Berkeley’s lack of affordable housing fuels student contributions to gentrification

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Isabella Ko/Staff

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The number of students being accepted to UC Berkeley is increasing, raising a multitude of problems — one of the biggest being the lack of campus housing available after freshman year.

The result of the limited housing resources on campus is students looking for affordable off-campus housing within the city of Berkeley. This means more students are taking up space within the city, contributing to gentrification.

Gentrification is the process of younger, typically white people moving into an area where rent is lower, according to Nikki Jones, associate professor of African American Studies. These new residents cause these neighborhoods to transition to the needs of new people ––  needs that often times oust long-time residents and low-income families.

Residents such as Richie Smith, who has lived in Berkeley since 1949 and is a member of Friends of Adeline — a community organization advocating for the Adeline/Alcatraz Corridor — said she has seen an increasing number of students move farther and farther away from the campus.

“I’ve seen students moving in and coming in that regular working people would be occupying,” Smith said. “They don’t have enough accommodation on campus, so they’re utilizing properties in the community.”

With the lack of campus housing, students are forced to find housing within the city of Berkeley. But Berkeley already lacks affordable housing and offers little to no options for low-income community members, which “leaves the two locked in a battle,” for the little housing left, according to Jones.

Ultimately, the cost of living increases with the number of students moving in, said Willie Phillips, a Friends of Adeline member. Now, long-time community members and low-income residents are struggling to pay these higher rent rates, caused by the higher demand for housing.

Phillips also said students have parents subsidizing them, cosigning on apartments and paying their living expenses –– a resource most low-income residents do not have.

Smith said affordable housing in Berkeley is only affordable for those with a high income, not for elders and residents who are actually low-income.

“It squeezes out the people who have lived there for so many years, and housing is a very hot commodity. Students who are in need of housing and students who are homeless are competing in the same housing stock as everyone else,” Phillips said.  “You’re pushing it with a very competitive market where there is no housing for anyone.”

According to Phillips, Berkeley’s gentrification largely affects the Black community. He said the real issue is that Black community members are being exiled from affordable housing, causing a clear decrease in the Black population of Berkeley.

When more affluent residents move into urban or less expensive areas, othering of the already-existing residents can occur. This process of treating the long-standing community as a problem can lead to an increase in law enforcement, according to Jones.

Long-time community residents who are treated as problems by white newcomers are dealt with the way problems are generally dealt with – by removing them. But removing Black community members from their homes as a result of gentrification is not a solution to a problem. It’s a problem itself.

Smith said the city should be focused on building more affordable housing for the elderly and homeless communities.

Igor Tregub, Chair of the Housing Advisory Commission, said the city of Berkeley started to put more of an emphasis on affordable housing within the last three years. Tregub added that he thinks the city is doing as much as they can with the minimal federal and state funding they have.

According to Tregub, the city has passed several measures to help low-income community members, including a ballot measure that increased compensation to a tenant during an owner move-in eviction and a tenant protection ordinance that allows tenants to go to court against their landlord if they feel their landlord is trying to displace them.

Tregub said although he is optimistic to see the efforts that both the city and the campus will make in terms of affordable housing displacement, there are still many measures to be made.

“They can bring their skill sets back to the community, and some can contribute to resolving the problems in terms of displacement. There is a real need for fresh minds and a need to really care about the issues,” Phillips said.

Phillips said he thinks gentrification in Berkeley will get worse before it gets better. Because of this, he said students should visit South Berkeley to really understand how the campus affects the community. He added that talking to the people of South Berkeley, rather than professors, about gentrification will expose the problems of gentrification and displacement in a raw and accurate way.

The first step on the long road to solving this problem is for the UC Berkeley community to use its resources to become aware of the real effects of displacement and gentrification.

Contact Jessíca Jiménez at [email protected].

Clarification(s):
A previous version of this article quoted Igor Tregub as saying that Berkeley assisted low-income residents with “a policy increasing the amount of payments a tenant can make in terms of eviction.” In fact, Tregub said that the recent passage of a ballot measure that increased compensation to a tenant during an owner move-in eviction helps low-income residents.

