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All my homies and I live at Rochdale

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MARCH 08, 2022

I’m not your conventional UC Berkeley student. I’m a reentry first-generation Latino Disabled Students’ Program undergraduate. My path has been a rigorous one, filled with heartbreak, instability and uncertainty, yet I feel tremendously blessed to be where I am today. The place I live, Rochdale Village Apartments as part of the Berkeley Student Cooperative, or BSC, houses more than 250 traditional and nontraditional students such as myself. Rochdale Village is the home to formerly incarcerated and undocumented students. But, the home that we know as Rochdale Village and the greater BSC system are in danger.

The disabled student community and the LGBTQ+ community are also welcome, and Rochdale is very accommodating to all students. Students from inner cities live at Rochdale Village. Despite Rochdale Village’s efforts to house nontraditional students and make them feel at home, today, the UC Berkeley community is in danger of losing the safe space that Rochdale Village provides.

My immigrant mother always told me to go to college, but when I began at California State University, Sacramento, she had no advice for me on how to navigate it. At the time, I was a freshman living in the dorms and there were only a handful of students with backgrounds similar to mine. I felt lost, scared and alone. At 18 years old, I realized something that most UC Berkeley students never have: I was poor. My inability to navigate the university bureaucracy, coupled with my mother’s health and financial situation, led me to drop out of school to move back home and work to support my family. When I was 26, my mom passed away. I refocused on my path to higher education which led me to UC Berkeley. I moved to Berkeley determined to make something great out of this educational opportunity. I knew none of this would be worth it if I graduated in a pile of debt, and while financial aid would pay for my dorm room, I was broke. Luckily, I was able to meet some members of Hermanos Unidos that told me about Rochdale. The BSC, and Rochdale specifically, became the best alternative for me and others alike.

Rochdale houses 84% of students that identify as Educational Opportunity Program, or EOP, students. My story is not unique as there are plenty of first-generation Latinx students that share a commonality with me: moving away from our homes and pursuing higher education. Rochdale Village means home to me. My group of friends consists of other students just like me with even more inspiring stories. They live here or at our sister co-op, Fenwick Weavers Village, with which Rochdale shares the property.

Unlike my experience at California State University, Sacramento, I feel at home and seen at Rochdale Village. On campus and in our classes, other students like me feel like minorities. Yet, when we come to Rochdale Village, we have a space to call our own. When student groups such as Hermanos Unidos had trouble reserving a classroom for weekly meetings, the Rochdale Village common room served as its alternative — with no questions asked and the space to ourselves.

Since fall of 2019, I have lived at Rochdale Village. Even throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I remained at Rochdale as I had nowhere else to go. The room I once had at my family’s house — a porch with walls — was gone, and the old futon I used to sleep on was taken to the dump. At the time, my family could not afford Wi-Fi, so staying at Rochdale was the only way I could get consistent, reliable Wi-Fi access.

When my friends began moving back in fall 2020, I heard stories about sharing rooms with younger siblings, causing slow Wi-Fi connectivity without access to a quiet study space. There were stories of loss, losing mothers and fathers to COVID-19. I saw firsthand how my fellow students had to grow up fast and step up to help provide for their families. Still, they were resilient and returned to Berkeley to pursue higher education and create better lives for themselves and their families; Rochdale Village served as the safe space ready to welcome them in.

In 1971, Rochdale Village was built with loans from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. UC Berkeley recognized our organization’s success by leasing the land where Rochdale Village sits for a nominal fee of $1 per year. Since then the buildings have been under the BSC’s control; we are responsible for all of the maintenance and upkeep.

With UC policy dictating that all property must be seismically retrofit by 2030, Rochdale Village is no exception. Of course, we all want a safe place for students to live for decades to come, but the current lease situation between the BSC and UC Berkeley leaves many students who call Rochdale Village home feeling nervous about the future.

The retrofit will not be cheap. We are looking at a cost of about $20 to $30 million, and while the BSC is far from financial ruin, we do not have that type of money on hand. Our mission is to provide a quality, low-cost, cooperative housing community to university students, thereby providing an educational opportunity for students who might not otherwise be able to afford higher education. Yet, Rochdale residents worry that these mandates have the potential to create a situation that forces our members, who cannot afford it, to pay more in rent. Furthermore, as a leaseholder to UC Berkeley, there is no guarantee that we will be able to keep the property even after the work is completed.

I, along with the fellow BSC and the greater UC Berkeley community, demand that UC Berkeley donate the land where Rochdale sits to the BSC. This would allow our organization to advance the retrofit project as we see fit. With full ownership of the property, we will never again have to feel the stress of potentially losing this property and safe space to UC Berkeley.

Victor Vasquez is the BSC vice president of external affairs and a Latino, EOP, DSP and reentry undergraduate student who lives and works at Rochdale Village. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter

MARCH 09, 2022

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