Campus must prioritize affordable housing units

CAMPUS ISSUES: Campus should match its rate of increased enrollment with a similar increase in available housing.

Willow Yang/Senior Staff

With an increasing horde of students, UC Berkeley has laid out plans to build new housing units at nine locations. But the reality of the situation is that the administration is not yet prepared to face the next wave of students. We must start breaking ground, fast.

Currently, only about a quarter of undergraduate students are guaranteed housing, requiring those beyond freshman year to find their own living accommodations. This number is embarrassingly low — the lowest for any UC campus — and may continue to decline, as the UC Board of Regents plans to increase enrollment in coming years.

The campus must transcend its reactive approach to housing. It must match its increased rate of enrollment with a similar increase in housing availability. Otherwise, even incoming students will no longer receive a housing guarantee, let alone the students who seek affordable housing options.

Even though we commend the campus for its new, proactive plan, it will not help alleviate UC Berkeley’s housing crisis if the units are not affordable for a large percentage of students. Already, the campus has leased luxury residence halls that cost individuals more than $1,600 a month, a price few students find reasonable.

There is already a stark socioeconomic divide between the students who can afford Clark Kerr and Unit 3, for example. And plans to “densify” Unit 3 to add capacity, threatening a lower quality of living, could exacerbate such divides.

Garden Village, built by the development group Nautilus and leased to campus, illuminates an additional problem. At the beginning of this academic year, students moved into the Garden Village apartments while they were under construction. Although the campus may face financial constraints, it should not rely on outside contractors to build housing. They are not as accountable for meeting deadlines or taking into consideration the affordability of units.

The campus will soon offer a survey, giving students the opportunity to express what they desire in housing options. Considering the difficult decisions the campus must make in the near future, students should take this opportunity to amplify their voices. And with People’s Park labeled as an area for eventual campus housing development, students should remain informed.

UC Berkeley and this very newspaper have a long history with People’s Park, one of the most famous landmarks in our city. But students of a future generation will have to decide at what point we must pave over history to meet present demands.

As the campus moves forward with its housing plans, it must remember whom it intends to serve. The campus must not further disadvantage its own students by building more luxury apartments — Berkeley already has enough of those, thank you very much — and neglecting the living conditions of its lower-income students.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

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  • 安百瑞

    Building is okay, but not the UC core business. Dorm plus dining is not a practical way to learn to exist within the local community for more than a semester. Procuring student-affordable group housing between Oakland and Richmond at least offers a solution connected directly to the existing housing stock, not Adam Smith’s economics. (Bidding on existing low cost apartment complexes, or forging relations with leasors might not be a bad idea.) Unfortunately the university still seems very timid about providing value added relocation services–essentially helping adults do what adults do when they move– (re: calrentals, genuinely nice folks but they seem to add a new overpriced property about once a decade and mostly its shared with an existing most-favored tenant/landlord, hardly ideal) and good-enough-housing (group student housing in general residential buildings). The move to lease northside properties to USCA? was a nice drop in the bucket, but even the coop system is vastly under stocked. The gulf between buying a new dorm and serving the student body within the general rental community is large. UC admin knows this but needs to act positively and decisively instead of looking for solutions that segregate students from the community. The fact that this only becomes an issue in rare articles acknowledging student homelessness is appalling. Without a housing market (must be affordable to actually be considered a market) UC is acting somewhat irresponsibly. People welcome additional students, but the “seperate but equal” solutions to student housing are terrible.

  • cal.bear

    Peoples Park is a disgusting crime magnet. The student body does not have a clue as to its storied history. At this point in time it needs to serve the students with affordable housing. Call it Peoples Park dorm. Attach a small community meeting room with a history of the park and what it stands for.

  • eean

    “Although the campus may face financial constraints, it should not rely on outside contractors to build housing.”

    WUT. Has UC ever built a building before without contractors?

    But I agree very much that UC needs to build housing to match the increased acceptance of students.

