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Housing crisis demands attention from state, campus

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MARCH 08, 2016

Our city is facing an unprecedented housing affordability crisis. Students have been the most impacted by rising housing costs, which on top of rising student fees, make higher education even more unaffordable. In order to afford exorbitant market rents, many students are doubling or tripling up in apartments or forced to live even farther away from campus.

While the student housing crisis is a symptom of a regional problem, the fault also rests with campus administrators, who have failed to create enough housing opportunities for students. UC Berkeley houses fewer students than most other UC campuses, providing only 24.7 percent of undergraduates and 2.6 percent of graduate students with campus housing. Even when the campus creates new student housing, it is often unaffordable for many students. In fact U.S. News and World report ranked UC Berkeley as the fifth most expensive school in the country in terms of campus housing costs.

To add to the existing pressures on housing, the University of California announced it will increase the systemwide population by 10,000 students over the next five years, with 750 new students coming to UC Berkeley in the next year. Hundreds more are expected in future years. Yet, the campus has no clear plan for how it either is going to house the hundreds of new students or even meet the need of current students for housing. Students are being left to fend for themselves in this tight housing market.

While the university set a goal of building 2,600 new beds of housing over a 15-year period, it has only built a fraction of those goals. There is currently one proposal for a new student housing development, a public-private partnership development at the Stiles Hall lot, which would house 770 students. That may house the 750 new students coming in 2016, but won’t help the hundreds more expected in subsequent years. Instead, the campus announced that freshmen will be given priority for housing, and all other students will be waitlisted. This is inconsistent with the goals set in the UC Strategic Academic Plan of providing two years of campus housing to freshmen who desire it and one year of university housing to entering transfer and graduate students who desire it.

An op-ed by the ASUC Student Housing Committee on Feb. 23 pointed out how UC Berkeley does have opportunities to provide affordable housing to students. Under the city of Berkeley’s Downtown Area Plan, the campus is entitled to two 120-foot buildings in the Downtown area. One of these buildings is currently under construction with the rebuilding of Tolman Hall and the other is a proposed privately-run hotel. We believe that building a hotel on such a prime opportunity site would be a grave mistake. The university already is building a pool on the Tang Center lot, once again a wasted opportunity for housing. There are other opportunity sites near campus such as the parking lot  on Ellsworth Street or other lots in Downtown where student housing projects can be constructed.

The responsibility to build student housing does not just rest with the campus administration. The state has not provided needed funding to enable the university to construct more housing. We call on the state Legislature to invest in student housing for the UC and CSU systems to help address the needs of students throughout the entire state.

UC Berkeley administrators also need to develop a comprehensive housing plan in order to address the needs of future and existing students. Recent plans have placed too much emphasis on public-private partnerships involving for-profit developers. This results in housing that is not affordable for students, and because it is built on university property, tenants will not have the same rights provided by the city of Berkeley as other tenants have. The current trends of housing development by the university do nothing to alleviate the consequences of the affordable housing crisis.

There are, however, ways for students to make their voices heard. On Tuesday, Berkeley City Council will be voting on an item that will send a letter to Chancellor Nicholas Dirks urging UC Berkeley to build more student housing to address the needs of existing students and planned enrollment increases. This includes asking the university to work in good faith with the ASUC to develop a comprehensive housing plan. You can express your support by contacting City Council at [email protected] and attending the Tuesday meeting, which will be held at Old City Hall, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, at 7 p.m.

Additionally, from April 4 to 6, students will be able to vote on a ballot measure declaring a student housing crisis. The proposal will do the following:

Declare that UC Berkeley students are suffering from a housing crisis.

Demand that the administration work in good faith with the ASUC to build at least 6,000 beds on or near campus that is run by the university or a nonprofit over the next 10 years.

Direct the ASUC to create and regularly update a comprehensive plan for addressing the student housing crisis.

In order to make meaningful change, the city and students must together demand action by the university and state Legislature to address this housing crisis. We call on Dirks and the UC Berkeley administration to develop a plan for more student housing construction, with the goal of creating housing that is affordable. We cannot afford to wait.

Jesse Arreguin is a Berkeley City Council member and Boomer Vicente is an ASUC senator. Contact the Opinion Desk at [email protected] and follow us on Twitter at @dailycalopinion.

MARCH 07, 2016