Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board talks student housing affordability crisis, state legislation

Lisi Ludwig/Staff

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At its Thursday meeting, the city of Berkeleys Rent Stabilization Board invited UC Berkeley students to share their experiences with housing insecurity, in addition to discussing state legislation and hearing appeals.

At the beginning of the meeting, Brian Augusta, the Rent Stabilization Boards legislative advocate in Sacramento, gave a presentation on changes in state housing legislation during 2019. Notably, SB 329 and AB 1482 passed the state legislature to minimize housing discrimination and increase protections for renters. 

Clearly, were not done with the conversation, Augusta said during the meeting. But we have made significant progress this year, and I expect we will see more in the coming year.

The board also invited Nancy LePage, a research consultant with the California Homeless Youth Project, to present on support offered by California colleges and universities to students facing housing and food insecurity. In her presentation, LePage discussed the differences between aid offered by the UC system, the California State University system and the California Community Colleges system.

According to LePage, 19% of California community college students experience homelessness, compared to 5% of students in the UC system. UC Berkeley’s rate of student homelessness is higher than the average for UC’s, however, with 10% of undergraduate and graduate students experiencing homelessness, LePage said during the meeting.

Although UC Berkeley offers more services aimed at combating housing and food insecurity than most California campuses, according to LePage, “what we dont know is the quality of those resources and how well supply meets demand.”

After the board heard two appeals related to overcharged rent, several UC Berkeley students stepped up to the podium to speak about issues of housing affordability.

Eric Peterson, a campus doctoral student and member of the United Automobile Workers Local 2865 union, which represents campus student workers, spoke about the unique challenges graduate students face when trying to find housing. Peterson explained that graduate students and postdoctoral students face housing insecurity at higher rates than undergraduates, but receive less support from UC Berkeley.

Several students added that those who do not find housing in Berkeley are often forced to live farther away.

“If youre not close enough to campus, you cant participate in extracurriculars or college life,” said Pablo Chong Herrera, a campus fifth-year senior, at the meeting.

Varsha Sarveshwar, ASUC external affairs vice president and UC Student Association president, spoke to the board about root causes of the housing affordability crisis for students, including UC Berkeleys choice of public-private partnerships to build housing and student enrollment exceeding the rate at which new housing is constructed.

After public comment, the board discussed ways to collaborate with student groups and work on student housing issues moving forward. Paola Laverde, chair of the board, recommended collecting student stories about housing insecurity to present to the UC Board of Regents and Chancellor Carol Christ, while board member Soli Alpert recommended authorizing the board’s legislative advocate to promote student housing issues in Sacramento.

“For every student that isn’t in a bed on campus, and for every dollar that a bed on campus increases by, that has a displacing effect on low-income people in Berkeley,” Alpert said during the meeting. “We have a shared goal, which is that the state needs to provide more money for on-campus housing.”

Contact Alexandra Feldman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @a_p_feldman.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Paola Laverde was a commissioner on the Rent Stabilization Board. In fact, Laverde is the chair.