On June 27, Berkeley City Council adopted a series of changes to the way in which the city’s affordable housing mitigation fee is administered. Ostensibly these changes will encourage affordable housing production, because every member of City Council is on record supporting affordable housing. The result of these changes, however, is likely to be less affordable housing, not more. The newly adjusted fee is considered by economic experts to be so high that it will severely constrict housing production in Berkeley.
Members of the council and the mayor promised students they would take steps to solve our city’s housing crisis. But while the housing shortage continues to harm lower- and middle-class renters in our communities, City Council has chosen, once again, to cater to the selfish interests of old, wealthy, white homeowners. And it’s even a step backward in our fight against climate change, as anti-growth and anti-density policies lead to more urban sprawl, more cars and more carbon emissions. All of this is in the name of preserving the character of an outmoded and unsustainable way of life.
Students, young people and renters deserve to live here too, and we deserve policies that support our future. Every student on this campus, graduate and undergraduate, should be aware of pro-growth and pro-density policies and who opposes them. Even some campus student organizations have supported self-destructive housing and land-use policies pushed by Berkeley’s landed gentry. Rather than take positions rooted in data and facts, these groups have been blinded by ostensibly progressive rhetoric — empty words from privileged homeowners continuing their long history of excluding poor, Black, brown and young people.
And what great faux-aggressive rhetoric it is! Who could oppose raising fees that support affordable housing or raising the percentage of units in a project that are required to be affordable?
As it turns out, all the experts on housing affordability, displacement and gentrification can do just that. After being alerted by Councilmember Lori Droste, a long list of UC Berkeley faculty wrote to the council and asked it not to take this action without first updating the studies that inform the council with facts and data to set fees and percentages at levels that actually maximize the revenues and units instead of at levels that constrict housing construction. Faculty members involved in the letter include Carol Galante, assistant secretary for housing under former president Obama and director of UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation; Karen Chapple, UC Berkeley professor, and leader of UC Berkeley’s Urban Displacement Project; and Jeff Vincent, the deputy director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Cities & Schools. Even progressive State Senators Scott Wiener and Nancy Skinner wrote letters in opposition.
The council majority decided to ignore all the experts, so it’s time for students like you to find their voice. Register to vote in Berkeley. Get involved in campus student groups and make sure they advocate on your behalf. Write your council members and mayor. Get to know your neighbors, and tell them how much your rent has increased and how it impacts you. Speak out at City Council meetings. Speak out at zoning board meetings. Unless you stand up and take part in your community, your elected officials will only answer to the privileged homeowners and push rental affordability for students, young and low-income residents from unreasonable to impossible.
Tyler Barnum and Jonathan Morris are the Graduate Assembly basic needs security working group chair and Graduate Assembly external affairs vice president, respectively.
A previous version of this article may have implied that all members of City Council support the city’s housing mitigation fee. In fact, all members of City Council support affordable housing.
A previous version of this article incorrectly called Scott Wiener and Nancy Skinner state assembly members. In fact, they are state senators.