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  • dwss5

    Article quote:
    “The result of the limited housing resources on campus is students looking for affordable off-campus
    housing within the city of Berkeley. This means more students are taking up space within the city, contributing to gentrification.”

    The wealthier Google Bus Crowd trying to escape SF and SV for housing are MO$T DEFINITELY further “contributing to gentrification” and competing with the “students looking for affordable off-campus housing within the city of Berkeley”. This Gentrifying Competition is a regional problem that’s ALREADY affecting nearby Oakland!

  • ConsumerSovereignty

    One more idea: stop growing the UC Berkeley campus and enrollment. No sense making matters worse!

    • dwss5

      ConsumerSovereignty wrote:
      “… stop growing the UC Berkeley campus and enrollment.”

      I agree.
      And UC Berkeley might even want to SIGNIFICANTLY increase the fee$ it should charge foreign enrollees and their wealthy enrollee-families from such obvious countries as China and Iran.

    • berk_res

      Good luck on that. The Introduction to Computer Science regularly has more than 1000 students per semester and it’s taught by low cost adjuncts. It just adds to Cal’s bottom line to add another 100 and let someone else worry about where they live and the impact on the city. But Cal is beyond local control and could care less

  • Woolsey

    What nonsense:”It squeezes out the people who have lived there for so many years,” If you’re living here (rental or owner), how are you being squeezed out? Your rent increases are very limited and your property taxes are very small. “Long-time community residents who are
    treated as problems by white newcomers are dealt with the way problems
    are generally dealt with – by removing them.” What tripe. Can you give one example – no.

  • Edward

    When more people want to live in an area than there is room in existing housing several things can happen:

    1. More housing gets built to satisfy the demand. Or…

    2. Housing doesn’t get built and those with more money bid up the price of the existing housing so they can live there and the residents who cannot afford the new higher price move elsewhere.

    Berkeley has chosen option 2 for many years. But there are some changes afoot.

    There are many cities that are worse than Berkeley in this matter and the state legislature has taken notice. Last summer they passed 15 measures to encourage cities to do their share. It helped, but now the legislature is working on stiffer measures to ensure cities do their fair share.

    Our mayor has already gone ballistic on the latest bill. That was its intention. “Wake up cities!” it screamed. There will no doubt be a compromise bill this year. NIMBY heads will explode… and there *will* be denser housing.

    The only way to have enough low income housing is to build enough market rate housing. Why? Two reasons: Market rate housing fees (if not set too high, or nothing gets built) will finance some, but not enough low income housing. More importantly, market rate housing absorbs the better off renters and frees up older properties with their lower rents for others.

    It is going to be interesting to watch. When the state bashes heads with cities the cities get dented heads.

    • berk_res

      Want to bet that the “fair share” is borne by Berkeley and not Orinda/Morga. How about the fair share of dealing with the cost of the homeless.

  • Concernedresidentofearth

    I recently found out that the traditionally African American areas of Berkeley were virtually 100% white through the 1950’s. Census blocks that had 80+% AA populations in, say 1980 were 100% white just 25 years before.

  • Jack Spencer

    And the University is built on Ohlone Native Land. This is nothing new.

  • 1976boy

    The fake progressive residents of Berkeley (actual conservatives) have opposed the construction of housing for decades, and have gotten rich in the process. It’s their intention that newly arrived young people feel bad and wrong, so as not to blame the true culprits of the housing crisis.

  • Watson Ladd

    Gentrification is not a result of personal choices. The gentrification pressures the South side feels have existed in one form or another since 1970, when the black population was at its peak. Saying that students burdened by enormous rents are responsible for gentrification, and not the homeowners and landlords profiting off of the regional housing crisis, is bad politics that removes the onus of providing housing from those with the ability to do so.

  • ahabeetle

    “Use its resources to become aware”? Translated out of bureaucratese that means “do nothing.” How about, “Use its resources to build 15,000 beds of student housing.” That’s an actual solution.