Berkeley Progressive Alliance presents affordable housing platform

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Timothy Dawson/Staff

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The Berkeley Progressive Alliance, or BPA, outlined its affordable housing platform to citizens, affordable housing activists and city government officials at a meeting Sunday.

The BPA is a grassroots group created by concerned citizens to support candidates for Berkeley mayor and City Council who align with the alliance’s beliefs. The platform discussed at the meeting aims to increase funding for and build more affordable housing, maintain existing rental housing and promote the construction of environmentally sustainable buildings.

In order to increase funding, the BPA suggested increasing the Housing Impact Fee — a sum that developers can pay as an alternative to including affordable housing units in their properties — to at least $34,000.

Additionally, the plan intends to increase funds for the Housing Trust Fund through taxing short-term rentals, as well as raising the business license tax on influential landlords in Berkeley.

“We want the people who have benefitted from this incredible increase in property value to help pay for affordable housing,” said BPA member Kate Harrison at the meeting.

Once funds are raised, the BPA plans to use them to purchase existing rental housing, which it will keep affordable, and to build more lower-cost housing for UC Berkeley students in close proximity to campus.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he believes that the key to producing more student housing lies in public-private partnerships that push corporations in an ethical direction.

“We need public-private partnerships that actually protect the public and force corporations to do the right thing, “ Worthington said.

Aside from presenting its platform, the forum also outlined the root causes of the city’s affordable housing controversy — gentrification and economic inequality.

Councilmember Max Anderson, who spoke at the event, described Berkeley as “the tale of two cities”: On one hand, Berkeley has citizens who greatly benefit from the current market, but on the other, the working class and underrepresented minorities — specifically Hispanic and black residents — struggle to keep their homes, he said.

“We see the criminalization of the poor and homeless,” Anderson said.

According to Harrison, a study from UC Berkeley’s Urban Displacement Project showed that as more and more people are displaced, gentrification continues to be a major factor.

“Some say, ‘We’re not gentrifying — those people just left,’ ” Harrison said. “No they did not just leave. There was disinvestment in our community.”

In the eyes of Ben Bartlett, a city planning commissioner and District 3 City Council candidate, the growing income disparity is a direct reflection of the gap between opportunity and affordability. He added that the current socioeconomic state of the city is one of segregation — a division of people by race and class.

“I’d never thought I’d be a young man in my hometown fighting against a new apartheid,” Bartlett said.

Brenna Smith covers business and the economy. Contact her at [email protected].