‘It’s not just about housing’: Developments, wage disparities advance gentrification in Berkeley

Amanda Ramirez/Staff

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Gentrification in Berkeley has caused low-income families and people of color to lose their longtime homes and forced some to leave the area because of a lack of affordable housing.

South Berkeley and West Berkeley have faced rapid gentrification in the past few decades, according to Igor Tregub, Rent Stabilization Board member and chair of the Housing Advisory Commission. According to Nicole Montojo, a housing research analyst for the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, gentrification in South Berkeley is affecting mostly Black and Latinx populations.

“If housing is unaffordable, the people that are most affected are low-income communities of color,” Montojo said. “(A) stratified labor market and a lot of high-income jobs aren’t accessible to Blacks and Latinos, and it’s connected to a history of discrimination.”

Pushing out low-income families from a highly productive area just adds to the wage inequality that already exists, Montojo said. High-income workers have their wages growing exponentially faster than low-income workers do, according to Montojo, leaving the latter with no way to move back into the area if affordable housing is not built.

“In California, as a whole, there’s a gap of 1.5 million affordable homes for extremely low- and very low-income housing,” Montojo said.

Tregub said in a previous interview that the city had begun passing measures to help low-income tenants during move-in evictions by providing them with extra compensation and by allowing tenants to challenge their landlords in court if they believe they are about to be displaced.  

However, according to Larry Rosenthal, a campus assistant adjunct public policy professor, gentrification does not always yield negative results, especially when it comes to people selling their houses. Rosenthal added that with the money families can make by selling their homes, they have the choice to start fresh somewhere else.

Tregub also stated that real estate agents in West Berkeley have been making offers to buy the houses of longtime residents. Most residents, Tregub said, feel they cannot refuse, but after they sell their houses, the property often gets demolished, allowing for new development in the area.

“When gentrification happens, if they are so inclined, they can sell their homes, and they can realize very substantial gains financially,” Rosenthal said. “Financially, they’re winners. But they are leaving their neighborhood. They don’t have to.”

Montojo agreed that gentrification does not always lead to displacement of residents. But gentrification, for Montojo, usually does negatively affect renters, since they cannot keep up with the rising rent prices.

Tregub said that as more wealthy tenants move into an area, the median rents in the neighborhood can increase. This would lead to the displacement of longtime tenants of Berkeley, since those renters may not be able to keep up with the rising prices, Tregub said.

Lack of housing can also lead to UC Berkeley students pushing out Berkeley residents as they search for more affordable off-campus housing. The campus announced plans in May to build student and permanent supportive housing on People’s Park. Indian Flavors Express closed on June 30, after Landmark Properties obtained the location in order to build new student housing.

Montojo stated that gentrification has much more widespread impacts than just pushing low-income families out of their houses, as it affects their educational opportunities and ability to obtain high-paying jobs.

“It’s not just about housing,” Montojo said. “It’s a really long history of policies … that have shaped neighborhoods and have really defined where lots of communities of color can exist, where they’re excluded from and where they’re pushed out to.”

Contact Anisa Kundu at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anisa_kundu.