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

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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

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  • D.Plorable

    Well, there are places where it’s a lot more affordable to get a basic Sosh degree. UC Merced for one, or any number of CSUs, though all the UCs charge the same horrendous fees–a friend’s daughter paid $2K for one history class at the UC Merced Summer session a couple years back.

    The article does not specify what city the rental was in, but astoundingly sloppy enforcement of zoning and code seems to be nearly endemic in the Bay Area. South of SF in the 90s I saw how the local authorities were reduced to shrugs over ridiculously overcrowded (and dangerous, illegal) houses and apartments because the inhabitants were immigrants–like that gave them absolution from the law. So if the neighbors lost all hope of any on-street parking, too bad. (24/7 noise in previously low-density neighborhoods was another benefit of the new diversity). Now with the “sanctuary” policy it will certainly get even worse. I would remind you all that the mass killing at the “Ghost Ship’ fire was due to non-enforcement of zoning and code. Curious how a far-left place like Berkeley will do rent control and then run such a loose ship that the actual renters get abused; I personally witnessed apartments just off Shattuck where the back of the building was inundated with air pollution from the auto shop behind, I was there when the “registered sanitarian” city official looked at It, which produced a lame response letter that since the shop was only operating during regular business hours (a lie as explained by the dwellers, the help was coming in at all hours to do noisy and dirty jobs like painting and sandblasting) they were SOL. This all changed when the building got an assistant manager moved into the highest floor on that side of the building where the air impact was minimal (but the noise wasn’t) and the management got lawyers on it– which produced $40K in shop structural improvements, proper venting and air cleaning, and stopped the off-hours action. But many other building owners have honed the art of bare minimum maintenance and skirting the letter of the law to a science. Look it up on Yelp.

    I don’t have a solution to the globalization system that underlies this. It’s not discussed much, easier to blame the technology companies, but the global rich love the Bay Area (for a lot of reasons, one being the climate and another that everybody hates America just like them). Consequently there is much under-utilized housing, some of it actually vacant having been bought for both speculative/investment reasons as well as “escape hatch” options (and wait and see what happens if Mexico elects the Hugo Chavez clone). It will get worse in the Bay Area and probably won’t even drift down when the next economic recession hits–like the good farmland that didn’t take a dent throughout the entirety of the real estate bust 10 years ago.

  • That Guy

    small claims court is very user friendly and while I have filed on two landlords both settled when they realized I was serious.

  • Man with Axe

    The housing market is as screwed up as it is in places like Berkeley because of government interference. It is absolutely true that rent control eliminates the incentive for landlords to maintain or improve their properties. It reduces the supply of available housing by reducing the incentive to build more housing and by creating an incentive for residents not to move. It reduces the rental market further by incentivizing the conversion of rental units to owner-occupied or condo units.

    Zoning that makes it too costly or difficult to build up or out also reduces the stock of housing. Environmental regulations can add enormous costs to the building of new housing units.

    The list of government-created impediments to the supply of housing continues to grow, especially in California, where few people seem to see these connections between government action and economic consequences.

    • Matthew Barnes

      No kidding. But you can’t expect a college student to have any concept of reality.

      From some Canadian site I saw today. As good an explanation as any:

      (O)f course rent control’s goal is precisely to put prices out of whack —
      to keep them below where the market would set them. Once you do that you
      create shortages and “shadow prices.” Shortages are simple: Sell
      something for less than its true market price and you get more would-be
      buyers wanting to buy than sellers wanting to sell. That’s almost
      definitional: The true market price is the one that equalizes the number
      of would-be buyers and sellers. Any other price doesn’t.

    • definitelyspunky

      Berkeley can simply build more dorms. The students shouldn’t make recourse to housing in the public sector. If the school admits these students, they must see to it at the system can accommodate them. This is best practice at most universities.

      • Man with Axe

        I can agree with that. The only issue is whether the university actually can build enough to house all of its students. Does it have the space? Will the city let it?

        • D.Plorable

          Solution #1 is to drive more delivery on-line. Arizona State U. is the state of the art on this—but the UC and CSU are run by bureaucrats terrified of increased productivity (doing more work with fewer people).

    • D.Plorable

      California now has an effective majority of ignorant peasants who don’t read or think much if at all. What information they do get comes from things like Univision (there’s a reason why the Spanish networks don’t provide SAP into English). So we have an AG who literally is more concerned with criminals than victims (his site wails about the “at risk” and doesn’t even provide a link to the victim’s assistance). The next governor combined with the most left-wing legislature ever will drive every difficulty we are facing to ever-more-illogical extremes.

      Take a look at our school curricula (or even college)–does anybody even try to educate about how much the education system and government in general spends money? Or where the money comes from? Listen to the politicians and see if they even speak in terms of identifiable numbers, or emotional rhetoric.