Report shows extreme poverty in Downtown Berkeley despite citywide reductions in poverty

Low-Income Area
Ashley Chen/Staff

The city of Berkeley has made significant strides in combating poverty in recent years, despite a high concentration of people living below the poverty line in Downtown Berkeley, according to a recently published report.

The report, released by the Brookings Institution Thursday, shows that Downtown Berkeley is a neighborhood of extreme poverty — with more than 40 percent of its residents living below the poverty line. However, the report does not take into account how many students, who may not necessarily have a source of income, live in the area.

Data from the 2000 Census indicate that over 60 percent of Downtown Berkeley residents are enrolled in some sort of higher education.

Despite the report’s findings, both poverty and homelessness levels in the city of Berkeley as a whole have decreased over the past decade as a result of programs implemented by the city in conjunction with EveryOne Home, a countywide effort to end homelessness.

While a 2004 count of homelessness showed that 41 percent of Alameda County’s chronically homeless population resided in Berkeley — which composes 9 percent of the county’s total population — by 2009 the city constituted only about 15 percent of the county’s homeless population, according to the city’s 2010 annual action plan. Additionally, since 2003, the city has seen a nearly 50 percent decrease in the number of chronically homeless, according to the city’s 2011 plan.

The only areas with concentrated levels of poverty are those directly surrounding campus, according to the Brookings Institution.

However, according to Amy Davidson, a senior management analyst for the city’s housing and community services department, that should not be a cause for concern.

“The thinking is that it’s a lot of the student population because students might not have very much income while they’re in school,” Davidson said.

Still, the city has yet to resolve the continued homelessness of 680 Berkeley residents as of 2009. Additionally, the scope of the city’s anti-poverty measures has been limited by recent fiscal cuts coming from the federal government.

A key factor in decreasing poverty levels has been the city’s effort to maintain supportive housing, according to the city’s action plan.  But, according to the action plan, “current funding, particularly for housing operations, is not sufficient to meet the existing need.”

This year, Community Development Block Grants — federal grants used to fund shelters and safety nets for the city’s homeless — were cut by 17 percent, according to Davidson.

Although the city managed to minimize the impact of the cuts by spreading the costs across community agencies, programs across the board sustained about a 3 percent reduction, Davidson said. She added that the city expects similar cuts in coming years.

Adding to the financial burden, the city expects to lose access to Community Services Block Grants, which have funded $140,000 for the Multi-Service Agency that provided medical and mental health services to Berkeley’s homeless.