‘A possibility to hear grievances’: City of Berkeley hosts public hearing on housing, community needs

Ashley Cole/Staff

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The city of Berkeley held a public hearing Wednesday evening at the South Berkeley Senior Center, during which Berkeley community services specialist Rhianna Babka presented initiatives aimed at alleviating Berkeley’s housing crisis and heard community members’ concerns regarding homelessness, among other issues.

The approximately 15 attendees at the hearing had opportunities to raise their concerns, which focused on the housing crisis and other issues, including health care and traffic safety. These concerns will be synthesized into a letter that will be passed on to City Council.

“(The public hearing) was a possibility to hear grievances and concerns,” said East Bay resident Beverly Dove. “It should be a space where things are really heard and dealt with effectively and so things can be addressed from a new perspective.”

Attendees voiced their concerns about housing and being forced out of their homes, including one woman who said she could not sleep at night out of fear of becoming homeless. Others complained about traffic safety, health care and landlords pressuring tenants with increased prices.

Yesica Prado, a UC Berkeley alumna who attended the event, said those living in RVs are now being ticketed in West Berkeley. She added that most of those people cannot afford to pay these tickets, and that the Berkeley community has been complacent about improving the situation.

“I see chronic homelessness,” Prado said. “I’ve never seen the city come to address the problems. … We’re not really doing anything.”

Despite these concerns, Babka presented updates on Berkeley’s community needs and progress, which she said reinforced the hearing’s goals to “report on use of federal and state funds” and “hear from Berkeley residents what services and housing are needed for low-income people.”

Babka’s presentation summarized the city’s allocation of 2018 state and federal funds, which she said were primarily used to preserve affordable housing, rehabilitate public facilities, provide social services, provide the homeless with financial assistance and promote health care.

Babka said in her presentation that in the 2018 fiscal year, nine public facilities renovations were completed, benefitting more than 3,000 Berkeley residents.

According to Babka, the city is using a five-year plan to meet these goals, with 2018 marking the third year. She said that in the past three years, developers supported in part by the city of Berkeley have completed the construction of housing complex Harper Crossing — providing 42 units of affordable housing for seniors — and have begun construction of the Grayson Street Apartments to provide 23 additional units of affordable housing. By the end of five years, the city hopes to have constructed 80 units of rental housing.

Some event attendees called for public hearings to be better publicized in order to allow for more people — especially those of lower socioeconomic backgrounds — to attend and share their input.

“Homelessness is a big issue in Berkeley that is not really being addressed,” Prado said.

Contact Mallika Seshadri at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SeshadriMallika.