Blogging Bayport Alameda

February 17, 2021

Four-flex

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:07 am

You know what’s fun? It’s fun that as other cities are actively looking at ways to expand their housing stock and really taking a hard look at the exclusionary nature of single family zoning Alamedans decided to double down on our exclusionary A/26 zoning banning multi-family housing. So fun.

You’ve probably heard about Sacramento getting the ball rolling by allowing four-plexes across their city thereby essentially eliminating the single family neighborhood. That comes on the heels of Minneapolis and Portland doing the same nationally but now Berkeley, San Francisco, and San Jose are all starting that dialogue. From KQED:

[Berkeley Vice-Mayor Lori] Droste said she felt morally compelled to do away with single-family zoning in Berkeley because of its racist origins. She represents the city’s Elmwood neighborhood, which became the first neighborhood in the country, in 1916, to adopt single-family zoning. The rules prohibit property owners from building more than one home on one lot.

“It started out as explicit racist policies to keep Chinese laundromats and African American dance halls out of Berkeley,” Droste told KQED, “And then later, it morphed into redlining.”

“As you increase the percentage of single families zoning, you really increase the percentage white, and the percentage Latinx or Black goes way down,” said Steve Menendian, the director of research at the Othering & Belonging Institute. “So, there is a really strong exclusionary effect by race that’s clearly related to single family zoning.”

Researchers say the widespread use of single-family zoning has exacerbated California’s housing shortage and contributed to skyrocketing rents and home prices by putting strict limits on what can be built.

In the Bay Area, 82 percent of all residential land is dedicated solely to single-family homes, leaving just 18 percent available for duplexes, fourplexes or apartment buildings, according to a survey by the Othering & Belonging Institute.

The part about the zone as an explicit racist policy which morphed into redlining and has now morphed into “neighborhood character” is an important distinction here. We forget about those parts of our history because it’s uncomfortable to confront those terrible bits. Confronting those terrible bits means that if we keep insisting on the status quo means that we are complicit in systemic racism that has built this country and built the intergenerational wealth that has left behind huge numbers of Black families in the US.

Even though Alameda may be an island, it’s not Brigadoon despite attempts to preserve it in the same manner. What happened historically across the nation: exclusion, redlining, etc did not bypass Alameda. We just have done a better job of papering over the worst of it by simply refusing to talk about it.

And, just because it needs to be amplified: 82% of all residential land is dedicated to single family home.

82%

It’s not even that these single family homes are all functioning as single family homes. In my neighborhood I know of at least 3 homes within a stone’s throw (and if you’ve ever seen me throw you’d know it’s like not that far) which has three generations under the same roof. That’s overcrowding, that’s not density. Density would have been if the house could have been a triplex which each distinct household in its own unit.

9 Comments »

  1. I can attest from personal experience that even if you live in an R3 zone, Alameda severely limits your ability to convert a single family home into 3 units and makes conversion even to a duplex costly and time-consuming. Easing these restrictions would be a fairly painless way to address the housing shortage while allowing homeowners to downsize and age in place.

    Comment by Allan Mann — February 17, 2021 @ 7:14 am

  2. A couple of problems with the KQED argument:

    The above commenter is correct. Alameda makes the process difficult, but more importantly the financial incentive is not there for the owner or developer to convert a single family home currently rented to a 4 plex. Pay a tenant to vacate. Take property off market for 3-5 years under current rent control rules. Take out a loan for construction. Pay for permits. Convert a house large enough for a 4 plex over the course of a year. Then sit on it. Sorry that won’t work for most people who depend on rental income. Most importantly, the effect of the conversion is that rent will go up as a result of the associated costs pricing the old tenant out.

    I also find it hard to believe that you and your family are not trying to build Inter- generational wealth by providing your children knowledge on financial matters- including the stock market and real estate, emphasizing the importance of education, and having an estate plan, rather than dismissing it as “racist.” Most people consider this foundational to the American Dream – and this is especially strong in immigrant families. This is what Joe Biden probably means when he says immigrants are more American than Americans. They have come here because hard work pays off, not to claim they are victims of racism.

