Emeryville was among eleven cities to receive “Prohousing” designation in a recent announcement by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).
The designation is awarded to cities that embrace policies that support housing production like zoning reforms and affordable housing programs. Prohousing cities must demonstrate the capacity and desire to exceed their RHNA-mandated housing targets by 50%.
Emeryville has worked in recent years to streamline the approval and construction of housing projects as well as implement programs that support the creation and preservation of affordable housing units.
.@EmeryvilleCA is accommodating 3,687 homes this RHNA cycle – 203% of its RHNA allocation. The city also sped up construction approvals, created a Complete Streets Policy, and started an Affordable Housing Fund supporting creation and preservation of ~602 homes, & more. 2/
— California HCD (@California_HCD) April 5, 2023
Cities that achieve Prohousing Designation are eligible for funding incentives and additional resources through state grant programs to help speed up the production of housing. To date, a total of 22 California communities have received Prohousing designation.
“Remarkably, in just a few weeks since our last announcement, the number of Prohousing Designations has doubled, a testament to the growing number of communities taking responsibility and committing to building their fair share of housing,” California Governor Gavin Newsom noted in a April 5 press release. “Instead of making excuses, these jurisdictions are rising to the challenge, making difficult choices and ensuring that Californians have access to needed housing.”
Emeryville’s Prohousing Plan Banking on “Underutilized Sites”
For Emeryville, 150% of its 1,815 unit mandated RHNA target would mean 2,700 units within the city’s 1.2 square mile footprint over the next decade. Emeryville’s approved 2023-2031 Housing Element outlines an ambitious plan to support as many as 3,687 new units. The figure is eye-popping as this would be more than double the city’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) goal.
Many of the units would require leveraging so-called “underutilized sites.” Underutilized sites are mostly surface parking lots of the city’s shopping centers such as The East Bay Bridge Shopping Center (Home Depot) and Powell Street Plaza (Trader Joe’s).
2,196 of these 3,687 homes would be built on these lots (detailed on pages 153-154 of the approved Housing Element). 838 units would come from the city’s increasingly scarce vacant sites.
Emeryville is banking on incentivizing developers to build housing on these surface lots.
Emeryville’s current Housing Pipeline Continues to Close
The plan seems a bit optimistic as developers in Emeryville have recently shied away from building housing in favor of commercial projects. Developers have pointed to a variety of reasons for this including the exorbitant cost of construction, declining rents and to some degree, policy.
As previously detailed, upon the completion of The Emery (500 units whose planning goes back to 2006) and The Bayview projects (186 units whose planning goes back to 2013), there will be very little housing in the pipeline other than three city-owned sites accounting for 525 affordable units.
The only significant private housing project is the Oxford Project that would include 98 units. The 5850 Shellmound project that accounted for 30 affordable ownership units was recently scrapped by the developer.
Emeryville’s recent housing stock has been overwhelmingly multi-unit apartment complexes. The last significant ownership project in the city was the Adeline Place Condominiums in 2009.
Emeryville’s “YIMBY” Leaders Ongoing Push for Density
Based on the city’s current 1.76 people per household occupancy, these 3,687 units would translate to 6,489 new residents but likely to be much more with the city’s current “family-friendly” unit mix regulations that require more two and three-bedroom units in new, multi-unit developments. If this figure approached the county average of 2.82 people per household, this could translate to over 10,000 new residents.
Emeryville has always had ambitions of being more of a dense “city” with high-rises clustered in its core. Much of the recent push for density has been a reaction to the ongoing housing crisis and spiraling cost of living that has many fleeing or considering fleeing California. This has helped spawn the so-called YIMBY (Yes in my back yard) movement. Emeryville politicians have “hitched their ride” to this movement even being referred to “One of California’s most YIMBY city councils” in a recent Chronicle story.
This surge in population would surely put a strain on city services like police and public works. More growth also comes with more opposition by neighbors (pejoratively referred to as “NIMBYism”) as we saw with the proposed “Trader Vic’s” development.
Wether of not these units actually come to fruition remains to be seen. The city just needs to demonstrate that it has the capacities and policies to support them. Actually building them is dependent on a variety of economic factors and desires of private property owners.
The state has a collective goal of 2.5 million new homes over the next eight years with at least one million serving the needs of lower-income Californians.
Feature Image: A rendering from the General Plan shows Shellmound looking south from the vantage point of where the Four Points by Sheraton hotel is currently.