Community members meet for affordable housing teach-in

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Timothy Dawson/Staff

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A teach-in focused on the city’s affordable housing crisis was held Sunday, drawing in nearly 100 community members, students and city officials to discuss the issue.

During the event, which was part of the Berkeley Arts Festival, panelists discussed alternatives to fund affordable housing, solutions to rising gentrification in South and West Berkeley and the housing crisis’s effect on students, among other related topics.

Among the ideas discussed, Stephen Barton, panelist and former deputy director of the city’s Rent Stabilization Program, proposed an affordable housing tax that taps into the excess profits landlords receive from rent. Revenue from the tax would be used to aid the development of below-market-price housing.

The tax would be the first of its kind in the state, although ultimately, “the only solution is socially owned affordable housing,” Barton said.

The Berkeley Student Cooperative, which has 20 properties and a mean rent of $730 per month, was cited as an example of what Barton refers to as socially owned affordable housing. The BSC provides low-cost housing to students and supplies them with an education they would otherwise not be able to afford if renting out full-price units.

“In the last three years, we have lowered our rates to adjust to inflation, which is pretty profound,” said panelist and BSC President Austin Pritzkat at the meeting. “We are one of the few housing organizations, certainly in the East Bay, that has lowered rental cost.”

The BSC, however, has only 1,250 available bed spaces but currently has 1,000 people on the wait list.

“Clearly, there is a lot of unmet need,” Pritzkat said at the meeting.

According to Pritzkat, most of the unmet need stems from a trend of privatization in higher education. Over the last decade, UC Berkeley’s tuition has increased dramatically — more than 300 percent, according to Pritzkat — which affects some students’ ability to afford a campus education. Coupled with high housing costs from both the campus and the city, low-income students are often finding an education even more difficult to obtain.

Rick Lewis, a panelist and executive director of the Bay Area Community Land Trust, said community land trusts — nonprofit corporations that develop plots of land for affordable housing and cooperatives — could also serve as a positive model of affordable housing. Tenants on community land trusts receive prolonged leases, sometimes up to 99 years, as well as training and technical assistance.

“What we do is we really help people to purchase the properties that they are living in,” Lewis said at the meeting. “This is a key way of preventing displacement and gentrification.”

 

Similarly, Moni Law, a panelist and local activist, said that both displacement and gentrification of communities are completely avoidable, and that the creation of developments is also possible without either.

During the event, Law outlined four solutions to assuage gentrification in South and West Berkeley, including proposals to start education for underrepresented-minority homeowners to increase the rate of retention for low-income homeowners as well as to encourage nonprofit developers to help assist affordable housing development in Berkeley, among others.

Berkeley City Council will revisit various agenda items addressing affordable housing at its Dec. 1 special meeting.

Contact Brenna Smith at [email protected].