UC Berkeley to demolish 1921 Walnut St., faces widespread opposition

Photo of 1921 Walnut Street
Kaitlan Tseng/File
UC Berkeley's plan to demolish 1921 Walnut St. in favor of student housing is opposed by the Berkeley City Council, the ASUC, the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, the Berkeley Tenants Union and the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association.

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UC Berkeley has decided to proceed with the demolition of 1921 Walnut St., a rent-controlled apartment in Downtown Berkeley, in order to build transfer student housing.

Current tenants were informed of the decision Tuesday in a letter from campus, which offered “relocation benefits.” These benefits included 42 months of rental assistance, help in finding comparable housing and payment for moving expenses.

The apartment building at 1921 Walnut St. will provide a site for “urgently needed” housing, contributing 75 of the project’s more than 750 beds, according to UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof. The project, known as Anchor House, is funded in full by a philanthropic foundation, Mogulof added.

“The shortage of available and affordable housing for Berkeley’s students and untenured ladder faculty is a matter of urgent concern for the university,” Mogulof said in an email. “Berkeley has the lowest percentage of beds for our student body of any campus in the UC System, exacerbated by the fact that we are situated in one of the tightest housing markets in the state.”

The project is opposed by the Berkeley City Council, the ASUC, the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, the Berkeley Tenants Union and the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, or BAHA.

The initial project plan from 2018 did not include 1921 Walnut St. and instead would have built student housing on nearby sites, according to Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board Vice Chair Soli Alpert. Alpert, who supported the original plan, added that because the university is a state entity, building demolished by UC Berkeley are not required to be replaced by rent-controlled housing. This often means the new units are more expensive.

According to Mayor Jesse Arreguín, similarly sized units at market rates will be too expensive, especially as the rental market is unstable. He added that many tenants of 1921 Walnut St. have lived there for decades and, even with campus’ assistance, would be unable to live elsewhere.

“We do need more student housing, but not at the expense of existing affordable housing,” Arreguín said in an email.

Natalie Logusch, a tenant for more than 11 years said, however, that the campus has not been transparent with residents.

Logusch added that she believes the offers made to tenants in the letter are not “concrete” and have “loopholes.”

“It’s my home,” Logusch said. “Right now, especially during the pandemic, home is very important. I shelter at home. I do my work at home. And they’re gonna take that away? It’s just so inhumane.”

Current residents will not be evicted during the pandemic, according to Mogulof.

According to BAHA President Carrie Olson, 1921 Walnut St. is on the California State Historic Resources Inventory and is considered a historic resource.

“The students and the tenants are in the same community,” said Rent Stabilization Board Chair Leah Simon-Weisberg. “We need to pressure the university to be a good landlord and a good neighbor.”

Lauren Good is a higher education reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @lgooddailycal.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that rent-controlled housing was not required to be built in place of the complex on Walnut Street because of the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act. In fact, the campus is not required to build rent-controlled housing because it is a state entity.