  • Diego Aguilar-Canabal

    Is the editorial board that willfully ignorant to the plenitude of wealthy UC Berkeley students with parents happy to pay “luxury” rent prices? The demand is there. If you don’t built it you’ll only screw over the low-income population you profess to support.

  • Eric Panzer

    Dear Daily Cal, I must give you credit for having your hearts in the right place. Unfortunately, though, it seems perhaps that a lack of institutional memory has led you to what I would regard as some fairly incongruous conclusions. I started at Cal in 2003 and have been here ever since, so at the risk of sounding like grandpa, I have a somewhat longer-term perspective on these issues. I would maintain that the problem is not that Berkeley is building only “luxury” units, but that the Bay Area hasn’t been building enough housing as a whole.

    The first thing I would note is that by a broader standard, most of these new apartments are merely average, not luxury. Yes, there are some new buildings–mostly in San Francisco–that have truly premium features like movie screening rooms, 24-hour doormen, etc. But most buildings in Berkeley that advertise themselves as “luxury” mean granite counter-tops, a dishwasher, and maybe an in-building lounge or gym. Granted, there are plenty of housing units throughout the Bay Area and the world that lack these or even more basic features; but with respect to new apartments (and houses) such things are pretty standard in the United States. Moreover, even older buildings that lack these features are now going for luxury prices in Berkeley and the Bay Area at large. It is unfortunate optics that developers and management firms have locked on to “luxury” as a marketing technique, but it is what it is.

    Many people may be surprised to hear this, but when I first came to Berkeley, what would today be regarded as a “luxury” unit was actually relatively affordable for Cal students; and the new buildings around Downtown were a godsend considering how run down most Berkeley apartments were (and still are). I shared a two-bedroom unit with room for three people; the building had opened only one year before we moved in; the unit had a Bay view; and rent included gas, garbage, water, basic cable, and high-speed internet. The rent when we moved in was $1995 a month, and we split it $795 for the single room and $600 per person for the double room (which was twice the size of the single). Such prices would be completely unheard of today; and in case anyone was inclined to feel terribly jealous, the same unit now goes for roughly double what we paid for it.

    Little to nothing has changed about the building to make it more luxurious–indeed the Bay view is now gone. What has changed is that the Bay Area’s job market has continued to explode, even as our housing supply has not. Where once you might have had three Cal students living together, you now have one high-income couple, or perhaps six Cal students who have pooled resources to bid on an apartment. When Cal students are forced to compete with high-income households for housing, they will lose more often than not. That’s why even seemingly expensive new housing is helpful: each new “luxury” rental could mean one less high-income household competing for some lower-end or lower-priced unit elsewhere. Or, alternatively, it’s one more housing opportunity for that plucky group of Cal students pooling their resources.

    Finally, the idea that we shouldn’t densify Unit 3 is in direct conflict with your criticism of “luxury” housing. Low-density living in high-density, high-demand places is a luxury in itself. This isn’t to say that students should have to endure crowding that is unsafe or unsanitary, but students have long lived in high-density housing–whether that’s measured by the density of the neighborhood or the number of people sharing a room. The Co-ops are a great example of high-density, low-frills, low-cost housing; it’s hard to understand how one could be in favor of co-op living but be against adding housing to Unit 3 over concerns about “density.” The infill housing that was added to Units 1 and 2 seems to be working out great; and the amenities that came along with them seem to actually have improved living conditions in those Units. Again at the risk of being grandpa, when I was in Unit 1, two of the four building lounges were taken up by things that are now in the underground area, and we didn’t have fitness centers or a multipurpose room. Talk about luxury amenities! All we had were some free ear plugs they gave us to block out the construction noise.

    In the end, I think we agree strongly on the need for more housing and greater housing affordability. But it does seem that we come to this with very different perspectives on how we get there. Even if you’re not entirely convinced, I hope you will find this edifying and that perhaps it will offer you greater understanding of some different views on how to solve our housing crisis.

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