Public Comment

New: Council Action Needed to Prevent Berkeley Displacement

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin
Tuesday March 15, 2016 - 01:20:00 PM

Most people in Berkeley agree that we have a housing affordability crisis. Yet last Tuesday, a majority of the Berkeley City Council voted down two critical measures to fund new affordable housing.  

We’ve all seen news reports of rents spiraling out of control in San Francisco, and thousands of evictions of longtime residents. Unfortunately, the housing crisis has spread across the Bay and is changing the face of Berkeley, threatening our diversity. Our diversity is our strength and part of what makes Berkeley such an incredible place to live in. Diversity not only fosters intellectual exchange, but innovation in the arts and in our local economy. Sadly, we are seeing low income people, families, students and even middle-income residents being priced out of our city. Berkeley city leaders need to take immediate action to prevent displacement and create more affordable housing. 

In this crisis, we need to be creative and pursue all solutions. That’s why I proposed that we increase affordable housing funds by taking a small percentage of the surplus from our Real Property Transfer Tax. Councilmember Worthington has also proposed several ways to increase money into our Affordable Housing Trust Fund. He proposed a one-time loan of $1 million dollars from our reserves to fund affordable housing. Currently the City has only $1.1 million in our Housing Trust Fund, making it increasingly difficult to fund new affordable units. Yet these proposals were summarily shot down Tuesday night (I will note, the Council continuously delayed these items for months, despite the crisis that we are facing). 

The City currently has a surplus from the Transfer Tax (due to a hot real estate market) and excess reserve funds. While there are many demands for city funding, including crumbling streets and park facilities, there are more sources available from regional funding to address these priorities. There are however shrinking resources for affordable housing. We can find a way to fund our infrastructure and invest in human infrastructure by funding affordable housing

Because our entire City Council claims they are concerned about the affordable housing crisis, I expected that they would vote for this modest proposal to infuse our Housing Trust Fund (HTF) with needed dollars. I was surprised and saddened when those same Councilmembers voted down this proposal, making specious arguments. 

Last fall, City staff released a report which found that over $30 million in city funds are needed over the next three years to fund affordable housing. These projects have not been able to apply for funds because there is not enough funding currently available. The very same Councilmembers that voted down these proposals claimed that there are no projects right now that need money, and therefore we don’t need to put more money into the HTF. This kind of circular logic ignores basic facts and might be a good way to mask your hollow objections, but does not help working class people struggling to live in our community. 

This is not surprising from a City Council majority that has given sweetheart deals to big developers to pay less in affordable housing funds and community benefits. One Councilmember even once compared affordable housing to “chocolate cake”, a luxury not a necessity. 

The City Council will be taking up a number of affordable housing issues in the coming weeks. The Council majority has delayed measures to increase affordable housing for over a year now. We can’t delay any more! The Council needs to hear from you. Please email and urge the Mayor and Council majority to act now to fund affordable housing and prevent displacement.  

My entire time in Berkeley, I have been an outspoken advocate for housing affordability and tenants’ rights. I will continue to stand above politics and fight for affordable housing. We need to save the soul of our city.