Berkeley must remember that more housing is not the same as affordable housing

CITY AFFAIRS: Berkeley’s housing crisis has reached intolerable levels. Community members must actively advocate for affordability

Cal students holding a banner that reads "More affordable student housing" in front of Berkeley City Hall
Emily Bi/Staff

About two weeks ago, Berkeley City Council approved the creation of an 18-story housing complex in Downtown Berkeley. Many UC Berkeley students attended the council meeting to advocate in favor of the development, denouncing residents who opposed the project on the basis of its interference of their views of the Bay Area. But one thing they failed to do was demand affordability.

In 2017, Berkeley was ranked the most expensive college town in the country, but community members are still valuing views over human lives. This is a despicable position that clearly shows these residents don’t care that many of their neighbors have been pushed out of their homes by skyrocketing rent prices. So it’s promising that dozens of students came through to call out this inhumanity. In spite of all that, many of these community members — in their desperation for more housing — have failed to consider the importance of affordability.

While the developer fees from the 18-story housing complex will grant $10.1 million to the city’s Housing Trust Fund for low-income housing, the complex itself has no units set aside at a below-market rate — which does nothing to address the immediate needs of low-income residents. According to Zillow, the median price listing in Berkeley has increased by more than 40 percent over the last four years. What’s the point of building more housing if the people who need it the most can’t afford it?

As of 2017, nearly 1 percent of Berkeley residents are homeless, a situation that Mayor Jesse Arreguín has called a “humanitarian crisis” that is “increasing every week.” According to UC Berkeley’s Fall 2017 Housing Survey Findings, more than 35 percent of new campus undergraduate students voiced significant concerns over finding affordable housing. On top of that, 10 percent of UC Berkeley students indicated that they had experienced homelessness at some point during their time on campus. The development of new market-rate housing merely contributes to the gentrification of Berkeley, exacerbating the lack of affordable housing for local residents.

This is not simply a matter of “supply and demand,” as ASUC President Alexander Wilfert has suggested. Yes, the city desperately needs more housing, but blindly pushing for quantity without emphasizing the importance of affordability perpetuates a privileged perspective. And consolidating funding for long-term affordable housing efforts into a trust fund merely postpones these crucial solutions to a date far in the future.

Berkeley community members need to realize the severity of the housing affordability crisis. Thankfully, many students clearly understand the urgency of the issue –– last week, the ASUC approved a bill that prioritizes affordable housing over the existence of parking spots. And it’s impressive that many members of the ASUC Office of External Affairs made their voices heard at the council meeting. While these are certainly moves in right direction, student representatives must also advocate for housing affordability on a city level.

City council must follow suit in approving informed and conscious policies that protect the majority. Gentrification, housing affordability and homelessness are nothing new — the city’s elected officials should know better than to suggest that more housing alone will solve these complex problems.

We must all remember that more housing is not the same as more affordable housing.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.