Started from the top, now we here: A housing epidemic at the world’s No. 1 public university

Ameena Golding/Staff

Lack of affordable housing and housing insecurity are issues we all know exist, but don’t truly understand the detriments of until we ourselves have been through them. Coming from a low-income family, my decision on whether or not to accept the admission offer of a school as prestigious as UC Berkeley was never in question. My transition to this school has been far from easy, but it wasn’t because of difficult classes — it was due to housing insecurity. Instead of stressing about what test I had the next day or what reading was assigned, I was preoccupied with maintaining a roof over my head. Very quickly I racked up college loan debt and worked myself to mental, physical and emotional exhaustion trying to pay more than $1,000 per month for a single bedroom in an off-campus apartment. In spring 2018, my housemates and I found that we had been living in hazardous conditions — a rat infestation and molded, contaminated insulation.

Right before midterms, I was told that I had until the end of the month to move out — in return, the property management company agreed to give us half of a month’s worth of rent credit, break the lease without penalty and refund our full deposit. Almost a month after moving out, I got my portion of the deposit in the mail and realized that my roommates and I had been shorted $1,700, in part seemingly as retaliation for one of my housemates notifying the city of Berkeley housing inspectors, which the landlord claimed was “a violation of our deal.” I personally have decided to accept this defeat and move on; however, nobody should have to be faced with such uncertainty when it comes to something as essential as shelter.

I found online that the manager of the property had praised an article by Sacramento County Supervisor Sue Frost against rent control — her argument being that first, rent control reduces profitability of rental housing, and second, property owners won’t be able to maintain proper upkeep of the housing. My first question is why Sue Frost was previously the vice chair for TentMakers, a nonprofit community housing development 501(c)(3) organization that fights homelessness and promotes affordable housing, when in reality, she is against rent control, a key component of affordable housing. My second pressing question would be if lack of rent control means maintaining proper upkeep of housing conditions, why was my apartment uninhabitable, despite a ridiculous rent price? Housing prices and rent prices are skyrocketing year by year nationwide, but especially in the Bay Area — this is not the market at work, it is a housing crisis that is costing people not only their homes, but their well-being. It shouldn’t be a choice between leaving your home or suffering with debt, nor between food and medicine or rent; this is an epidemic that needs to be met with affordable housing for all. It has been found that affordable housing is a viable option for landlords — these developments tend to be fully occupied, financially dependable and can often be safer investments than conventional apartment buildings. Demand for these types of rent will never drop, and if affordable housing is something that could potentially benefit all parties involved, I don’t see any excuses for landlords not participating.

Higher education should not be out of reach for anyone simply because of inadequate shelter. At UC Berkeley, 10 percent of college students have experienced homelessness, and Berkeley is not alone in this. One in five Los Angeles Community College District students have been homeless — not just facing lack of affordable housing, but homelessness. California State Sen. Nancy Skinner, representing District 9 in Oakland, is working to fight this problem with SB 1227, which would help incentivize private developers to create affordable housing geared specifically toward full-time students. If this bill goes through, it will make it significantly cheaper and easier to provide students who are in need with housing; however, to really fight the crisis of housing insecurity, it will take people working to find creative ways to provide tenants with stable, affordable and habitable housing options that will eventually lead to profit if the developers can successfully meet those conditions.

When faced with housing adversity, the best things that you can do are educate yourself and know your rights. There are a lot of groups and tools that you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in, yet it is easy to be ignorant if you currently have a stable housing environment. Whether you are having housing issues or not, it is important to be aware and understanding of how easily they can arise, and to get involved in fighting issues within your community. When being a college student is difficult enough as is, there is no reason to make it harder and threaten one’s housing. Affordable, dependable housing should not be a privilege; it should be a right.

Alexandrea O’Neill is a senior at UC Berkeley majoring in sociology