Blogging Bayport Alameda

March 31, 2017

Missing middle

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:01 am

It’s pretty popular these days to focus on middle income housing and how we’ve neglected to continue to build for middle income residents.  The optimist in me says that the housing crunch has now made folks realize how important a diversity of housing is in order to maintain differently levels of affordability.  The cynic is me says that the folks who are focusing on middle income housing are doing it to detract from building all other housing and therefore concentrating on the type of housing that just doesn’t get built these days because of a multitude of reasons.

There’s a good piece on Bloomberg about the need for the in between housing that we’re not building these days.  Highlights:

Small buildings are a good way to add density without compromising the character of quiet, single-family districts. They also provide a convenient way for older homeowners to downsize without leaving their neighborhoods.

But the best reason is that smaller apartment buildings are often cheaper for renters.

According to new research from Enterprise Community Partners, an affordable housing nonprofit, and the University of Southern California, apartment buildings with between two and nine units offer the lowest prices available to U.S. renters.

The reason why?

As noted, America isn’t building as much of this kind of housing as it used to. Small- and medium-size apartment complexes account for a quarter of existing units built in the 1970s and 1980s, according to the report. Since 1990, though, the category has accounted for just 15 percent of new housing stock.

Zoning rules have developed to favor single-family construction, making it harder to win approval for larger projects. There are regulatory costs to building multifamily housing, and developers that go through all the trouble to win approvals want to build more than just a few apartments.

…[O]perating efficiencies also make lenders look more favorably on larger apartments, Jakabovics said. It’s a virtuous circle for ever-bigger residential developments, though not so much for smaller ones.

I’ll point out that all those ticky-tacky boxes that preceded Alameda’s Measure A, while not attractive to some people,  are the missing small and medium sized apartment complexes that are just not getting built these days but have been a staple of non subsidized affordable housing in the past.

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19 Comments »

  1. Small buildings are a good way to add density without compromising the character of quiet, single-family districts. They also provide a convenient way for older homeowners to downsize without leaving their neighborhoods.

    I’ll point out that all those ticky-tacky boxes that preceded Alameda’s Measure A, while not attractive to some people, are the missing small and medium sized apartment complexes that are just not getting built these days but have been a staple of non subsidized affordable housing in the past.

    =====================================================================

    Considering that a majority of Alamedans are renters, and something like 40% of our housing units are in multifamily buildings, it can be fairly stated that we already have the middle tier housing that the article calls for.

    Can your nod toward neighborhood character be taken as a tacit admission that Measure A saved ours?

    Comment by dave — March 31, 2017 @ 6:28 am

  2. From Wikipedia: “”Little Boxes” is a song written and composed by Malvina Reynolds in 1962, which became a hit for her friend Pete Seeger in 1963.

    The song is a political satire about the development of suburbia, and associated conformist middle-class attitudes. It mocks suburban tract housing as “little boxes” of different colors “all made out of ticky-tacky”, and which “all look just the same.” “Ticky-tacky” is a reference to the shoddy material used in the construction of the houses.[1]”

    Malvina Reynolds wasn’t talking about apartment houses. She was talking about single family home developments, specifically one she saw in Daly City. Measure A was a reaction to the destruction of Victorians and insertion of boxy motel type apartment buildings. “Little Boxes” is a comment on places like Harbor Bay and Bayport where choices of housing style, color, landscaping, etc. are limited and individual expression is repressed.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — March 31, 2017 @ 7:54 am

    • In the song, at least there were colors: “There’s a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one”. No colors in Bayport. Sad.

      Comment by vigi — March 31, 2017 @ 9:30 am

    • Aesthetic condescension like this is why people get annoyed by what they see as cultural elites.

      Comment by BC — March 31, 2017 @ 1:11 pm

  3. I’m sorry, but I think it is finally time we got over the myth that measure A was about saving the Victorians. It was, first and foremost a redlining ordinance enacted to keep “those people” out of Alameda. “those people” meaning middle to lower income, mostly people of color. If the measure A authors wanted an ordinance to save Victorians, they could have written a one line ordinance saying “it will be illegal in Alameda to demolish or drastically alter a house older than 50 year in order to build any other structure.”

    Comment by Notadave — March 31, 2017 @ 9:42 am

    • Exactly!

