Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board votes to oppose bill in effort to combat housing crisis

Yukun Zhang/Staff

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On Monday night, members of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board voted to oppose state Senate Bill 35 regarding the creation of affordable housing until amendments are made to clarify and make the bill more inclusive.

The bill, created by state Sen. Scott Wiener, seeks to streamline the approval process for developing new affordable housing when areas are not meeting their housing goals. The board voted 6-1, with two board members absent, to oppose the bill unless amended as recommended, with only Commissioner James Chang voting no.

Discussion to take action on the senate bill was continued from the July 17 board meeting. Following that first meeting, Rent Stabilization Board Chair John Selawsky, Vice Chair Paola Laverde-Levine and Commissioner Jesse Townley issued a recommendation July 19 for the board to oppose the bill unless amendments were made.

“Unless and until ambiguous and interpretive language is clarified in the text of this bill, we are recommending the Berkeley Rent Board vote to oppose this proposed bill,” Selawsky, Laverde-Levine and Townley wrote in their recommendation.

Chang noted that cities such as Berkeley have done a very good job of producing market rate housing, but added that he wants to look beyond the impact in Berkeley alone. According to Chang, a bill like this will “force the hand” of people who are against development of affordable housing in places like Palo Alto and Los Gatos.

“I don’t want to give developers a blank check,” Chang said, acknowledging how controversial the issue has been. “I’m not here to protect wealthy property owners. That is not my goal here.”

During Monday’s meeting, Rent Stabilization Board Legislative Advocate Brian Augusta also presented to the board on housing-related legislation. He began by outlining the senate bill and the changes that had been made to it since the last meeting.

Tenants Together, a statewide assembly of renters that works to defend the rights of California tenants for safe and affordable housing, stated in the July 19 recommendation that the current bill threatens to displace more people in urban communities through rapid development.

“In its current form, this policy gives even greater power to profit-driven real estate developers to build whatever suits their needs,” said the organization in its recommendation. “SB 35 is not a solution to affordable housing.”

The city has faced lawsuits in the past for allegedly blocking certain development projects, especially as officials struggle to find more options in the current housing crisis.

Kathy Snowden, president of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, said the organization was saddened, but not surprised by the vote’s outcome. According to Snowden, there are too many limitations that impede development of housing in the Bay Area, and this bill would be a step in the right direction in helping developers overcome these obstacles.

“There is no one bill that is going to solve the affordable housing crisis in California,” Selawsky said during the meeting. “This is a statewide crisis, and I think we need to address it incrementally on a statewide level.”

Contact Kate Tinney at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @K_Tinney.

A previous version of this article stated that the board all voted in favor of the recommendation excluding one implying an 8-1 vote to oppose the bill. In fact, the vote was 6-1, with two board members absent.

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  • Hyper_lexic

    Factual question: what actual changes does the rent board majority want?

  • Edward

    “profit-driven real estate developers”

    Ah yes. Like profit-driven bank account openers and profit-driven stock purchasers and profit-driven IRA openers and….

    • ClayShentrup

      And profit-driven Berkeley Bowls. And profit-driven clothiers. And… oh wait.

  • xplosneer

    “Berkeley has done a good job of building market rate housing”

    …. What?

  • Victoria Fierce

    SB35 moves the land use process away from project-by-project fights where those with the time and resources to make one or two meetings over the short period of a couple weeks are the only ones who get a say, and towards zoning map updates that take multiple years and intensive community engagement process.

    The only blank check being written is one you can cash at the Bank of Democracy.

  • If the approval process gets streamlined for new housing construction, property values will drop as the housing supply increases. It’s great to see tenant groups selflessly fighting for the interests of wealthy owners to KEEP HOUSING COSTS HIGH.

    • GJSM

      The less housing that is built the more power and budget the rent board receives. This conflict of interest is the story.

    • Jeffrey Levin

      How much housing has to be built to get rents to drop so that low income people aren’t paying more than 30% of their modest incomes for rent? How long will that take?
      If new production caused rents to fall, don’t you think developers would stop building? Those who advocate “free market” solutions don’t seem to understand how the “free market” in housing actually works.
      If you want more housing that working folks can afford, you need to build more affordable housing, not more luxury units. Filtering (i.e., trickle down) is incredibly slow and inefficient. A recent UC Berkeley study found that building affordable housing is twice as efficient as relying on market-rate production to filter down and lower rents.

      • xplosneer

        Are you proposing a tax on current residents to build all that housing and aquire all that land?

        Do you think Peternatural is a libertarian?

        Housing isn’t a free market. It’s a captive market. Doesn’t mean market solutions aren’t part of the overall solution.

    • ClayShentrup

      Amen. Thankfully SB35 passed.