UC Berkeley is increasing student housing. But is it putting its real issues to bed?

CAMPUS ISSUES: As UC Berkeley goes forward in its ambitious housing efforts, it needs to be more sensitive to the needs of its student body

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Alexander Hong/Staff

In the early April, students living in UC Berkeley’s University Village in Albany received notices stating that those deemed “emotionally unfit” were susceptible to eviction. After outrage from tenants, this troublesome clause was removed before it was ever enforced. It’s insensitive notifications such as this one that are an example of UC Berkeley’s history of inappropriate responses in the face of the city’s daunting housing crisis.

Students are rightfully wary about Chancellor Carol Christ’s upcoming plan to expand campus housing in the coming years. With all these grandiose proposals to address Berkeley’s housing crisis, how will the administration make sure it still listens to and accommodates the ever-increasing needs of a bloating student population?

As the student body grows, so does the number of people who are affected by subpar living conditions. When University Village experienced a 30-hour power outage, the western portion of the 974-apartment complex lost hundreds of dollars in spoiled food. With increasingly larger freshman classes, the units are seeing study lounges turned into quads and three people packed into rooms that were meant to be doubles. The campus has cut corners before to squeeze more students on campus — now, it’s crucial that it prioritizes student living conditions.

But, especially considering the economic pressure of the Bay Area housing market, better living conditions shouldn’t come with a bigger price tag. In early May, a group of demonstrators marched to the Residential and Student Service Programs, or RSSP, offices in response to a rent hike that would increase next year’s housing costs by an average of 4 percent. The school responded by saying that increases in housing costs are a result of issues beyond the reach of RSSP. Yes, the school can keep placing the blame on the nature of the Bay Area — but ultimately, if the school wants to retain a diverse and active student body, it needs to begin by taking greater steps to mediate the effects this market has on the school’s accessibility.

Even though the school has hit roadblocks with housing in the past, it is commendable that it is making an effort to make campus housing a bigger priority. The school made strides to listen to campus voices with its 2017 housing survey, an effort to provide the school with greater insight into how UC Berkeley can meet student needs in the coming years. Now, it’s on the school to take these goals and put them into action.

As UC Berkeley lays the foundation for 7,500 new beds, it needs to understand that providing these beds is only the first step in addressing student needs. Ultimately, it’s not the school’s ability to build more housing that’s the real issue — the issue lies in whether the school understands whom it is making these buildings for.

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  • Nunya Beeswax

    “But, especially considering the economic pressure of the Bay Area
    housing market, better living conditions shouldn’t come with a bigger
    price tag”

    I wish it didn’t, myself. And I also wish I could live rent-free, not have to pay for food and electricity, not have to pay for transportation, etc.

    But there are costs associated with providing housing, and the University is no more exempt from them than for-profit landlords. The cost of construction is enormous, and has to be financed (and then amortized over a period of years until the cost of construction is paid off). Maintenance and utilities are ongoing costs, and far from negligible. Support staff for the housing has to be hired and paid. And so on.

    Of course, it’s possible to offer the housing at below cost, but in order to do that other things have to be cut (without sacrificing revenue streams). So what would you cut?

    Your editorials constantly demand that the University provide more and more services to students without raising fees and tuition. Those services will cost money. Where do you imagine that money will come from?

    • KevinT_9

      By trimming down and fixing the laughingly wasteful, oversized, corrupt, and overpaid bureaucracy currently present at Berkeley and in the entire UC system. See https://www.forbes.com/sites/ccap/2015/07/29/the-bumbling-bureaucrats-at-berkeley/#2df28e49730a, https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2017/04/26/editorial-end-waste-coverup-by-uc-president-napolitano/

      If you think I’m being biased, take it from these official state auditor’s reports himself:

      https://www.auditor.ca.gov/reports/2016-130/summary.html
      “The Office of the President did not disclose to the University of California Board of Regents, the Legislature, and the public $175 million in budget reserve funds.”
      https://www.auditor.ca.gov/reports/2016-125.2/summary.html
      “-The Office of the President currently projects UCPath’s implementation cost to be $504 million—$334 million over its original estimate of $170 million—but the full cost to the university is likely to be at least $942 million.
      -The Office of the President originally estimated that it would complete UCPath by August 2014, but it has delayed the implementation date by nearly five years, to June 2019.
      -The $753 million in cost savings, primarily from staff reductions, that the Office of the President anticipated would result from UCPath’s implementation, will not materialize.”

      • Nunya Beeswax

        1. $175 million won’t go that far. We’re talking about what, 9 different construction projects?

        2. UCPath is a boondoggle and a waste of money, yes. But it comes out of UCOP’s budget; it’s not a UC Berkeley project. The Berkeley campus can’t, as far as I know, take money out of UCOP’s budget to fund its projects.

        So again I ask–how do you plan to cover the shortfall? What will you cut?