Councilmembers Harrison, Worthington hold town hall on housing, police reform

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On Saturday, City Councilmembers Kate Harrison and Kriss Worthington held a town hall regarding affordable housing and police reform.

The town hall, which took place at North Berkeley Senior Center, gave the council members an opportunity to present proposals in the areas of affordable housing and police reform.

At the beginning of the town hall, Harrison discussed promoting affordable housing in the city. Harrison laid out her “Short-Term Affordable Housing Plan,” which aims to fund programs preventing the displacement of Berkeley tenants due to rising housing costs.

“We don’t have a housing crisis — we have a housing affordability crisis,” Harrison said during the town hall. “(We want to) keep people where they are. (Otherwise) people slowly leave and we turn into a city that I don’t want to live in.”

Harrison’s plan also proposes building more housing by restoring vacant and dilapidated buildings as well as adding two to three stories of apartments to city-owned senior centers.

According to Harrison, additional funding for affordable housing would come in part from raising the affordable housing fee from $30,000 to $34,000 per unit and ensuring dollars from recently passed landlord tax are spent on affordable housing projects.

Many attendees also took the opportunity to address their main concerns in regard to housing with the council members.

One attendee, who identified himself as an campus faculty member, pointed out the necessity of affordable housing for UC Berkeley faculty and students. “It’s impossible for us to live in this city,” he claimed.

Mary Stackiewicz, another town hall attendee, spoke out about homeless youth at the town hall, asking for support for her youth-initiated house village. The village, supported by Youth Spirit Artworks, would house 13 to 20 homeless youth and encourage them to contribute to community betterment through means of artwork or other skills.

“(My concerns) weren’t totally addressed but other issues (with housing were),” Stackiewicz said. “(I’m) really hoping that things do change — (I) have hope in (Harrison).”

Lastly, Harrison and Worthington addressed police reform. Worthington said he believes reforms would strengthen trust between the police and disenfranchised communities.

“I think we’ve made improvements, but we can do better,” Worthington stated at the town hall, in reference to concerns regarding police activity in recent protests.

Worthington hopes to change the “flawed” structure of the city’s Police Review Commission and give more power to the PRC to oversee police officers, according to a handout distributed at the town hall.

Worthington proposed other measures for future police accountability reform, including police body cameras and an analysis of racial disparities in police stops and arrests.

Though the topics discussed were serious, the overall tone of the town hall was vibrant —  at times, attendees laughed and joked with each other, even breaking out into a chorus of “Happy Birthday” when Worthington first walked into the room.

“(I’m) gratified that so many people showed up. (We have an) active district,” Harrison commented after the town hall. “We’re trying to balance a lot of different interests … and balance (the) needs of different generations. (It’s) really a challenge but (we’re) coming up with new solutions to difficult problems.”

Contact Elena Aguirre at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @eaguirreDC.