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Berkeley Tenants' Union weighs on affordable housing

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JULY 28, 2014

We are writing to commend the Daily Cal editorial staff for its excellent editorial of July 14, regarding housing and the cost of housing in Berkeley and the Bay Area. Much as we have with climate change, we’ve reached a tipping point in affordable housing in the Bay Area. Will we protect historically rent-controlled units, will we build family and multigenerational housing, or will we let the developers dictate the terms of their own profits? When we look around Berkeley, the only new housing being built are micro- and very small rentals or high-end condos and units. The middle class is being squeezed out of Berkeley; the young, the elderly, the disabled and young families are being pushed out of Berkeley and the Bay Area. Particularly, young middle-class families are increasingly priced out. The nature of new development in Berkeley is changing the demographics of the city, incrementally, and few people in city government are paying attention to this. Additionally, developers (to a large degree) dictate the terms of their developments: mitigations and amenities have been rare and are often voluntary or unenforced.

Berkeley is still an attractive place to live, for a variety of reasons. The university adds vibrancy and culture. We are renowned for our theaters and restaurants. We have good schools and historical neighborhoods that retain their human scale, rather than expanding for the mere sake of expansion. We need to protect livability and quality of life in these neighborhoods. We need new development but development that adds to, and does not diminish, our diverse neighborhoods. Berkeley needs development that brings families and multigenerational housing into the mix. We wholeheartedly support the concluding paragraph of the Daily Cal’s editorial:

“Ultimately, these measures will not be enough. They are a set of steps to stop the bleeding of lower-income residents from Berkeley, many of whom are people of color. But in the long run, the only effective way to combat gentrification is through the strict application of rent control. Though not popular in a capitalist system, rent control helps establish stability in housing and decreases turnover while offering stability to the most vulnerable sections of the population.”

Those of us engaged in tenants’ issues have renewed the Berkeley Tenants’ Union after several years of inactivity. We are working on increasing membership so that we have a dedicated organization to advocate rent control, habitability and affordability for tenants in Berkeley. We encourage students, seniors,  families and long-time residents to participate and join us in our efforts. As James Chang said at the Tenants’ Convention on July 13, “Student issues are community issues, and community issues are student issues.” It is imperative that we have a vibrant Berkeley Tenants’ Union to address issues at City Council, the Zoning Adjustment Board and the Planning Commission. Together, our voices will be heard. We also need to work in November and beyond to support rent board candidates and city council candidates and make sure that other elected officials know of our concerns and will respond to them. Our collective presence can be very powerful, and we are now only tapping into its potential. You and I, and she and he, can make a difference. Let’s begin that work.

Further, we must strengthen the city’s demolition ordinance to protect existing, often rent-controlled units. We must work to get voter approval of two measures, the Affordable Housing and Robin Hood initiatives, which will add funds to the city’s housing trust fund. We must elect a progressive rent board slate that cares about affordability, habitability, safety and the face and soul of our city; please vote for the Tenants’ Convention chosen slate of Katherine Harr, Jesse Townley, James Chang, Paola Laverde and John Selawsky. We must not let developers and moneyed interests push the rest of us out of the city that we have helped to create.

Berkeley Tenants’ Union

Contact John Selawsky at 


JULY 27, 2014