Berkeley housing crisis demands educated voters

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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.

Clarification(s):
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.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly called Scott Wiener and Nancy Skinner state assembly members. In fact, they are state senators.

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  • Kurt VanderKoi

    So you drank the Berkeley Kool Aid!

    You applied to UC Berkeley (thinking it one of the best public universities in the world), were accepted, and are now DISAPPOINTED THAT YOU HAVE NO PLACE TO LIVE.

    Here are several options.

    Option 1: Transfer to another California university such as:
    – Cal Poly http://www.calpoly.edu/
    – UC Merced http://www.ucmerced.edu/

    Option 2: Check out distance online education:
    – Arizona State University https://asuonline.asu.edu/
    – Georgia Institute of Technology http://www.cc.gatech.edu/academics/degree-programs/masters/online-ms-cs
    – Many Others

    Options 3: Attend a university in another state. Move to and become a resident in another state.

    • s randall

      Really? San Luis Obispo has no housing crisis too?

      https://slochamber.org/housing-summit-2017/

      • Kurt VanderKoi

        Check out the availability and cost of housing on Zillow

      • lspanker

        SLO has a similar problem to Berkeley, in that local NIMBYs and owners of existing rental units collude to keep rental prices high by restricting new construction. They use every trick in the book to do it as well, such as getting people worked up about “creeping urbanization” in a county with a population density of less than 100 persons per square mile, and the spectre of evil corporate absentee landlords making profits. The way they talk, you would swear that SLO was going to become a suburb of LA any day now.

        I saw this firsthand when I took a job there a few years in back – I gave up looking for an apartment in SLO after several months, as the process was an absolute joke. Property management agents would have maybe 2 “showings” of 45 minutes to an hour, and there would be a couple of dozen people in line (mainly Cal Poly students) to see the place before the agent would even show up to unlock the door. Evening or weekend showings to allow working people to see units after work? Fuggedaboutit, NOT part of their plan.

        These same agents would demand that everyone fill out a NEW rental application ON SITE for EVERY unit they would show, even when you saw multiple listings by the same agent. They sensed that they had power and control over the naive and desperate students and lorded over them, even throwing away applications in front of people when they decided they had enough. Based on their behavior, I wouldn’t have doubted if they were soliciting cash bribes from these same students – they behaved like a bunch of petty mafiosi in their behavior. I finally gave up on housing in SLO when I dared protest about the treatment one day, and was told that I was even LUCKY that they ALLOWED me to look at one of their units. I responded in kind, and told the little martinet that he was lucky that most of his potential clientele were milquetoast little millennials, because if he talked like that to people who came from where I did, he would be lucky if he wasn’t slapped half way to next week. I figured I was blackballed by the local renters after that exchange, so I found a place up in Atascadero (half hour commute down and up the Cuesta Grade every day) with a decent landlord that suited my needs.

        Unethical and borderline criminal behavior? Absolutely – but no surprise when gullible students and economic illiterates support policies that restrict entry to a market and grant a virtual monopoly to one group of people. Progressives need to learn that you can’t vote away the laws of Supply and Demand, no matter how hard you try.

        • Kurt VanderKoi

          1. Plan ahead and sign a rental agreement well in advance of the move-in date.

          2. Widen your search to other areas of San Luis Obispo County CA and commute to Cal Poly by car or public transportation. See: San Luis Obispo Regional Transit Authority – Official Site http://www.slorta.org/

          • lspanker

            Been there, done that already (got a place in Atascadero). I was merely pointing out what happens when housing supply is deliberately kept tight.

  • s randall

    Affordable housing mitigation fees are a subsidy. They pay for affordable housing. So while it may be true that without these mitigation fees, there might be more housing built, none of it would be affordable in a place like Berkeley.

    When people talk about a “housing crisis” it usually has to do with the supply of below market rate (BMR) housing. For the people that can afford to pay, there is never a “housing crisis.” There is a sort of “Laffer Curve” for mitigation fees. At zero and infinity no affordable housing is built.

    Developers always complain about the fees they are required to pay. If is indeed too high and development stops, then lower it. If stuff still gets built at about the current rate, then it isn’t too high. That’s what they call the “invisible hand.” Let the market tell us if the fees are too high.

  • jim

    There is no housing crisis. Only a crisis of people trying to live in places they cannot afford.

  • still trying

    Yes, I was stationed there in the service for awhile aboard USS Midway. Building codes are different there than here. And if you cheat on codes you go to prison there, Not in the US. There is no incentive to do it right here in the US. I know, I inspected many of these buildings and you can’t get anyone to bring them up to earthquake code. Again, the Millennium Towers were built to the lowest standards possible and built cheaper, but followed code. Now look, it may not survive a large quake and the building is brand new. Promises of quality and strenght is a fantasy in the US and I would not trust any building over 6 stories. Time will tell.

