Berkeley’s lack of affordable housing fuels student contributions to gentrification

Isabella Ko/Staff

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The number of students being accepted to UC Berkeley is increasing, raising a multitude of problems — one of the biggest being the lack of campus housing available after freshman year.

The result of the limited housing resources on campus is students looking for affordable off-campus housing within the city of Berkeley. This means more students are taking up space within the city, contributing to gentrification.

Gentrification is the process of younger, typically white people moving into an area where rent is lower, according to Nikki Jones, associate professor of African American Studies. These new residents cause these neighborhoods to transition to the needs of new people ––  needs that often times oust long-time residents and low-income families.

Residents such as Richie Smith, who has lived in Berkeley since 1949 and is a member of Friends of Adeline — a community organization advocating for the Adeline/Alcatraz Corridor — said she has seen an increasing number of students move farther and farther away from the campus.

“I’ve seen students moving in and coming in that regular working people would be occupying,” Smith said. “They don’t have enough accommodation on campus, so they’re utilizing properties in the community.”

With the lack of campus housing, students are forced to find housing within the city of Berkeley. But Berkeley already lacks affordable housing and offers little to no options for low-income community members, which “leaves the two locked in a battle,” for the little housing left, according to Jones.

Ultimately, the cost of living increases with the number of students moving in, said Willie Phillips, a Friends of Adeline member. Now, long-time community members and low-income residents are struggling to pay these higher rent rates, caused by the higher demand for housing.

Phillips also said students have parents subsidizing them, cosigning on apartments and paying their living expenses –– a resource most low-income residents do not have.

Smith said affordable housing in Berkeley is only affordable for those with a high income, not for elders and residents who are actually low-income.

“It squeezes out the people who have lived there for so many years, and housing is a very hot commodity. Students who are in need of housing and students who are homeless are competing in the same housing stock as everyone else,” Phillips said.  “You’re pushing it with a very competitive market where there is no housing for anyone.”

According to Phillips, Berkeley’s gentrification largely affects the Black community. He said the real issue is that Black community members are being exiled from affordable housing, causing a clear decrease in the Black population of Berkeley.

When more affluent residents move into urban or less expensive areas, othering of the already-existing residents can occur. This process of treating the long-standing community as a problem can lead to an increase in law enforcement, according to Jones.

Long-time community residents who are treated as problems by white newcomers are dealt with the way problems are generally dealt with – by removing them. But removing Black community members from their homes as a result of gentrification is not a solution to a problem. It’s a problem itself.

Smith said the city should be focused on building more affordable housing for the elderly and homeless communities.

Igor Tregub, Chair of the Housing Advisory Commission, said the city of Berkeley started to put more of an emphasis on affordable housing within the last three years. Tregub added that he thinks the city is doing as much as they can with the minimal federal and state funding they have.

According to Tregub, the city has passed several measures to help low-income community members, including a ballot measure that increased compensation to a tenant during an owner move-in eviction and a tenant protection ordinance that allows tenants to go to court against their landlord if they feel their landlord is trying to displace them.

Tregub said although he is optimistic to see the efforts that both the city and the campus will make in terms of affordable housing displacement, there are still many measures to be made.

“They can bring their skill sets back to the community, and some can contribute to resolving the problems in terms of displacement. There is a real need for fresh minds and a need to really care about the issues,” Phillips said.

Phillips said he thinks gentrification in Berkeley will get worse before it gets better. Because of this, he said students should visit South Berkeley to really understand how the campus affects the community. He added that talking to the people of South Berkeley, rather than professors, about gentrification will expose the problems of gentrification and displacement in a raw and accurate way.

The first step on the long road to solving this problem is for the UC Berkeley community to use its resources to become aware of the real effects of displacement and gentrification.

Contact Jessíca Jiménez at [email protected].

A previous version of this article quoted Igor Tregub as saying that Berkeley assisted low-income residents with “a policy increasing the amount of payments a tenant can make in terms of eviction.” In fact, Tregub said that the recent passage of a ballot measure that increased compensation to a tenant during an owner move-in eviction helps low-income residents.