Public Comment

Commentary: Measure I is a Cruel Hoax

By Loni Hancock
Friday November 03, 2006

I have lived in Berkeley for over 40 years and care deeply about its future. I want my city to preserve its economic and cultural diversity and its commitment to basic fairness. For this reason, I have joined Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the Sierra Club, and many other community leaders and organizations in opposing Measure I, the eviction for condo ordinance.  

Measure I would subject many renters of modest means to displacement from their homes and, with rising rents, push them out of Berkeley completely. According to a report issued by Berkeley’s city manager, up to 500 tenant households a year could be evicted under Measure I. 

Measure I would abolish Berkeley’s current, carefully written Condominium Conversion Ordinance, which was adopted by a unanimous City Council. Real, comprehensive, protections for tenants would be eliminated and replaced with the requirement that displaced households receive a modest relocation check at the time of their eviction. The City’s ability to secure replacement affordable housing would also be dramatically reduced if Measure I is adopted. 

The City Council and mayor worked long and hard last year to pass an Ordinance that was fair and evenhanded to property owners and protected the rights of tenant families. Over 50 percent of the students in Berkeley’s public schools come from these tenant families. 

The present law allows up to 100 rental units per year to be converted to condominiums. It is working for both property owners and tenants, with more than 100 units already having begun the conversion process. It provides right of first refusal and eviction protections to sitting tenants, and includes significant restrictions on condo conversion if an owner has emptied the building of all tenants under the state’s Ellis Act.  

San Francisco and Los Angeles have each lost several thousand rental units the past few years through these “Ellis Act” evictions. Berkeley has avoided a similar fate, primarily because of the restrictions against bad faith evictions in our present City Council-passed condo conversion ordinance. The City Council ordinance also contains significant incentives for an owner to sell to their tenant, allowing long-term residents their most realistic opportunity to become a Berkeley homeowner. 

All of these carefully crafted protections and incentives, as well as other vital provisions will be eliminated if Measure I is adopted! 

The proponents of Measure I claim it is designed for “workforce housing” to allow teachers and artists an opportunity to purchase a home in Berkeley. Unfortunately, nothing in Measure I requires this use. Nothing in Measure I lists workforce housing as a priority/preference or enables it to be realized for more than a handful of current Berkeley tenants.  

School Board members and teacher representatives tell us that many more teachers and students are at risk of losing their homes (as renters) in Berkeley than could hope to afford to purchase their unit under this proposed law. This is why they have decided to oppose Measure I.  

Last year, the average condominium in Berkeley sold for just under $500,000. According to the city, in order to finance the purchase of this unit, most buyers require a household income of over $120,000 a year just to afford the monthly mortgage payments.  

The median income for non-student tenant households in Berkeley is under $30,000 a year. Starting salaries for teachers in Berkeley are well below $50,000 a year. The 5% discount Measure I requires owners to offer renters on the purchase price of their apartments will enable just a handful of relatively well-off renters to buy. The majority of renters in units being converted to condos—those of modest means, seniors, families, and the disabled—will be at risk of eviction. This is why many leaders have called Measure I “a cruel hoax.” 

I serve on the Assembly’s Housing Committee and am fully aware of the housing crunch that impacts most of our state. I am aware that the goal of home ownership eludes an increasing number of Californians. Though the hot housing market of the past several years appears to be cooling off a bit, prices are still out of reach for a majority of first-time homebuyers, especially in the Bay Area. Rents also remain excessive for too many families.  

Under these circumstances, the proponents of Measure I seek to tempt us with proposals that promise to create more housing opportunities by cutting back government regulation and affordable housing production. The promise is illusory; public regulation and investment are necessary components of all solutions that offer any genuine hope of providing housing that low and moderate income Californians can afford.  

Most tenants and property owners have praised the Condo Ordinance adopted by the council the past year. However, some rental property owners and representatives of the property owner association chafe at these sensible regulations, primarily because each unit that is converted from rental to condominium increases the sales value of that unit by $200,000-$300,000.  

Workforce housing is not the motivation behind placing Measure I on the ballot. It appears to be more about windfall profits.  

I think it is worth noting that the primary supporter of Measure I, the Berkeley Property Owners Association, also spent the past year fighting against two proposed bills in the state legislature that would have 1) helped protect victims of domestic violence from unfair evictions and 2) established the right of tenants to display a flag or political poster in the window of their rental unit. Measure I is one more unfortunate example of simply being out of step with the values of our community. 

We should not further diminish the ability of moderate-income people to stay in their homes and remain participants in the life of our city. Please join me, and many other community leaders in voting no on Measure I. 



Loni Hancock has served Berkeley as a councilmember and mayor and currently represents Berkeley and the 14th District in the state Assembly.