Tonight at the Planning Board, the Universal Design Ordinance is on the agenda for a study session. In general I’m very supportive of Universal Design, particularly in new construction units, but I am a bit concerned about some portions of the Universal Design Ordinance. Not from an accessibility stand point, but from an affordability point.
Already Alameda and the Bay Area as a whole has large swaths of areas that are unaffordable. Rents have softened in some areas, but that is a softening from an unsustainable high. Still housing sale prices are insane right now, so the alternatives for housing are pretty limited for people looking for housing right now.
Here’s the part I’m concerned about in the Universal Design Ordinance:
“The 100% Requirement”. (Section 18.4.a) Every new unit built in Alameda should be “visitable” by a visitor with mobility issues and provide for “the basic needs of a wide range of guests to enter and use critical portions of the home, to the greatest extent possible.” Section 18.4.a requires that a visitor can get to the front door, get though the front door, access a bedroom or common visiting area, access a ground floor open space, and use the bathroom without having to negotiate stairs. The other bedrooms and bathrooms, the kitchen, and all other spaces within the home can be on upper levels accessed by stairs.
On its face it sounds fine. Visitors should be able to access people’s home. That is a laudable goal. However, this is what it means from a practical standpoint:
• Eliminate the raised front porch from Alameda’s future housing stock and will require changes to the City of Alameda Residential Design Guidelines which encourages stoops and raised front porches on new homes, which are typical of Alameda’s Victorians and Craftsman Bungalows. Stairs leading up to the front door of a new home would no longer be permitted under the proposed “100% Requirement”.
Not that big of a deal, a raised front porch. Well, the design guide will need to be changed, but again, no big deal from an added cost to the housing unit perspective.
• Eliminate the “walk-up” from Alameda’s future housing stock. Almost every existing residential unit above Webster Street and Park Street commercial buildings is accessed by a staircase leading to a front door at the sidewalk. Additionally, the new affordable housing project under construction at Alameda Landing includes two-story townhomes on the second and third floors which are accessed from a staircase leading up to the unit from the front door on the street. Stairs leading from a front door on the street up to a dwelling unit on the second or third floor would no longer be permitted under the proposed “100% Requirement”.
This is a problem. Because it would require small projects like a commercial district “bottom retail, top residential” unit to put in an elevator which is a huge added cost because of the maintenance on the elevator and the space required to install one. Additionally, nearly all the multi-family units that have been constructed under Alameda’ inclusionary housing requirement have second floor units that are not accessed by an elevator because of the additional costs to install and maintain an elevator. This would make affordable housing projects even more expensive to build which would either reduce the number of affordable housing units available to be offered or it would make units that would be affordable by design (second story residential over commercial) increase in cost exponentially putting it on par with new market rate construction as opposed to legacy buildings in Alameda.
• Generally require slightly larger lots for all townhomes, since all townhomes will be required to have a bathroom and a bedroom or sitting area on the ground floor in addition to the typical garage and staircase leading upstairs to the primary living areas.
Bigger lots = more expensive overall.
Again, I think the overall idea is good, but the 100% should be examined more closely through an affordability lens. I don’t think that the goal of this Universal Design ordinance is to help further price out families from Alameda, but as it stands in its current form that might be the result.