Equity Residential is currently accepting applications from tenants looking to rent affordable housing units at Acton Courtyard apartments, a complex developed in partnership with the city that is required to provide a specified amount of below-market-rate units.
According to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko, applications opened as a result of a large number of tenants leaving the building. Equity Residential is now accepting applications for 22 below-market-rate units — the applications will be entered into a lottery which will be held the week of Oct. 10.
This application process for newly available units comes after Berkeley City Council alleged at a meeting earlier this month that Equity Residential had been overcharging residents, in violation of its agreement with the city.
Equity Residential could not be reached for comment.
The city originally gave the land on which the apartments are located to the project developers, Jubilee Restoration and Panoramic Interests, on the condition that the apartments would provide affordable housing, with 15 units made available to households earning 50 percent Area Median Income, or AMI, and five units to households of 80 percent AMI. The remaining 51 units were to be affordable for households making 120 percent AMI or less.
According to the Housing Advisory Commission, Equity Residential has allegedly been charging residents rents above what is affordable for households of 120 percent AMI, as well as providing housing to tenants who earn more than the threshold requirement stipulated in the agreement with the city. According to a letter sent to the tenants of Acton Courtyard by Equity Residential, the amount of overcharges is approximately $800 per month per unit, or above $400,000 per year, the Housing Advisory Committee reported.
In a statement to City Council dated Sept. 13, the Housing Advisory Committee recommended that such overcharges be addressed by requiring Equity Residential to refund current and former tenants the overcharged amount or pay that same amount into the city’s Housing Trust Fund.
“I hope that this experience will ensure that an oversight of this level will never be repeated on the part of the city again,” said Igor Tregub, vice chair of the Housing Advisory Commission.
Councilmember Jesse Arreguín stated that the city’s plan to address the overcharging is not sufficient as there is evidence to suggest that the original property owner, Panoramic Interests, also overcharged residents and should be held accountable as well.
Chakko said he believes the opening of applications for the available units is unrelated to the overcharging of residents — however, the application, which asks applicants to list their income, ensures that low-income residents will get the empty units. The city is assisting in publicizing the available affordable housing units and helping to make sure the property owner is marketing broadly.
“This certainly will ensure that several lower income individuals and families can make Berkeley a place that they call home,” Tregub said regarding the attempt to comply with the city’s agreement. “It will take many opportunities like this to begin to scratch the surface of the enormous housing crisis that our community has faced.”