Freeze rent to ease burdens on local community

CITY AFFAIRS: Federal, state financial aid leaves vulnerable populations on their own, but freezing rent can help

Illustration of frozen apartment building with money going into it
Lily Callender/Staff

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Many people are strapped for cash in the city of Berkeley with economic prosperity in flux due to the COVID-19, colloquially known as the coronavirus, pandemic.

To aid the thousands of unemployed Californians and those unable to work from home, California Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued a 90-day mortgage payment waiver and a moratorium on evictions through May 31. While these measures are definitely steps in the right direction, rent payments are a looming drain on personal resources, contradicting the very nature of these “stay at home” policies. If people are to truly practice social distancing, then they need a home to stay in, and rent payments should be frozen.

Curbing the spread of COVID-19 includes government-mandated social distancing, which inevitably creates economic hardship. The resulting financial fallout is so widespread that other states, such as New York, are proposing bills that would freeze rent for a 90-day period. Although opponents argue that landlords will be adversely affected, a mortgage relief should be introduced, so that landlords can effectively write off any rent they may lose on mortgages they owe. A bill implementing a 90-day rent freeze will positively impact millions of tenants and small businesses nationwide.

Put simply, Newsom’s “stay at home” can be difficult to follow when one is at risk of losing said home. Despite the many attempts at financial assistance, students are still a particularly vulnerable population, because the federal COVID-19 stimulus bill does not apply to many  students, despite how students are equally affected by rising unemployment rates and growing financial adversity. Since campus has prorated costs for students living in campus housing who have traveled home, it is a significant inconvenience that those living off campus are forced to pay their rent, even after leaving Berkeley. Without federal or state assistance, the city of Berkeley has an opportunity to lead the way and effectively implement a rent freeze to support students who are trying to stay with their families during these difficult times.

Having approved a $3 million relief fund to support local organizations and tenants, Berkeley has demonstrated its commitment to ensuring that residents do not fall between the cracks in receiving state and federal aid. By the very nature of approving this relief fund, however, the city recognizes that a significant portion of its population is adversely affected by COVID-19, so the logical next step is to initiate a rent freeze to help all tenants. 

With most students living off campus, the student population’s housing situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis and the ensuing economic tension. When private businesses are at the forefront of student housing policies, many students aren’t able to support themselves amid these unprecedented circumstances. Student housing in Berkeley is a known issue, but current crises necessitate fast action to alleviate financial stressors on not only students but all renters in the city of Berkeley, or even in the state of California.  

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the spring 2020 opinion editor, Simmy Khetpal.