Blogging Bayport Alameda

May 16, 2017

Shared living economy

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:06 am

Tonight, in addition to the rental housing ordinance, there will also be a proposed amendment to an existing ordinance governing shared living facilities (aka rooming house, SRO, boarding house, etc).  There’s an application to build a senior shared living facility on Webster Street, but right now that use is not allowed in commercial districts.  Although, weirdly, there is a building for sale on Park Street where the residential above is of the shared living space variety, so perhaps there are some exceptions for existing non comforting uses.

The Planning Board made a few recommendations about this particular ordinance, which I think would work very well:

 Therefore, the Planning Board and staff are recommending that the City Council amend the AMC to delete the four nearly identical definitions that are currently in the AMC and create a new single definition of “shared living” that will eliminate redundancy and minimize confusion in the administration of City regulations. The new definition would read as follows:

“Shared Living shall mean a building, or portion thereof, other than a hotel that provides private living quarters without private, individual kitchen facilities. A shared common kitchen and common activity area may be provided. Shared living facilities also include single room occupancy (SRO) units, which provide housing for individuals including very low-income persons that typically consist of a single room with access to a shared bath. Shared living may be restricted to seniors or be available to persons of all ages. “

In addition, the Planning Board and staff are recommending that the City Council amend the AMC to permit “shared living” above the ground floor with a conditional use permit in the CC Community Commercial District (Park Street and Webster Street), NP-G District (North Park Street from Tilden to Blanding), C-1 Neighborhood Commercial District (the “stations”), and the C-2 Central Business District.

The conditional use permit process ensures that each proposal will require a public hearing at which the Planning Board and/or the City Council, upon appeal, may impose site-specific conditions of approval which may be needed to ensure compatibility with surrounding uses and facilities. Examples of conditions which might be added on a case-by-case include conditions requiring: shuttle services, transit passes, and on-site facilities such as open space, additional bathrooms, and/or other facilities. The conditional use permit process also preserves the ability of the City to determine that any specific proposal or a particular property may not be appropriate for such a use because of project-specific or site-specific existing conditions.

A conditional use would mean a review by the Planning Board prior to development, but it wouldn’t just preclude the use outright.  After all, a senior shared living facility would be perfect in a busy commercial corridor for seniors that may not have access to vehicles and could still be active and close to services and retail.  It’s a good way for seniors to downsize from existing residential units and can provide a much less expensive option to pricey senior assisted living communities.

This article from Sightline I had read a while back,  I can’t recall if I’ve posted it here before, about the very topic of shared living facilities being a historic form of affordable housing, highlights:

But not so long ago, other, less-expensive choices were just as common: renting space in a family’s home, for example, or living in a residential hotel.

Rooming houses, with small private bedrooms and shared bathrooms down the hall, were particularly numerous. This affordable, efficient form of basic housing is overdue for a revival, but legal barriers stand in the way.

In the 1920s came zoning, and a more aggressive phase of the assault on inexpensive housing began. Zoning gave city leaders a whole new weapon for separating the laboring class from the “better classes.” After a US Supreme Court ruling in 1926 recognized states’ power to authorize local zoning, city planners quickly trapped residential hotels in the oldest parts of town—the parts built before zoning separated shops, restaurants, and bars from dwellings. Sometimes, they banned rooming houses and other hotels outright in apartment districts; other times, they simply made them impractical by forbidding the dense mixture of retail establishments necessary to support living in them. And by setting aside vast areas of every city for single-family houses on private lots, they drastically curtailed the land available for all forms of less-expensive, multi-unit residences, whether apartments or residential hotels.

The whole piece is worth reading for a historic look on shared living facilities and how we aggressively zoned and legislated this form of inexpensive housing out of existence.



  1. Translation: City fathers used zoning to make the land more valuable and livable for its citizens- encouraging retail and commercial use and optimizing home ownership.

    Comment by Captain Obvious — May 16, 2017 @ 6:14 am

    • This is why I only support this type of living for co-ops or nonprofits. Otherwise it’s just another cash cow for commercial property owners and more traffic problems without solving the housing problems.

      Comment by Retiredteacher — May 16, 2017 @ 6:55 am

      • One man’s cash cow is another’s home sweet home.

        Comment by Ed Hirshberg — May 16, 2017 @ 10:45 am

        • It’s only that persons home until it stops being a lucrative enough cash cow. Then it’s likely to become someone else’s home. Isn’t that how it works.

          Comment by Jordan — May 16, 2017 @ 7:18 pm

  2. Thanks Lauren for digging this stuff up. It supports a new understanding of what zoning was really all about: a move to divide the working class from the rising middle class. It’s interesting how well-meaning progressives who feel secure in their homes want to deride new housing because some developer is going to make a killing on it. Wicked developers are easy to attack. Slovenly homeless as well. All those children in our school district without housing, teachers living on the streets, however, are a lot harder to deride and dismiss. Luckily, many Alamedans are realizing the need for affordable housing affects us all. I applaud the city for trying to loosen up regulations and help different ideas move forward

    Comment by Laura Thomas — May 16, 2017 @ 10:19 am

    • I am not deriding new housing, but new for profit housing. There is a huge difference. Think of for profit health care, for profit prison, for profit schools. We should figure out co-op or non-profit housing. We are highly educated as a community. We can do this.

      Comment by Retiredteacher — May 18, 2017 @ 12:24 pm

  3. When you oppose housing you are in favor of making folks with the fewest resources homeless, and create more traffic as more people have to commute longer distances to job centers. The jobs aren’t going away. The people aren’t going away.

    Comment by Angela — May 16, 2017 @ 10:59 am

  4. Yes, we all miss the days when there were rooms to rent [by the hour?] above Johnny’s Snug Harbor bar on Webster. Bring ’em back, I say!

    Comment by vigi — May 16, 2017 @ 11:10 am

  5. I think “non comforting uses” (sic) pretty much sums up the housing market for renters…..

    Comment by Jordan — May 16, 2017 @ 7:19 pm

    • Probably that b—- Siri. She is responsible for most of my errors! And some of them are doozies!

      Comment by Retiredteacher — May 19, 2017 @ 2:10 pm

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