Welcome back to the Cal Habitat housing blog! In this blog entry, we will be going back in Berkeley’s history to discuss the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance of 1973, a notable piece of housing legislation.
The Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance of 1973 was a community response that sought to create a new planning process for the “preservation and enhancement” of neighborhoods in Berkeley. Residents were concerned about new construction in the city leading to the demolition of low-rent older homes, which would reduce the affordable housing available for low-income and minority communities and replace them with dwellings that charge higher rent for poor design that did not consider the needs of the elderly and disabled. In addition, the neighborhoods that were the targets of demolition tended to be predominantly African American. They also worried about increases in traffic and decreases in access to views, light, and air with high-density development.
A campaign flyer created by a co-author of the ordinance, Martha Nicoloff, writes that “under present laws, residents and neighbors are usually ignored while the ‘developer’ makes the decisions.” It notes their complaints about “high-rent ticky-tacky” development.
In addition, they saw the Master Plan adopted by the city of Berkeley in 1955 as inadequate in addressing the needs of Berkeley residents at the time and a failure to ensure the development of low-income housing. The Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance mandated the revision of the Master Plan. After it was enacted, the city council created a Master Plan Revision Committee that submitted its proposals in 1976, which were amended and later adopted by the city the following year.
One of the significant impacts of the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance is that it limited the construction of new housing in Berkeley for several decades. Despite its organizers’ intentions, it has not led to any significant increase in the low-income housing stock. Furthermore, the lack of housing construction in the city has contributed to a housing shortage and inadvertently facilitated higher rent prices. During the 1980s, Berkeley faced calls to build homes in response to the housing shortage, but they failed to increase the housing supply. At the same time, the private sector lost homes due to the transformation of multifamily housing into single-family housing. These combined factors played a part in gentrification, which Berkeley still grapples with today.
Cover Image: Martha Nicoloff, “Neighborhood Preservation” (flyer), April 1973, collected in Martha Nicoloff and Kenneth Hughes, Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance: Documenting a Community in Action, folder held at the Institute for Government Studies Library, UC Berkeley
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