A recent article in the Daily Cal highlighted a new housing package introduced by State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. These policy changes include SB 827, which encourages dense housing near high-quality transit corridors by overruling some local zoning laws regarding parking requirements and building heights, and SB 828, which would ensure that decisions made about the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, or RHNA — which determines how many homes cities must construct —are data-driven. Current practice privileges wealthy communities such as Palo Alto, Mountain View and Berkeley with artificially low allocations in these municipalities, which fuels displacement in middle- and low-income areas.
Wiener’s proposed policies — combined with steps taken last year — would increase the number of units able to be built in areas that are easily served by mass transit. Current zoning regulations in many inner-ring suburbs, which are well-served by mass transit, are archaic and act to maintain Jim Crow-era efforts to marginalize and segregate Bay Area neighborhoods. As progressive as Berkeley is perceived to be (and its students claim to be) on issues such as the environment and social justice, it is disappointing that both leaders in city government and in the ASUC Housing Commission — as quoted in the article — are opposed to these reforms and repeat Cheeto-in-Chief-like falsehoods to characterize the proposal.
ASUC Housing Commission Assistant Chair Helen Veazey’s claim from the recent article that the proposed policies would only help for-profit developers is wrong. Veazey clearly values the creation of more student-accessible housing and was quoted stating “any housing packages need to ensure the creation of significant amounts of below market rate housing.” Standing against state efforts to limit cities’ ability to maintain exclusionary zoning, however, only perpetuates the paucity of available housing.
First, this package does not change cities’ ability to impose mitigation fees, which are a primary source of immediate funding for affordable housing. More projects that are built at market rate provides more funding for affordable housing. When those projects are in affluent suburbs, well-served by transit due to the RHNA reforms, displacement pressure will be reduced.
Second, “below market rate,” or BMR, units have specific conditions for how eligibility is determined based on household income and other criteria — any student that can be claimed as a dependent is ineligible, even if their parents would qualify for a BMR unit where they live. Undergraduate students are therefore almost entirely ineligible for BMR units, leaving the existing, new market-rate housing or campus housing as the only available options.
Third, building more homes well-served by transit helps reduce vehicle miles traveled. Transit emissions are the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States. Changing our urban planning policies to favor mass transit instead of sprawl is a way we can take action to be sustainable and live up to our own hype. This means abandoning our infatuation with exclusionary single-family zoning that rose to prominence in response to Supreme Court decisions prohibiting outright segregation.
Undergraduate and graduate students must compete among every newcomer drawn to the Bay Area for opportunity; over the long run, more homes will reduce the competition that drives up rents landlords can charge. Undergraduates would be well-served to demand that ASUC and city housing officials support policy that actually helps alleviate the housing crisis — not just Trumpet the same falsehoods until they sound true.
Jonathan Morris is the external affairs vice president of the campus Graduate Assembly.