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].

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  • Have the good people of berkeley perhaps considered that the solution to a shortage of housing is to make it easier to build more housing rather than chasing away willing developers with its zoning board attack dogs. There is a reason why berkeley is considered one of the most nimby cities in the country. You really can’t eat your cake and have it too berkeleyians.

  • ShadrachSmith

    Progressives have helped Berkeley enough, see People’s Park.

    • high density & affordable housing. What more could one ask for?

  • Berkeley Cyclist

    Berkeley seems pretty dedicated to ensuring it doesn’t solve the housing crisis. Without substantial increases in density and building height limits, all these “progressive” ideas are etherware designed to appease the consciences of NIMBYs, not build actual housing. If you raise impact fees on developers without giving them an incentive through reduced parking requirements and more units, they’re not likely to develop anything at all. More of the same I guess.

    • lspanker

      Thank you. It has yet to sink in with the BPA people that trying to punish the very same developers they need to finance and build the “affordable housing” they want isn’t going to have the desired effect.

      • diogenes

        “developer” is a euphemism for absentee financial predator. Library Gardens, the slum tenement that killed six students, pumps 8 million dollars every year to Wall Street, not a nickel stays in Berkeley. That’s predation, by definition. And a shill is a shill, by definition, whether hired or volunteer.

        • lspanker

          Nobody is forced to live in, or rent an apartment in Berkeley.

          not a nickel stays in Berkeley

          What, you think the developers just pick up the apartment units they built and move them to Milpitas or what?

          • Rob Wrenn

            What you are advocating is gentrification and displacement of low and middle income people from Berkeley. Berkeley would be a city for people with incomes over $100,000 a year. Make less than that, too bad for you; go live somewhere else. People with lower paying jobs, everything from janitors and home care workers to teachers and nurses, can commute into Berkeley to work which of course will result in generation of lots of additional greenhouse gases. Building more affordable housing is essential not only to maintain Berkeley’s diversity but to address global climate change. The private sector can’t meet the need for affordable housing. Non-profit housing developers, land trusts and co-ops are the ones that can build it. Contributions from the City’s Housing Trust Fund can leverage federal funds, but the City needs stable funding sources for that fund. Tapping the windfall profits being realized by landlords and developers is one way to get those funds.

          • lspanker

            What you are advocating is gentrification and displacement of low and middle income people from Berkeley.

            Once again, why does anyone have the right to live where they can not afford to do so? In fact, if someone doesn’t have the type of skills or education necessary to make a decent living and afford a place like Berkeley, wouldn’t it be better for them to relocate somewhere where they can live within their means? I realized 20 years ago when I graduated from Cal that even with a decent degree from a good school, that living in the SF Bay Area would be tough at that point in my life due to job prospects and economic conditions at the time. I moved back to So Cal and stayed with relatives for a couple of months while I found employment, and after about a year of experience, I found a decent job in my field in Phoenix where salaries were about 10-15% less than the Bay Area or Silicon Valley at the time but the cost of living was about 30-35% cheaper. Anyone who remains in a location where they can’t afford to live and whines about it really isn’t going to get any of my sympathy.

            People with lower paying jobs, everything from janitors and home care workers to teachers and nurses, can commute into Berkeley to work which of course will result in generation of lots of additional greenhouse gases.

            Or they can find a job elsewhere, and let Berkeley employers figure out how they are going to hire and keep good help, which means that they will have to increase wages. Funny things happen when you let the free market do its thing.

        • Scott E

          Please don’t use this kind of mean, simplistic language. It skunds like youre mad about the housibg situation and you want someone to blame. The process of creating more housing isn’t that simple. I really hope you know that developers are not all financial predators. No group of people is defined by the actions of some of its members.

    • Rob Wrenn

      The City’s housing impact fee Nexus study, produced by consultants hired by the
      City to determine what the impact fee should be, says that developers can easily afford to pay $34,000 a unit and that such a fee will in no way reduce production of housing. Developers don’t need incentives. The obscenely high rents they are charging for new (about $3500 a month for two bedrooms) gives them windfall revenues out of which they can easily afford to pay these fees.

      • JohnFHudson

        So you are advocating a municipal income tax on landlords? That would be simple to administer. Landlords are currently required to report their income on their state and federal income tax returns. All you have to do is require them to report whatever is on that line of their tax return and tax that amount.

        • Rob Wrenn

          To be precise, we advocate an increase in the already existing business license tax that Berkeley landlords pay. It’s estimated that landlords collectively are taking in $66 million more in rent than they did in 2011. The increase in the business license tax would take a few million of this for affordable housing. There would be exemptions for small landlords, and landlords with long term tenants who haven’t been able to take advantage of rising market rents. Landlords would not be able to pass it on to tenants. Specific details are still being worked out. For more info, check out this Web site (still under development): http://www.fundaffordablehousing.org

          • lspanker

            Landlords would not be able to pass it on to tenants.

