‘It’s not just about housing’: Developments, wage disparities advance gentrification in Berkeley

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Amanda Ramirez/Staff

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Gentrification in Berkeley has caused low-income families and people of color to lose their longtime homes and forced some to leave the area because of a lack of affordable housing.

South Berkeley and West Berkeley have faced rapid gentrification in the past few decades, according to Igor Tregub, Rent Stabilization Board member and chair of the Housing Advisory Commission. According to Nicole Montojo, a housing research analyst for the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, gentrification in South Berkeley is affecting mostly Black and Latinx populations.

“If housing is unaffordable, the people that are most affected are low-income communities of color,” Montojo said. “(A) stratified labor market and a lot of high-income jobs aren’t accessible to Blacks and Latinos, and it’s connected to a history of discrimination.”

Pushing out low-income families from a highly productive area just adds to the wage inequality that already exists, Montojo said. High-income workers have their wages growing exponentially faster than low-income workers do, according to Montojo, leaving the latter with no way to move back into the area if affordable housing is not built.

“In California, as a whole, there’s a gap of 1.5 million affordable homes for extremely low- and very low-income housing,” Montojo said.

Tregub said in a previous interview that the city had begun passing measures to help low-income tenants during move-in evictions by providing them with extra compensation and by allowing tenants to challenge their landlords in court if they believe they are about to be displaced.  

However, according to Larry Rosenthal, a campus assistant adjunct public policy professor, gentrification does not always yield negative results, especially when it comes to people selling their houses. Rosenthal added that with the money families can make by selling their homes, they have the choice to start fresh somewhere else.

Tregub also stated that real estate agents in West Berkeley have been making offers to buy the houses of longtime residents. Most residents, Tregub said, feel they cannot refuse, but after they sell their houses, the property often gets demolished, allowing for new development in the area.

“When gentrification happens, if they are so inclined, they can sell their homes, and they can realize very substantial gains financially,” Rosenthal said. “Financially, they’re winners. But they are leaving their neighborhood. They don’t have to.”

Montojo agreed that gentrification does not always lead to displacement of residents. But gentrification, for Montojo, usually does negatively affect renters, since they cannot keep up with the rising rent prices.

Tregub said that as more wealthy tenants move into an area, the median rents in the neighborhood can increase. This would lead to the displacement of longtime tenants of Berkeley, since those renters may not be able to keep up with the rising prices, Tregub said.

Lack of housing can also lead to UC Berkeley students pushing out Berkeley residents as they search for more affordable off-campus housing. The campus announced plans in May to build student and permanent supportive housing on People’s Park. Indian Flavors Express closed on June 30, after Landmark Properties obtained the location in order to build new student housing.

Montojo stated that gentrification has much more widespread impacts than just pushing low-income families out of their houses, as it affects their educational opportunities and ability to obtain high-paying jobs.

“It’s not just about housing,” Montojo said. “It’s a really long history of policies … that have shaped neighborhoods and have really defined where lots of communities of color can exist, where they’re excluded from and where they’re pushed out to.”

Contact Anisa Kundu at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anisa_kundu.

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  • Max Chanowitz

    But…it kinda is about the housing. Housing-skeptics will point to the fact that new apartments have been going up in a couple parts of Berkeley (Southside, Shattuck, that’s about it) and housing prices are still ludicrously high. No surprise there; it takes more than a couple years of building for the housing market to recover from 50 years of NIMBYism. But now that people have woken up to the fact that we’re in a housing crisis, we’re at a turning point—and every new building helps a little bit. We have a lot to learn from cities that have been building at a steady pace for decades (and don’t allow self-interested landowners to strangle the approval process), rather than waiting until we reach crisis level:

    https://www.sightline.org/2017/09/21/yes-you-can-build-your-way-to-affordable-housing/

  • That Guy

    We have a lot more people but just about the same amount of housing. Therefore it is getting more and more expensive. Either 1) drive people out, 2) build a huge amount of new high density housing, or 3) let the market determine who gets housing and who has to leave. All the other stuff in the article is just blather.

    • powerbus

      In the 40 years since 1970 the City has lost over 15,000 residents. It’s only this year that the population has grown to match 1970’s count. We have the same number of people and 5,000 more units than we had then. Why was there no housing crisis in 1970 when the City was bulldozing whole blocks of residences?

  • Bill Bowen

    ah yes blame gentrification on the young families, working two jobs and forced to compete in bidding wars for overpriced housing, instead of y’know the North/Central Berkeley ruling class which has pretty much failed to plan for ANY population or housing growth for 40 years, while paying their minimal Prop 13 taxes and accumulating millions in home equity wealth.

    • Nunya Beeswax

      Absolutely correct.

    • Max Chanowitz

      When you own your home, there is no “housing crisis!” Must feel nice to be safely entrenched while us renters are all scrambling to stay above water.

      If Berkeley wants to live up to its “progressive” reputation, it needs to put more renters on the city council.

  • Whoa Mule

    Note to Igor,
    Those people are with non-profits looking for sites on which to build low-income and supportive housing for the homeless, using funds from the Mayors bond proposal. So as you point out, the mayor’s big money bond is already having negative consequences on long time residents who are being displaced.

    So if we want to end displacement, vote against the mayors bond proposal!

  • Dave

    Yet another article on housing that fails to talk about how we got here intentionally. We decided to ban apartments in most of berkeley to protect the home values of the single family owners.

    Until we legalize apartments regionwide and stop NIMBYism through by-right, the affordability crisis will continue.

  • StanFromSomewhere

    Rising home prices have actually benefited older African-American homeowners who have cashed out and moved to places with a lower cost of living after they sold their homes. Why is that bad?

    • California Defender

      Average selling price in the slum of South Berkeley is $1.04 million. They could cash out, move back east, and live on easy street.