On Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to adopt a set of six housing recommendations brought forward by the NAACP, based on a year’s worth of outreach to determine the needs of the low-income community. These recommendations focus largely on increasing the availability of affordable housing in the city of Berkeley and prioritize the construction of new affordable housing, especially in South Berkeley. The removal of a regulation requiring the addition of a parking space per every 1,000 square feet of construction is a major change in the way Berkeley housing is allowed to developed. We wholeheartedly support this vote, and we believe there is a way to keep the Berkeley community from becoming as economically estranged from itself as San Francisco.
The city of Berkeley is gentrifying at the same rate as every other city in the Bay Area. Gentrification is not the issue itself but rather a symptom of the larger disease of income inequality. This inequality has the capability to push all lower-income residents out into less desirable areas to make way for better-paying tenants and a San Francisco-style eviction crisis. Blocking this parking regulation allows for the possibility of the construction of affordable units that don’t necessarily offer parking.
Though Berkeley already suffers from a parking crisis, this could be ameliorated by further investment in public transit systems. Although the Bay Area arguably has the best mass transit system on the West Coast, it is not as convenient or integrated as in metropolitan areas of similar size on the East Coast or in Europe. The city of Berkeley could work to make the city more friendly to residents without cars and achieve goals of making the city more green at the same time.
Other points from the NAACP recommendations stress community education and advocacy for homeless people and recipients of Section 8 benefits. These are under-addressed issues, but they also represent the underpinnings of a problem that will eventually unseat any remaining members of the middle class. It is important to note that even a competitive economy is interdependent —externalizing menial labor affects everyone’s commute, services and lifestyle.
Ultimately, these measures will not be enough. They are a set of steps to stop the bleeding of lower-income residents from Berkeley, many of whom are people of color. But in the long run, the only effective way to combat gentrification is through the strict application of rent control. Though not popular in a capitalist system, rent control helps establish stability in housing and decreases turnover while offering stability to the most vulnerable sections of the population.