            You have NO clue how things work in real life, do you? You must be one of those long-term Berkeley residents, completely removed from what happens on the rest of the planet.

      • lspanker

        The City’s housing impact fee Nexus study, produced by consultants hired by the City to determine what the impact fee should be, says that developers can easily afford to pay $34,000 a unit and that such a fee will in no way reduce production of housing.

        What planet do these people live on,seriously?

        The obscenely high rents they are charging for new (about $3500 a month for two bedrooms) gives them windfall revenues out of which they can easily afford to pay these fees.

        They aren’t “obscenely high”, they are what the market is demanding. Berkeley progressives never cease to amaze me with their utter cluelessness – they restrict market-rate housing as a way of trying to force developers from building units for what they will not make any money, then wonder why the market prices rise.

  • lspanker

    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.

    So what happens when the developers decide an extra $34K per unit isn’t worth it, say “screw it”, and build elsewhere? These so-called “progressives” continually demonstrate their ignorance of basic economic principles.

    • Rob Wrenn

      Clearly anonymous poster lspanker knows little about the reality of housing production in Berkeley. Look around and you’ll see we are in the middle of a housing boom. The problem is that only a handful of the units being produced are affordable to people with incomes under $100,000. To fund creation of housing affordable to the many many families with incomes under $100,000, the City needs to find more money for it’s Housing Trust Fund. A dollar from the Housing Trust Fund can leverage $3 from federal or other funds. Developers are making money hand over fist in the current market and some of the windfall profits they are making need to be captured for affordable housing.

      • JohnFHudson

        They will only be “captured” through a municipal tax on rental income. However, that might cause landlords to raise the rents on existing rentals, wouldn’t it?

        • lspanker

          Of course it will. The self-proclaimed “progressives” always act as if there will never be any unintended consequences to their action, as if somehow they alone are immune to the laws of economics.

      • lspanker

        Clearly anonymous poster lspanker knows little about the reality of housing production in Berkeley. Look around and you’ll see we are in the middle of a housing boom.

        “Housing boom” perhaps related to previous years, but it’s still too little, too late.

        The problem is that only a handful of the units being produced are affordable to people with incomes under $100,000.

        Why is that a problem? First of all, there’s no right to live in Berkeley, SF, or anywhere else you may fancy. If you can’t afford to live in a particular location, move somewhere else. That’s what millions of us have done most of our lives. Secondly, developers are in business to make a profit by providing what the market will bear. They aren’t going to build units and rent them for prices so low that they can’t recoup their investment. OTOH, they aren’t going to build 100+ unit complexes of studio apartments for $5K/month either. Apartment complexes are built with the idea of offering units with amenities at a price that a sufficient number of people are willing to pay for. Last but not least, what the myopic progressive fail to realize is that in building such units and increasing the supply, it will lower the demand for older units that may not have the same amenities as the newer places, creating downward pressure on the price of older, smaller units.

      • Scott E

        Building market rate housing actually does help make existing housing more affordable. People who can afford the expensive new housing will move there instead of bidding up the rent on existing housing units. Cities that build a lot tend to have much more affordable housing compared to those that aggressively restrict building.

        Building income restricted affordable housing can really help the handful of people lucky enough to get to live in the new units. It’s essentially a lottery though, and it does nothing to help those who aren’t winners.

        I agree that Berkeley should capture some of that windfall profit that developers and landowners have made recently. I think the focus should be primarily on improving city I frastructure and helping the poor in various ways (not necessarily giving apartments to a handful of blue-collar workers).

        The fundamental issue is that a huge number of people want to live in Berkeley (and the whole Bay Area) compared to how much housing there is. Ideally we’d suddenly have an abundance of nicely design high-density housing and great urban infrastructure overnight, and rents would fall by 75%. The sad reality is that residents here have been resisting density and infrastructure improvements for decades. The goal of preserving “character” may be well intentioned, but it comes with a price tag of incredibly high housing costs and outsized greenhouse gas emissions from super-long commutes.

        • lspanker

          People who can afford the expensive new housing will move there instead of bidding up the rent on existing housing units.

          This point needs to be stenciled on the foreheads of the activist crowd. They seem to not have a clue that there are people who WILL pay more for nicer digs, and that building what is inaccurately and derisively referred to as “luxury housing” will take the market pressure off of older units. Increase the supply of nice housing for higher income levels, and those who have the financial means will usually opt for it.

    • diogenes

      Maybe the “developers” (that is, absentee financial predators) go to h*ll where they belong. What a blessing that would be.

      • lspanker

        Maybe the “developers” (that is, absentee financial predators) go to h*ll where they belong.

        Only in the perverted mind of the hard left are people who provide goods and services others will pay for as evil, and mooches and parasites as innocent victims. You obviously have some issues with those who are more successful than you, most likely as a diversion from your own insecurity and failures in your life.