‘No. 1 issue’: Students urge Berkeley Planning Commission to facilitate student housing development

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Student voices and signs dominated Berkeley’s Planning Commission meeting Wednesday evening, many of them urging the commission to approve proposals aimed at facilitating affordable housing construction in the campus area.

“If affordable student housing options didn’t exist, I would be homeless,” ASUC senator and Berkeley Student Cooperative member Rizza Estacio said at the meeting. “I wouldn’t be able to attend university.”

UC Berkeley student leaders, from ASUC senators to Berkeley Student Cooperative members, proposed the More Student Housing Now resolution to promote housing development near Telegraph Avenue. The Planning Commission passed a motion to consider the resolution and determine what can be achieved by the end of the academic and calendar years.

The primary goals of the resolution are to increase both housing density and the heights of housing projects in the campus area. ASUC Senator Connor Hughes said housing is the “No. 1 issue” students are currently facing.

Wednesday’s meeting took place in the wake of the City Council’s approval of two items directly related to student housing. At its regular meeting Jan. 23, the council approved the More Student Housing Now resolution, which was a source of widespread discussion at the Planning Commission meeting. The council also passed a proposal last week to fund housing specifically for extremely low-income and homeless students.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington was the only city council member in attendance. Worthington addressed the Planning Commission during public comment, imploring it to implement policies that Berkeley City Council has already “unanimously” supported.

“(The council members) all voted for these policies, but we can’t implement them if you and your staff don’t do the work,” Worthington said to the commissioners at the meeting. “Please take action this semester on at least a few things.”

Students also proposed the expansion of car-free housing areas as another means of creating more residential housing units and reducing the cost of housing construction. Graduate Assembly External Affairs Vice President Jonathan Morris said that currently, each unit in a new housing development must have one parking spot, despite the fact that only one in 10 undergraduate students has access to a car.

Morris said eliminating parking spots in new housing developments would “legalize building cheap housing” by decreasing construction costs, which he said would in turn lower rent.

At the meeting, commissioners and attendees addressed student housing from both the city and university perspectives — some pointed out the university’s failure to prioritize student housing, while others highlighted the city’s responsibility to address housing concerns.

Planning Commission member Rob Wrenn said at the meeting the university needs to “step up to the plate,” while Worthington focused on the city’s “immense power” to influence change.

“It’s not just the universities that play a role in solving the student housing crisis,” Vice President of the Progressive Student Association Matthew Lewis said. “It’s local governments that play a role, too.”

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