The opening of Rochdale Village Apartments in 1971 was a shining example of public entities — as is the case with UC Berkeley and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — partnering directly with students to tackle the issue of affordable student housing on a long-term basis. In the ensuing decades since, not only have such projects remained a rarity in Berkeley despite an intensifying student housing crisis, but the future of Rochdale is now under threat due to an expired lease agreement with UC Berkeley and potentially massive rent increases.
Last year, Rochdale Village quietly turned 50 years old without much ado, in the shadow of great uncertainty about its future. In 2009, nearing the end of its then-current lease with UC Berkeley, a coalition of students and student groups organized the Save Rochdale Campaign, the efforts of which resulted in a 10-year lease from UC Berkeley in 2010.
The misfortune that organizers of that time could not have foreseen was that the expiration would come at a period of not only difficult change within the Berkeley Student Cooperative, or BSC (the organization that manages the student co-op system), but during the COVID-19 pandemic and all its attendant uncertainties. In 2020, the BSC was given a one-year lease extension, which placed on the BSC onerous requirements to undertake seismic retrofitting at its own expense. Faced with organizational challenges and reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, Rochdale Village’s lease extension expired in 2021.
Although UC Berkeley has not acted to remove residents and has not indicated a desire to do so since the lease expired, residents and other community stakeholders are already understandably worried. As of 2020, Rochdale is 82% students from the Educational Opportunity Program, or EOP, has historically housed a significant number of UC Berkeley’s Latine students and is not only home to more than 260 students, but is a vital hub of community life.
There is no longer any tangible agreement ensuring that the project started in 1971 will exist much further into the future, or that it will do so in an affordable manner. Rochdale Village was made as affordable as possible 50 years ago. With those decades, it has served many students, but it is now also showing its age. On the low end, completing the seismic retrofits and doing minimal accessibility and apartment reconditioning will cost the BSC approximately $26 million. To make more comprehensive accessibility upgrades and reconditioning that future low-income students deserve, the cost would be approximately $42 million.
The vast majority of the BSC’s revenue comes from member rent, and thus the vast majority of these costs will likely come out of the pockets of future members. While any projections at this stage would be extremely tentative, expenses between $26 million and $42 million would certainly cause significant rent increases. The mission of the BSC is to provide affordable housing to those who would otherwise not be able to afford a college education, and rent increases of this size would surely devastate not only Rochdale residents, but all who live at the BSC.
We can continue down the path we have been on in recent years with a lopsided relationship between UC Berkeley and the BSC, and shorter and shorter lease agreements with conditions that are onerous for an affordable housing organization such as the BSC. Or, a new path can be forged — one where the land beneath Rochdale Village is guaranteed for affordable student housing in perpetuity.
While Rochdale may sit in the shadow of uncertainty, the challenges before it can easily be turned into a moment of opportunity not just for the residents of Rochdale, but for UC Berkeley and the city of Berkeley as well. In a moment when the two are mired in a political and legal battle over their alleged plans (or lack thereof) to address the student housing crisis, Rochdale offers a way forward. Coming together to preserve and maintain the affordable units of student housing that already exist would be a win-win situation for all involved.
We, concerned residents, alumni and other community stakeholders who are part of the coalition to save Rochdale, demand that UC Berkeley entrust the land beneath Rochdale Village and Fenwick Weavers’ Village — Rochdale’s sister co-op on the same site — to the BSC in perpetuity on a restricted-deed basis for the purpose of providing affordable low-income housing to UC Berkeley students. We demand that UC Berkeley provide more time and waivers for costly requirements it expects the BSC to adhere to as a condition of a lease extension or sale of land. UC Berkeley should direct a materially substantial amount of capital support for the retrofits and refurbishment, but if it is deemed unable to support the entire sum, it must partner with the BSC to consult and share fundraising capacity to raise capital in order to lessen the cost shouldered by the BSC members.
We invite support from the community — including city council members, concerned students and student groups, alumni and all stakeholders — to support these demands and find other ways to help us save Rochdale and save our home.