      Comment by BC — March 31, 2017 @ 9:57 am

    • No, Measure A **was** about saving victorians and neighborhoods and the character of this good city. Just go down San Jose Ave near Park Street, or Alameda Ave before AHS, and you can see what the demolition (and replacement) of victorians there did. No, measre A was definitely about preserving Alameda’s character.

      Comment by anonmous — March 31, 2017 @ 11:12 am

      • yes anonmous is correct, measure A was about preserving Alameda’s character, its “white” character. Been here in the West End since 1943. Maybe we can take a good look at the old school dist. boundary lines also. The good thing is that times and people change.

        Comment by John P. trumpisnotmypresident. — March 31, 2017 @ 11:28 am

      • It wasn’t the buildings that upset you, it was who was in those buildings. There were lots of ways that a measure could have been written that would have allowed for protection of older buildings while still allowing for multifamily development, but that wouldn’t have achieved what the authors really wanted to achieve,

        Comment by Notadave — March 31, 2017 @ 12:24 pm

      • Anonymous, you prove nothing with your observation about SJ Ave. If it was really about preserving Victorians, why ban multiunit buildings rather than just prevent people demolishing Victorians? What makes one city good and another bad, by the way?

        Comment by BC — March 31, 2017 @ 1:10 pm

        • please get a different ad, Lauren. Can’t read the post all the way to the end

          Comment by vigi — March 31, 2017 @ 1:38 pm

        • I wasn’t here in the 70’s — and suspect few posters outside of Vigi, John P and Jack R were — but the things I’ve read & the stories I’ve heard indicate that there was more than one motivation behind MA. Some supported out of bigotry, some out of desire to preserve, some worried about traffic, etc.

          To the extent there was a racist motivation behind it, it failed miserably, as Alameda has become tremendously more diverse since 1973. The preservationist motive, however, has been a rousing success. It literally saved the appearance and character of the town. What I find ironic is that most post ’73 Alamedans who want to overturn MA were very likely attracted to our city by its appearance & character….

          Comment by dave — March 31, 2017 @ 1:46 pm

  4. Large parts of Alameda are covered by restrictions that are as strong, if not stronger, than Measure A. To wit: the CC&Rs or other binding rules or agreements that cover many large areas such as Bayport, Harbor Bay, etc. Those areas generally have fewer multi-unit buildings as compared to other parts of Alameda that were developed earlier and not covered by modern CC&Rs (a prime feature of which are to place great discretion in the hands of architectural committee or the HOA itself with respect to any proposed construction or building alterations). Measure A or no Measure A, those areas will not soon see new “ticky-tacky boxes that preceded Alameda’s Measure A,” that, “while not attractive to some people…have been a staple of non subsidized affordable housing in the past.”

    — we interrupt this comment to bring you an un-mutable video pop-up ad from Humara —

    So, other than for reasons of pure expediency, why shouldn’t advocacy for reform of Measure A (and we know that are effectively many exceptions to Measure A that have already been made) include insisting that any reforms be coupled with measures in the Code or Charter that would prevent such reforms from washing out on the shores of existing CC&Rs?

    Comment by MP — March 31, 2017 @ 10:47 am

    • Why isn’t anyone taking me up on this one?

      Comment by MP — March 31, 2017 @ 3:34 pm

      • Because density is for other people, not for Bayporters.

        Comment by dave — March 31, 2017 @ 3:56 pm

        • Alas

          Comment by MP — March 31, 2017 @ 5:35 pm

  5. I can’t wait to say goodbye to measure A.

    Comment by Angela — March 31, 2017 @ 2:06 pm

    • Put it on the ballot.

      Comment by dave — March 31, 2017 @ 3:12 pm

  6. I have always thought that the way to preserve the feel of Alameda would be to require that new large housing developments (like the Base) mirror the housing that is already present here in Alameda. This would include single family homes, small apartment buildings, condo’s, small houses, etc. in the same proportion that they exist currently in Alameda. That would make the new development “fit in”with the rest of Alameda.

    I find the single family repeating housing tracts (every fourth home is essentially the same) like in Bayport to stand out as quite separate from what is already here.

    I am guessing that maintaining the current diversity of housing that we have is neither adequately profitable for the builders or politically acceptable to the various interests, but it is what I would most like to see.

    Comment by JohnB — April 1, 2017 @ 6:53 pm


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