    Comment by Observer — February 17, 2021 @ 9:22 am

    • Observer – you’re seriously going to cite Joe Biden, and in the same breath dismiss the racial disparities housing laws play on minority people? I will just cite the Biden/Harris platform on housing for you:

      “Communities of color are disproportionately impacted by the failures in our housing markets, with homeownership rates for Black and Latino individuals falling far below the rate for white individuals. Because home ownership is how many families save and build wealth, these racial disparities in home ownership contribute to the racial wealth gap. It is far past time to put an end to systemic housing discrimination and other contributors to this disparity.”

      “Eliminate local and state housing regulations that perpetuate discrimination. Exclusionary zoning has for decades been strategically used to keep people of color and low-income families out of certain communities. As President, Biden will enact legislation requiring any state receiving federal dollars through the Community Development Block Grants or Surface Transportation Block Grants to develop a strategy for inclusionary zoning.”

      Single family zoning laws are falling across the nation. Alameda should be at the forefront of this, yet due to the Old Guard we’re stubbornly clinging on to a terrible and antiquated policy that is rooted in racism, as Article 26 was passed just after the Fair Housing Act banned redlining.

      Comment by Not Observant Enough — February 17, 2021 @ 9:48 am

    • Trying to pit immigrants against Black folks is an old trope that has, unfortunately, been successful over the years. “Immigrants” are vastly different and the experience of one subgroup is not the same as others. “Immigrants” are not a monolith of success against all odds that can be used as a cudgel against Black families who have been systemically and systematically preyed on and subjugated in America. You’re showing yourself by trafficking in such blatant sophistry.

      Comment by Lauren Do — February 17, 2021 @ 12:14 pm

  3. No need to be insulting. I encourage you to be more analytical and less emotional. It is not currently cost effective under rent control laws to convert a single family house to a four plex, nor will it result in lowering costs for a tenant only their displacement. The cost of land as well as construction costs are steep barriers for developers. Impose a low income rent and it will be a further disincentive to develop. A change as proposed by the Biden administration platform would lower single family property values as well as property tax revenue collected by the county. You may claim it is righteous, but it is sure to be unpopular among tax payers and tax collectors, and result in serious political pushback just like Prop 13.

    Comment by Observer — February 17, 2021 @ 12:16 pm

    • Observer – rent control is not permanent. It is a band-aid solution to buy time. That is why it’s under the control of the city council and not enshrined in the city charter. Alameda had rent control before in the 1940s, and when the economic crisis passed, the city ended it. What we need to talk about now is a permanent solution, or an array of them – increasing housing stock, vacancy tax, prop 13 reform, minimum wage increase, down payment assistance programs, etc. So it is ironic and myopic that you’re citing the band-aid solution to try and cancel out one of the permanent solutions we should be considering.

      Comment by Still Not Observant Enough — February 17, 2021 @ 1:10 pm

  4. Are we talking about increasing rental stock or properties that can be owned? I asked this during Measure Z but never got an answer.

    Comment by MovedOitThisWeek — February 17, 2021 @ 9:33 pm

    • Perhaps you didn’t get an answer because your question is unclear. What are you asking?

      Comment by Lauren Do — February 18, 2021 @ 8:06 am

  5. Sorry about the late reply. One reason houses in the Bay aren’t affordable is because there is not enough supply. If a homeowner converts their home to a duplex or four-plex, can they sell the individual units? Or do those units have to be rental properties? Is it up to the owner of the property or are there laws that regulate this?

    I guess more properties (rental or owned) should help the affordability of both, but increasing rental properties and decreasing people’s opportunities to own property seems problematic.

    Comment by MovedOutThisWeek — February 19, 2021 @ 11:00 am


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