1921 Walnut St. tenants file lawsuit, oppose UC Berkeley’s Anchor House

Photo of 1921 Walnut protests
Theo Wyss-Flamm/Staff
Members of Save 1921 Walnut St. protested against campus's housing plans that would allegedly evict current tenants. They expressed their stance on the issue through an open letter in response to the Regents' meeting.

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Update 6/21/21: This article has been updated to include information and comment from UC Berkeley Capital Strategies spokesperson Kyle Gibson.

The Save 1921 Walnut St. group issued a press release and filed a lawsuit against the UC Board of Regents in response to campus’s plans to allegedly evict current tenants to establish Anchor House, as discussed in the regents board meeting May 12.

In the meeting, board members discussed the need for more student housing as campus’s Long Range Development Plan projects a possible increase of 8,500 students and 3,600 faculty and staff members in the coming years.

Anchor House, which would be campus’s first donor-funded student housing since 1942, will aim to address the need for additional student housing, according to UC Berkeley Capital Strategies spokesperson Kyle Gibson. The project, launched in 2019, is set to begin construction in fall 2021 pending approval and should be available for students, especially Californian transfer students by fall 2024.

“As an urban campus with limited land resources, we want to be a low-growth campus to ensure that we can provide adequate facilities to support our world-renowned academic excellence over the next 15 years,” said Chancellor Carol Christ at the meeting. “The campus expects its undergraduate student population to grow annually.”

In response to the regents’ meeting, the Save 1921 Walnut St. group issued an open letter from the building’s tenants outlining their stance on campus developing new housing for students. While they do not oppose developments, the letter notes that the tenants oppose any construction during the pandemic that could be made at the expense of the community.

Gibson noted that tenants will not be required to move as long as statewide eviction moratoriums and Berkeley shelter-in-place orders are in effect. As a result, he added, campus will not enforce permanent relocations before the end of August at the earliest.

“We are children of refugees and first-generation college grads (UCB grad!), we are single moms, we are immigrants, we are working class people looking for the California dream, we are families – we represent the diversity of Berkeley and we are an integral part of the Berkeley community,” the open letter reads. “University of California Berkeley led by Chancellor Christ has given us vague information about our planned eviction.”

According to 1921 Walnut St. tenant Natalie Logusch, the group aims to convince the university to build student housing around tenants rather than replacing them to make room for Anchor House.

The university is offering relocation packages to the tenants, which include assistance in finding new housing, rental assistance payments and reimbursements for moving costs, according to Gibson.

“Tenants have been encouraged to reach out to several university staff members to express any concerns and to ask questions, to get clarification about our relocation benefits and their rights under UC policy, and for any tenancy or maintenance issues while they reside in the building,” Gibson said in an email. “Depending on each household’s financial circumstances, the value of their relocation packages can easily reach six figures.”

Tenants filed an ongoing lawsuit to obtain the information that the university is legally obligated to provide upon request, Logusch added. Logusch, who has lived at 1921 Walnut St. for more than 11 years, noted how the alleged lack of response from campus administration led to tenants filing the lawsuit.

In response, Gibson said the university is discussing a settlement with Logusch’s legal counsel, one that would involve the release of the requested documents.

“UC Berkeley has not been transparent or forthcoming with information about the project to the tenants or the Berkeley community, which has hindered informed public discussion on the project,” Logusch alleged. “It seems to us that UC Berkeley is trying to rush through this project and to get rid of us as quickly and quietly as possible, no matter the human cost.”

Contact Nida Yar-Khan at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @nidayarkhann.