  • Left Unsaid

    Berkeley’s housing crisis is exacerbated by the thousands of UCB students who decide to stay on after graduation.

    • Minki

      Many stay on, due to RENT CONTROL, which, in reality does not work to provide more housing for students. The students, however, are duped politically, to believe so, when in fact, it really benefits the long term tenant that are paying rents well below market value. .

      Over time, the city is left with those, that do NOT have the income to move out, and establish themselves with their own home purchases, with the upwardly mobile ending up moving away, once they become financially established. leaving the city with a growing population that desires to sustain this ideology, but this does not help the city’s tax base nor helps with realistic long term financial planning.

      • lspanker

        Many stay on, due to RENT CONTROL, which, in reality does not work to provide more housing for students. The students, however, are duped politically, to believe so, when in fact, it really benefits the long term tenant that are paying rents well below market value.

        Thank you.

  • tor_berg

    Thanks to the authors for this important call to arms. Cal students had the opportunity to elect pro-housing Berkeley native Cal grad student Ben Gould in the District 4 special election last March. Instead, the Council majority gained another anti-housing vote when Kate Harrison was elected.

    It was a mail-in ballot. All District 4 voters had to do was check a box and drop the postage-paid ballot in a post box. Less than 22% of District 4 registered voters bothered.

    Vote, guys. It’s your city, too. If you want the city to work for you, vote.

  • Alex

    If every Berkeley student voted in local elections, the progressives running this town would be out of power forever. Wonder if this will be what breaks them.

  • diogenes

    Since the Daily Cal thinks Berkeley voters need facts, maybe it should supply some. There are NONE in this article. Who is “developing” rental housing in Berkeley? Absentee investors. What for? To pump money out of Berkeley. Are these rental apartments genuinely “affordable” to students or middle and lower income renters? NOT REMOTELY. What is the number one driver of Berkeley’s housing problems — the thousands of additional renters UC brings to Berkeley by consistently raising admissions levels without doing anything to provide shelter. The campus population has doubled, since the 70s. THAT’S the primary source of the problem. And it benefits landlords and absentee investors, and harms students and harms Berkeley. Are there ways to provide affordable housing in Berkeley? Certainly. Are they being discussed? Certainly not. Why not? Because absentee investors control development, and if you control the discussion you control the answers. Just like these authors.

    • Marc Love

      You decry lack of facts and then provide none of your own. Where’s your evidence that “absentee investorism” is actually thing in Berkeley and a significant driver of increased housing costs in Berkeley? Many have attempted to make the argument that this is a thing in the Bay Area—leaning on Vancouver as an example—and yet no one has come up with evidence to back up this theory. Where’s the proof?

      It’s weird to see people blame UC for driving up costs in Berkeley when costs have been driven up by similar levels throughout the entire Bay Area over that same period. Either your argument is (absurdly) that UC Berkeley is driving up costs across the Bay Area uniformly or you’ve conveniently ignored the much larger factors which are affecting all desirable population centers in the state of California: decades of inadequate housing production to keep up with normal population growth, strong financial incentives property owners to oppose new housing production, and excessive local control.

  • rychastings

    the berkeley housing crisis requires a non nimby city council thats what!~

    • still trying

      and a university smart enough to realize since they are part of the problem, they need to be part of the solution.

      • rychastings

        the university isnt the one stopping property developers from building high density housing…

        • still trying

          UC is adding almost 10,000 new people each fall to Berkeley, each requiring housing, which UC is not providing. These students compete with the general population looking for housing. Berkeley has finite borders and cannot build forever. UC needs to understand and cap enrollment. This is a very clear and logical direction. So, you complain about NIMBY’S, but you will not go along with the obvious.

          • diogenes

            Thanks for saying.

          • tor_berg

            It is an absolute disgrace that anyone, and particularly a Berkeley resident, is advocating restricting access to high-quality public education. Look where where your selfishness has led you.

          • still trying

            So, what you are saying That it is ok for UC to continue admitting students at the cost of the City of Berkeley’s survival. In medicine we call that a parasite. The city cannot continue to build without major upgrades to infrastructure. Everyone is getting the kart in front of the horse regarding housing. The city is on an earthquake fault, building to tall is not very bright. We do not have resources to house all of these students.
            One more thing, I see UC Berkeley’s quality decline year after year and it is not because of funding. It is because you dilute the quality with over admissions.

