training, both of which will be optional. The project was funded with $2.1 million in money for construction and an additional $1 million for 15 years of supportive services, according to 9 News. Much of the funding was made possible through property tax revenue set aside in Denver’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, city officials told 9 News.
NYC Expands Program Targets Landlord Harassment
NYC’s council renewed and expanded a 2018 pilot program that allows the city to deny construction permits to landlords with a history of harassment, City Limits reports. The Certificate of No Harassment Program entailed a system in 11 NYC neighborhoods wherein new applications for construction permits would be reviewed by the city, who would then have to affirm that the landlord had no harassment violations in the previous five years.
The expanded legislation will cover the entire city and will include a $5,000 payment to tenants where applications are denied due to a history of harassment. NYC Landlords have used new construction — including demolitions of units and capital improvements — as a form of tenant harassment for years to push tenants to vacate rent-regulated units. Legislators hope this will curb the practice.
Roshan Abraham is Next City's housing correspondent and a former Equitable Cities fellow. He is based in Queens. Follow him on Twitter at @roshantone.