No affordable housing to call home in Berkeley

CITY AFFAIRS: Affordable housing needs to be a city and campus priority

Berkeley needs to address its housing crisis in a big way. There is simply too little affordable housing on  the market to adequately meet the demands of the community. And the city’s efforts to meet the demand for affordable housing have only been fractionally successful at best.

In fact, between 2007 and 2014, the city produced only 14 percent of the low-income housing units planned by the Association of Bay Area Governments. Meanwhile, UC Berkeley has made preparations in recent years for residence hall occupancy to exceed 100 percent due to the increasing size of incoming classes.

This is not to say that there is a lack of building in Berkeley. New housing developments regularly sprout up in the city, yet many of these developments primarily cater toward higher-income residents, with only a mandated number of units relegated toward lower-income citizens.

We are supportive of the implementation of affordable housing units in more expensive developments. The city should increase the percentage of required affordable housing units in new buildings, which currently sits at 10 percent of total units. Including units in projects already underway ensures that affordable units are being built and made available to members of the community in a timely manner.

The Affordable Housing Mitigation Fee — a per unit fee that developers can pay in lieu of implementing low-cost units in new buildings — needs time to grow into a lump sum of money large enough to implement a meaningful number of low-rent housing units. As of recently, developers have instead chosen to convert 10 percent of their units into affordable units, leaving the fund unsupplemented by the fee.

A recent nexus survey of the Affordable Housing Mitigation Fee — which was designed to evaluate the fee — found that it, as well as the minimum number of required on-site affordable units, could stand to be raised.  This seems an easily implementable initiative for the city to begin increasing Berkeley’s affordable housing.

Mixed-income housing projects — those with both market-rate and below-market housing units— are built upon a solid logic. They increase the number of affordable housing units on the market now and encourage members from different socioeconomic classes to integrate into a more cohesive community, preventing ghettoization and improving access to better schools and community resources.

This moment of crisis for local, affordable housing demands that the campus also take a greater hand in maintaining reasonable housing costs for students, which, in turn should impact the cost of housing for the permanent Berkeley community.

The unreasonableness of current on-campus housing costs is already well documented. UC Berkeley’s on-campus room and board — which is nothing to brag about — recently ranked as the fifth most expensive among universities across the country, according to 2014’s U.S. News & World Report on the subject.

By increasing the number of on-campus housing units and decreasing the cost of those units, the campus could provide a more affordable option for students. This could, in turn, dampen the demand for off-campus apartments and thereby push down market rental costs — a benefit for not just students but the entire community of permanent Berkeley residents.

Going forward, the city of Berkeley and UC Berkeley must prioritize the concerns of those who live and work in Berkeley so that those who work for and in the city of Berkeley are not barred from living in it.

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

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