‘A necessary first step’: Berkeley may soon fund housing for low-income, homeless UC Berkeley students

Grace Zhang/Staff

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Just one week after approving a resolution to facilitate student housing projects, Berkeley City Council will once again discuss student housing, specifically for homeless and extremely low-income students.

Last week, the council passed a separate resolution, More Student Housing Now, to facilitate university and private student housing projects. At its regular meeting Tuesday night, the council will vote on a referral to fund low-income student housing through the revenue generated from on-campus housing and the city’s housing projects in the campus area. If approved, the item will be referred to the city manager and the housing commission for further consideration and approval.

“This is a smaller piece, but it’s an important piece because … there are still giant impediments to building affordable student housing,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who is a co-sponsor of the item.

Worthington said the details of the proposal — such as which development projects would be included and what percent of the funds would be dedicated to low-income housing — will be worked out by the city’s Housing Advisory Commission if the item passes. He added, however, that his instinct would be to include all new housing projects within a certain vicinity of campus in the revenue stream.

Multiple ASUC senators expressed support for the emphasis on collaboration between the city and the university detailed in the item. ASUC Senator Connor Hughes pointed to the student housing item passed last week as an indication of the city’s efforts to address student housing challenges.

“The city has started to realize the issues students are facing regarding housing,” Hughes said in an email. “Obviously, it is also on the university to help provide student housing, but so far this year, I have seen more work from the city to support students in this area than the university.”

Igor Tregub, chair of the Housing Advisory Commission, referred to the partnership between the city and UC Berkeley as an “important strategy” because students are often exempt from traditional sources of funding for low-income households.

Graduate Assembly External Affairs Vice President Jonathan Morris echoed Tregub’s concern, stating that UC Berkeley students are largely ineligible to occupy subsidized housing units since they are considered dependent or eligible to be dependent. UC Berkeley’s 2020 Long Range Development Plan also puts students at a disadvantage in terms of affordable housing because it prioritizes single family homeowners, Morris said.

In light of the council’s tendency to enact policies that favor single families and wealthy homeowners, Morris called the council “disingenuous” in its efforts to promote affordable housing. He added that although the item on this week’s agenda offers referrals rather than concrete solutions, it is an important preliminary measure.

“Thinking this will have an immediate impact is wishful thinking, but it’s a necessary first step,” Morris said.

Danielle Kaye is the lead city government reporter.. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @danielledkaye.