Election Section

Housing Costs Major Topic for Berkeleyans

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin
Friday April 15, 2016 - 03:02:00 PM

The biggest challenge we face as a city is the skyrocketing cost of housing, which threatens our economic and cultural diversity. This concern was validated by over 78% of Berkeley residents who were recently surveyed, who said that affordable housing was the top priority for the city to address. 

Every month rents increase; further squeezing residents who are struggling to afford their housing in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country. More residents are paying a greater portion of their income on housing, creating further economic insecurity. We have also seen many working families, students and even middle-income residents priced out of Berkeley because of housing costs. Not surprisingly, there is a visible increase of people living on our streets, including people that were recently displaced due to rising rents. The median cost of a single family home has grown to over $1 million, making it impossible for long-time residents and young professionals to afford a home in our city. 

While this is a regional problem, there is more Berkeley can do to keep people in their homes and make housing more affordable. Recently, I have introduced a number of proposals to deal with the housing affordability crisis including allocating surplus Transfer Tax revenue from recent property sales for low-income housing, increasing resources in our Housing Trust Fund and expanding renter protections. These and other proposals were up for discussion at last week’s Berkeley City Council meeting. Unfortunately, instead of addressing the most pressing issues our City is facing, half the meeting was spent dysfunctionally changing the order of the agenda and ignoring common sense solutions. 

I want to thank everyone who showed up in person to the meeting and those who sent emails to the Council. Because of your efforts, we were able to remove several proposals that would forever distort the landscape of many of Berkeley’s unique neighborhoods without guarantees of providing any community benefits or low-income housing. This included introducing “buffer zones” that would allow large developments to encroach into single-family neighborhoods in District 4, and increase speculation at the expense of neighbors. 

Some inroads were made on a few proposals. There were also votes to increase the amount of inclusionary housing in new developments from 10% to 20%, and increase the Affordable Housing Mitigation Fee from $28,000 to $34,000 (as recommended in the Nexus Study), something I have long advocated for. Unfortunately, an exemption was provided where the fee is lowered to $30,000 if it is paid early, which could prevent a significant sum of money from entering the Housing Trust Fund. I made an unsuccessful motion to increase the housing fee to $34,000 with no discounts. While we finally took long overdue action to increase our housing impact fee, many of the housing proposals were continued to a yet to be announced special Council meeting on housing. Stay tuned for information on this important discussion on affordable housing. 

In addition to the housing issues, several items relating to homelessness were also brought up. After much deliberation and with strong support from the community, we secured funding for the YEAH! Homeless Youth Shelter, which enables it to remain open until July. We also took another step in moving forward with a Tiny Homes development to provide transitional housing for our homeless. 

We need real solutions to our housing crisis that will help all people now. We must hold Council accountable and let them know that trickle-down economics will not solve the housing affordability crisis; rather it will intensify the crisis. I have been an outspoken advocate for housing affordability and tenants’ rights and have introduced a number of proposals to not only prevent displacement but expand affordability. I will continue to fight to keep Berkeley diverse, affordable and livable.