‘We need to stand together as tenants’: Protesters oppose 1921 Walnut St. eviction

Photo of 1921 Walnut protests
Theo Wyss-Flamm/Staff
Because of UC Berkeley's plans to demolish 1921 Walnut St. to build campus housing for transfer students, the 1921 Walnut St. Association organized the “Save 1921 Walnut St.” protest outside of the apartment building Wednesday afternoon. As a response, UC Berkeley Capital Strategies spokesperson Kyle Gibson emphasized that throughout the relocation process for the building's tenants, campus will be accommodating.

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For Paul Wallace, 1921 Walnut St. has served as his home for the past six years and is the only thing keeping him from experiencing homelessness during the pandemic, a reality that makes UC Berkeley’s notices of eviction particularly “infuriating.”

Wallace is among the several tenants at risk of displacement due to campus’ “Anchor House” project, which plans to evict residents and demolish 1921 Walnut St. — a 112-year old, rent-controlled apartment building in Downtown Berkeley — to create student housing for transfers.

Following two protests against the project last year, the 1921 Walnut St. Association organized the “Save 1921 Walnut St.” protest outside of the apartment building Wednesday afternoon. About 40 individuals gathered, held signs, listened to community speakers and demanded for campus to terminate the project.

“We would like the UC to recognize us as people who have homes that they are displacing,” Wallace said during the protest. “Some people have lived here for 25 years or more and they call this their home — I call this my home. To be uprooted like that, it’s not to be taken lightly.”

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín voiced Berkeley City Council’s support of the protest, noting that the preservation of affordable, rent-controlled housing such as 1921 Walnut St. is necessary because the rent of other housing in Berkeley is “skyrocketing.”

Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board Vice Chair Soli Alpert alleged that these high rent prices are due to campus charging students almost double the rent market rate for dorms. Students become willing to pay above market rates when seeking off-campus housing in the city, he added, which increases rent prices overall and the need for rent-controlled housing.

Alpert emphasized, however, that students are not the “enemy.”

“The university is putting the incredible need for student housing against the incredible need to preserve our rent-controlled units in Berkeley, and is trying to divide the students from the rest of the community in our city,” Alpert alleged during the protest. “But we’re all tenants and we need to stand together as tenants.”

Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board commissioner John Selawsky alleged that campus has the money to build student housing elsewhere, adding that individuals should not be displaced in the process of addressing the student housing crisis. Selawksy also urged campus to consider that tenants of 1921 Walnut St. could experience homelessness if evicted.

In response to the protest, UC Berkeley Capital Strategies spokesperson Kyle Gibson said in an email campus is committed to being accommodating and flexible for the tenants during the relocation process.

“The university is also aware of how challenging relocation can be, particularly during these difficult times,” Gibson said in the email. “Tenants in the six remaining units will not, under any circumstances, be required to permanently relocate before the end of August 2021, at the earliest.”

Regardless of this, protesters hope that the UC Board of Regents will take notice of their actions and terminate the campus project.

Annika Kim Constantino is a schools and communities reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaKimC.