On Thursday morning the Committee for Affordable Student Family Housing (CASFH) filed suit against the University of California in Alameda County Superior Court. The lawsuit alleges that the university has acted illegally by approving plans that call for the demolition of 564 units of student family housing in Albany Village without having considered the environmental impacts that will result from the displacement of low-income residents.
According to a CASFH press release, the rents of the apartments slated for demolition are well below market. However, they said, the rent for the replacement units, the first of which are slated to be completed in 2006, are projected to be 30 percent above market—approximately twice the current rents. At that rate, the new rents will equal or exceed the monthly salary of UC teaching and research assistants, forcing current residents to seek housing elsewhere.
“The university’s position,” says CASFH’s lawyer Stuart Flashman, is that “we don’t have to deal with that; it’s a social and economic impact, not an environmental one.” The California Environmental Quality Act, whose terms the school is required to meet when embarking on major projects, deals only with environmental impacts.
CASFH’s suit contends that the displacement of low-income tenants from Albany Village will affect the environment in three ways, starting with traffic.
“Their traffic analysis,” says Flashman, “is based on traffic counts for current residents. Those counts are lower than the ones for standard apartment complexes” such as the one now planned for the new Albany Village. “Data show a higher correlation between income and auto use: higher-income residents are likelier to have cars and to use them.”
Increased homelessness would be the second kind of environmental impact, he alleges. “Unless they leave the university,” says Flashman, “the residents forced out will have to live somewhere else in the vicinity. By renting low-income units, they will squeeze others out and increase homelessness in the area.”
His suit for CASFH argues that the displacement of Albany Villagers will also affect the environment by leading to overcrowding. Two low-income families might be forced to rent a single, otherwise unaffordable unit. Overcrowding, says Flashman, affects public health. “When you overcrowd people, you have an increase in the spread of infectious disease, especially tuberculosis.”
The suit is the culmination of five years of efforts by residents to get the university to address the housing issues associated with its redevelopment of the area. According to both Flashman and Peter Brownell, a CASFH leader and UC graduate student in sociology, those efforts have been ignored by the school.
The lack of affordable housing, says Brownell, “affects access to the university and UC’s ability to attract and retain quality graduate students.”
The next step is for CASFH to serve UC with the lawsuit. After that, the university has to prepare an administrative record documenting what’s happened so far.
“Can we avoid going to court?” Flashman asks. “Frankly, that’s what my clients would like. We’re more interested in getting the university to address affordable housing for their students than in attacking the university. So far, they’ve ignored us.”
Before filing a complaint, CASFH was required to send UC a notice of intent within 10 days of the UC Regents’ certification of the environmental impact report for the Albany Village development. Since then, says Brownell, CASFH has heard “not a peep.”
Gretchen Kell, associate director of media relations at UC Berkeley, told the Daily Planet “we can’t comment on the suit because we haven’t seen it.”