UC Berkeley establishes emergency rental assistance program for students

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The UC Berkeley Student Advocate’s Office and Basic Needs Center, in collaboration with the financial aid department and Graduate Assembly, recently established a new emergency rental assistance program to help undergraduate and graduate students in emergency situations with one month’s rent.

According to Nava Bearson, ASUC student advocate, the program is funded by the Student Basic Needs Fee, which was passed by the student body as a referendum in spring 2019. The program offers a one-time award of one month’s rent to help stabilize housing for students, according to Kiyoko Thomas, Basic Needs manager at the UC Berkeley Division of Equity and Inclusion.

“Emergency rental assistance has been an impactful intervention in stabilizing students’ housing with short-term rental assistance,” Thomas said in an email. “The student referendum is allowing us to expand the number of students served.”

Bearson said the applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis and are currently open. She added that the impetus for the program came partially from a 2017 campus housing survey, which found that about 10% of campus students have experienced homelessness at UC Berkeley.

The new program will replace the Student Advocate Office’s current emergency housing program from 2016, which will be phased out within the next two years, Bearson said.

“Our goal was to institutionalize this resource through the Student Basic Needs Fee and harness the expertise and capacity of Basic Needs Center staff to serve a greater number of students,” Bearson said in an email. “The lessons we have learned have informed every step of the process.”

For ASUC Senator Romario, the new emergency rental assistance program will address one of his main platforms: how students are being supported during semester transitions.

As an independent student, Romario said he used to have to take out emergency loans to cover the cost of his housing in May and December before he joined the Berkeley Student Cooperative, and added that he hopes the program can address some of these issues.

“I am elated this program is now serving students,” Romario said in an email. “While this program does not solve the institutional failings that result in housing insecurity and homelessness, it’s a step in the right direction for ensuring all students can retreat to a safe and sustainable place.”

Adam Orford, president of the Graduate Assembly, also said the program would address the lack of affordable housing near campus, which he called “the single greatest concern raised by graduate students.”

He added that the program would not solve all of the graduate housing challenges, but that the Graduate Assembly ultimately decided it would be beneficial in part.

“Everyone was clear that the housing assistance component would not be sufficient, and probably could never be given the magnitude of student need,” Orford said in an email. “However, the GA Delegates voted to support the new fee in part because, as the fee’s proponents argued, student support for each other is consistent with our school’s values, and sends a powerful message to the folks who control the school’s finances that the students are willing to do our part to address the housing crisis.”

According to Orford, the Graduate Assembly has been working with the Graduate Division to pilot an emergency fund of its own, which will be available next year.

Kate Finman is the lead Student Government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.