Housing Precedent Cases

Throughout the [IN]CITY summer program, we will be working towards crafting a redevelopment proposal for a BART station in Berkeley, California. Currently, the site is mostly covered in surface parking lots, but we believe we have an opportunity to inspire the city to turn this space into a new kind of destination by leveraging TOD (transit-oriented development) principles.

The North Berkeley BART station and its copious space for parking

As we work towards this goal, we need to build up a toolkit of ideas and prior work that could potentially be incorporated into our final proposal. Hence, we were each recently assigned various precedent cases (related to housing projects) to study and report back on. Here are a couple that I was involved with researching and presenting.

Supportive Housing (San Francisco, CA)

This was a fascinating deep dive into supportive housing, a type of development designed specifically to combat the highly visible urban problem of chronic homelessness. San Francisco, being a national leader in this regard, has the most supportive housing units per capita in the United States. In this presentation, we explored the history of efforts to address homelessness in San Francisco and focused on the particularly well-received Richardson Apartments in Hayes Valley.

Some of the more surprising lessons included:

  • The cost of maintaining a supportive housing unit and associated services is much less than the cost of services (e.g. police, medical) typically required by an unsheltered chronic homeless individual
  • Supportive housing actually has a net positive impact on local property values (contrary to common belief)
  • 95% of individuals who enter supportive housing stay off the street long-term – meaning this is a program with proven effectiveness and is likely the best solution to finally end chronic homelessness

Stacked Townhouses (Vancouver, BC)

Stacked townhouses are a relatively novel housing form – recently gaining popularity in Toronto, Montreal, and now Vancouver. The recently adopted Cambie Corridor plan in Vancouver explicitly encourages developers to build thousands of these units near the King Edward Skytrain station. I dug into the history of townhouse zoning in Vancouver and explored one of the most recent proposed developments along the Cambie Corridor – an area I know quite personally

A couple of the most salient learnings:

  • It is completely possible to drastically ramp up density (including housing for the “missing middle” of the market) in a way that doesn’t appear threatening to single-family homeowners, hence avoiding their typical ire
  • Vancouver’s planning department is exceedingly cognizant of the context of every neighborhood in the city – and bakes in community-based principles into all their plans, which results in broader acceptance as well as long-term cohesion of all the members of a community

With these precedents (and many more from the rest of the class), I’m starting to formulate a clearer picture of what I’d like to propose for the North Berkeley BART site. Can’t wait to start sketching out this vision!

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