Recently, The Daily Californian published an article indicating that rent prices in Berkeley are steadily increasing as per research done by the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board. Last year, their survey of 170 units showed that initial market rents were up to 3.5 times higher than the rental rates were after stabilization. Perhaps even more alarmingly, they found that there has been a 7.5 percent increase in year-by-year rent prices. Jay Kelekian, the executive director of the rent board, expressed concern about the recent, more dramatic increase in rent and went as far as to say that the unexpected downward trend shown by some online rental listing sites such as Zumper may be part of a “concerted effort to manipulate students into believing there’s no reason to be outraged.” A 7.5 percent increase on the UC Berkeley Financial Aid Office’s off-campus housing cost of $13,256 is almost a $1,000 increase per year.
Since the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act of 1995, rent control in the city of Berkeley has been weakened in many significant ways. The law exempts certain types of residential units — including newly constructed units– from falling under rent control ordinances. It further prohibits any type of “vacancy control” — a city ordinance that would limit a landlord’s ability to increase rents for new tenants. Just two weeks ago, AB 1506 — a California state bill that would have repealed the Costa-Hawkins act — failed in the California State Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee. Some opponents of the Costa-Hawkins act repeal cite that it would make building residential units less profitable, and therefore less attractive to developers. But studies have show that’s not the case.
In 2016, according to the UC Berkeley Housing Survey preliminary results, 52 percent of transfer students and more than 40 percent of freshmen were either concerned or very concerned about finding affordable housing while being students at UC Berkeley. One undergraduate respondent to the survey explained that they live in West Oakland “because a two month search for affordable and livable options in Berkeley proved to be unfruitful.” Other students live in Emeryville, or even as far as Richmond, because there just is not enough affordable housing available for students in Berkeley.
Many students will only be renting in Berkeley — if they are even able to find housing — for four years or less. This creates a consistent enough tenant turnover rate to allow landlords to inflate rent through vacancy-decontrol policies: New tenants will be moving in at least every four years, and many students actually move apartments more than once while at UC Berkeley. Thus, as a result of the Costa-Hawkins act, even though rent control exists on paper for some students, they reap little to none of the important benefits. The issue of landlords taking advantage of student turnover is further exacerbated by the fact that newer buildings around campus are not subject to rent control rules. While students are struggling to secure basic needs such as housing and food security, these policies create further difficulties for students trying to secure a place to live in Berkeley.
Students starting at UC Berkeley as first years and junior transfers have to quickly learn to navigate classes, financial aid, and mental health, among many other things. Since new students are no longer guaranteed on-campus housing near campus, increasing numbers of students are being forced to search for housing in an unfamiliar place even before their first day of school. With rent rising consistently and students ranking price and proximity as the two most important factors when searching for housing, students are faced with making difficult choices and end up having to choose between living significantly further from campus — thereby reducing accessibility to campus resources — or figuring out how to pay higher rents through working or taking out student loans. Regardless of whether landlords are intentionally taking advantage of students, the impact on students’ experiences and well-being is overwhelmingly negative.
The “More Student Housing Now Resolution” city resolution, which was introduced by Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Kate Harrison and Mayor Jesse Arreguín and was passed last Tuesday, takes tangible and clear steps to increase affordable housing for students through collaboration between the city of Berkeley and UC Berkeley administration. While such local actions are essential to alleviating the affordable student housing crisis, steps must simultaneously be taken to restructure rent ordinances in order to ensure that students living off-campus in residential units do not continue to suffer the burden of increasing rent rates.
Rising rent makes our university less accessible and our city less affordable for students.
Nuha Khalfay is an ASUC senator and a UC Berkeley junior studying public health.