ASUC hosts virtual town hall to discuss housing, COVID-19

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The ASUC External Affairs Vice President’s office hosted a virtual town hall with a Berkeley city commissioner Tuesday evening to discuss COVID-19, housing and rent.

ASUC Local Government Relations Director Somya Jain moderated the panel with campus senior Dohee Kim, a Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board, or ZAB, commissioner and a former opinion columnist for The Daily Californian.

Kim said the ZAB has not been able to continue its semimonthly meetings as usual because of the pandemic. According to the city of Berkeley’s website, the commission will only meet if the director of emergency services determines there is a time-sensitive and legally necessary reason.

Kim added that resources regarding housing are available on the city of Berkeley’s website and that anyone who is evicted may contact the Rent Stabilization Board within three days for assistance.

According to Kim, populations are more “mobile and transient” than they were in previous years, when housing was available at lower prices.

“As a board member and as someone who represents District 7, the housing crisis is real and the housing crisis definitely affects transient populations such as students,” Kim said at the event.

Building solely at market rate will not solve the housing scarcity, according to Kim. She added that building different types of housing — including community-controlled housing, cooperatives and group living accommodations — which provides residents with more options, would be beneficial.

According to Jain, some experts have cited high density as a factor in COVID-19’s rapid spread. Kim responded that some countries with denser housing, such as Korea, have had lower rates of COVID-19.

“I don’t think density necessarily has to be a cause for concern in the case of a virus, if there are other structural systems in place to make sure we have testing and masks and other procedures that could have prevented the spread early on,” Kim said at the event.

Campus junior Samuel Taplin asked during the audience Q&A portion how COVID-19 may impact student housing and affordable housing development in Berkeley.

According to Kim, the possible recession as a result of the pandemic may make affordable housing more difficult to provide. Kim said more public bonds like Measure O, which strengthens the public trust fund for affordable housing and the homeless population, may alleviate the housing issue.

“I would be interested in seeing more policy for public bonds and more community-based housing, less investor-driven housing and more community-led, community-based housing based on local city resources,” Kim said at the event.

Kim said, as a part of the community, student voices are needed in city politics despite the fact that many spend relatively few years in Berkeley.

She added that many city commissioners are UC Berkeley alumni.

“I would love to see more students involved in city politics,” Kim said.

Contact Maya Akkaraju at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maya_akkaraju.