For UC Berkeley students, there are times during the semester where we are faced with overwhelming stress: midterm season, the week before finals, the week of finals, the flu season (if you are a public health major) and figuring out where and how you’re going pay more than $2,000 for a studio apartment. After your freshman year, you’re kicked out of the residence halls and forced to live in an overpriced unit or studio, cramped with little to no space. You are thrown into one of the most severe housing crises in the nation — something they forgot to mention during orientation. The housing crisis in the Bay Area has been on the rise and is not expected to decline any time soon.
But this is just from a student perspective. Some of us qualify to receive financial aid, have work-study, apply for scholarships and have other forms of aid to help relieve some of that stress. Just a few miles from campus, we come across our neighboring city, Oakland, where the crisis only worsens. This housing crisis is deeply rooted in oppressive measures of redlining dating back to the 1930s.
Oakland is one the nation’s top-10 cities experiencing a major decrease in home supply and is the fourth most expensive rental market in the country. According to the most recent Zumper National Rent Report in 2016, in the city of Oakland, this crisis affects up to 1,500 people a month, as rents for one- and two-bedroom apartments have been estimated to have increased 14 percent and 18.3 percent, respectively, over the last year alone.
Oakland residents who work for low wages or are on a fixed income have to pay an overwhelming amount for rent and face gentrification. These residents cannot apply for scholarships or federal student aid and are left with limited housing resources. These resources are government programs that require lengthy applications only to place people on over yearlong waitlists and leave it to up to chance to determine if they can move into affordable housing.
The housing crisis stems from a long history of segregation and, in more recent times, gentrification. Gentrification is the process of renovating areas to fit a more affluent “taste” and displace residents and businesses that have resided there for the past years. Most of the communities being displaced are communities of color. The undocumented community, whose members not only face the everyday risk of deportation but also do not receive government assistance, is also disproportionately affected by the housing crisis. People who do not have citizenship status do not quality for government support to relieve some of their financial burdens.
This critical issue is forcing residents out of their homes and, for some, the only place they have ever known. With the steep increase in rent, residents can no longer afford to live in their homes and are being pushed out of their own communities. Landowners are only concerned with the profit that comes with increasing rent and the incoming wealthy population.
Some owners will go as far as to ignore unviable living conditions and fail to address sanitary issues in the home such as mold, rodents, and other infestations, making it nearly impossible for people to live. Tenants are exposed to harmful health conditions that come with inadequate living conditions. Some of these residents include extended families and children who all live together in compacted units. This creates an even greater risk for susceptibility of health conditions because of their close proximities. Residents move out of these living conditions but have nowhere go. In such cases, families are left to live in their cars. Displaced tenants who live on the streets or in their car are exposed to even greater unsanitary living conditions.
It is time that we stop and think about our neighboring families and residents. As Berkeley students and residents of the Bay Area, we have a voice to support these residents and families. Tenants have rights, and we must reach out to our representatives and the mayor of Oakland to demand reform to protect renters and build more affordable housing to ensure that no one has to live in such conditions or be forced out of their very own communities. We must critique our own privileges as UC Berkeley students and use this institution as political leverage. We must uplift those voices and find the ways we can become a part of the solution rather than remain silent.
Michelle Gonzalez is a first-generation UC Berkeley student studying public health.