          • Marc Love

            It’s amazing how similar the arguments made in favor of restrictive zoning to keep people of color out of white neighborhoods in the mid-20th century are to those made in favor of maintaining restrictive zoning today. “Parasite”…”quality decline”…”dilute”…dog whistles abound. High density housing hasn’t been unsafe in earthquake zones for decades. Berkeley is one of the wealthiest communities in the country with more than enough resources to improve infrastructure and expand housing. Finite borders are irrelevant when we’re talking about upzoning and building up, not out.

          • still trying

            High density housing hasn’t been unsafe in earthquake zones for decades. Boy are you off. Look at all the recent large quakes in southern CA. Apartment buildings are crashing down each time. Okay how about this. Balconies don’t fall either. Tell that to the Irish.
            Buildings are only as good as the care put into building them. That care is no longer there. Can you say Millennium Towers, It is sinking while no quakes have occurred. Wait till we have one. Buildings and inspections are not what they were. I know, I am a retired fire and building inspector and ladders can still only go 8 stories in the US.

          • Watson Ladd

            How many people have ever died in a high rise fire in the US?

          • still trying

            The daily cal keeps removing my reply regarding the number of high rise fire deaths. I guess they do not like facts, much. Lets just say deaths related to high rise fires do occur. 3 last week.

          • still trying

            Berkeley is close to 750 million behind in deferred maintanence. The reason why. The City is broke. More and more of the general fund goes to employees wages and now increases in retirement costs to the City. Berkely is one of the highest taxed city in the state and she is still broke. You mention wealthest City, where are your facts. Income per household may be high but the city is deep in dudu

          • elrod

            There would be no City of Berkeley without the University. They are the economic engine of the city. Without Cal, the COB would be a suburb of single family homes sitting on an earthquake fault like you said. The only one that’s building anything is Cal. They’re the ones that have the construction cranes going up and then coming down. Let them build dormitories at People’s Park and Hearst and Oxford.Ave. Yes, 10,000 students are arriving but there are a bunch of students leaving as well. The City of Berkeley hasn’t built squat until recently, I see buildings from the 1960′ and 70’s everywhere, there’s a reason for that. They city has a lot of catching up to do but it’s dragging its heels. The long-winded permit review process is a joke, it’s just a stall tactic by the city to discourage development. Their obsession with People’s Park is a travesty. The city should make housing and crime their top 2 priorities every year but somehow they conveniently find themselves involved with other side issues. The mayor and his NIMBY cronies must go.

          • still trying

            That is a bogus statement. Berkeley would be Berkeley without UC. Read Berkeley’s history, please, before commenting, your ignorance is showing. And BS comparing it to racial segregation of the 60’s.

          • still trying

            The only one that’s building anything is Cal. Now your ignorance is truly showing.
            City of Berkeley hasn’t built squat until recently, It is not up to the City to build. Again your ignorance is showing.
            Yes, 10,000 students are arriving but there are a bunch of students leaving as well. Yes but each year the numbers increase, leaving more here that has left. Again, math is not your strenght I see.

          • Watson Ladd

            Have you ever been to Tokyo? Or Osaka? All on the ring of fire, all tall.

          • still trying

            One more thing. Those cities have ladder trucks that can go almost 200 feet. Berkeley’s ladders less than 80 feet. I know, I helped to deliver a ladder truck to Yokosuka that went 200 feet. It even had a small seat elevator to take you up and down. Not in the US. tallest ladder is around 100 feet with a working height of less than 80 feet.

          • Watson Ladd

            And in NYC they have buildings far taller then 80. Modern fire safety uses evacuation and contains flames.

          • still trying

            I am a retired firefighter. Modern fire safety is only as good as it is maintained. Which in most cases, per experience, it is not. Also, you can’t compare apples and oranges. We are talking about Berkeley on two major faults. NYC is not built on fault lines. The last large quake occurred in St. Louis and caused structure damage to buildings in NYC. Presently in NYC buildings are collapsing weekly on their own. It was also discovered the Twin towers were not built to code. If they had, they may not have collapsed. Buildings are only as good as the architect, builder and future inspections. I can tell you Berkeley does not have the man power to do a good job inspecting buildings. Besides, when they do it is only once per year. Lots change in a year. You have too much faith in a system that has proven to be lacking.

          • still trying

            UC Berkeley was designed and built for no more than 27,000 students. This fall over 10,000 students will come to Cal. We are now at nearly 40,000 students attending Cal. Far exceeding its design capacity. Studeies have now shown what Clark Kerr stated many years ago was true. If you exceed that number-quality will decline. It has.