The 2018 convention to choose a Pro-Tenant Slate for the November Rent Board election will be held Sunday April 22nd at 2727 Milvia Street.
Author: Berkeley Tenants Union
BTU Needs You to Push for Rental Assistance!
The City Council is beginning to discuss how to spend money from the 2016 landlord tax, Measure U1.
You may have seen emails from our allies asking you to comment on Measure U1 funding for particular affordable housing projects, but we want you to remind the Council that a portion of Measure U1 funding is also designated for homelessness prevention. It was always the intention of the authors of the 2016 ballot measure that some money go to reinstate Berkeley’s rental assistance program and boost the number of low-income renters that can defend themselves against Berkeley’s many bogus eviction attempts.
BTU is calling for you to contact the City Council to ask that renters get their fair share from the new tax on high rents generated by Measure U1 – because rent control is Berkeley’s most effective affordable housing program! With about 20% of Berkeley below the poverty level, keeping folks in their rent controlled units is certainly homelessness prevention! The market rent for a new tenant in an older, rent-controlled two bedroom is already $2,600 and “affordable housing units” in developments like The Avalon (by Aquatic Park) rent for $1,445 for a studio – how is that affordable?
Please Email the Council something like this right away!
Re: Items 37a and 37b; Items 38a and 38b (July 11)
Rent control is Berkeley’s most effective affordable housing program. BTU calls for more local anti-displacement funding, especially more funding for eviction defense and rental assistance (the “Housing Retention Program.”) Berkeley Tenants Union believes that the portion of funding raised by Measure U1 that should be designated, per the measure, for “homelessness prevention” should be spent on programs which stabilize the housing of low-income renters and thereby preserve economic and social diversity. BTU does not support a delay in committing this funding during a housing emergency. Please prioritize more help for low-income tenants struggling to stay in Berkeley!
Also on the Agenda: Soft Story Update Item 43
Soft story means buildings that will kill everyone by collapsing in an earthquake. They were required to retrofit and have been told since 2006 that this would be required. They get really cheap city loans, too! But 24 have not complied and – thanks to pressure from BTU and vocal advocates like Igor Tregub – they are now being fined by the Building Department.
“This report also provides an update on the status of mandatory seismic retrofits required by Berkeley Municipal Code Chapter 19.39 for buildings with a soft, weak or open front (“Soft Story”) condition and five or more dwelling units. Soft Story building owners had a December 31, 2016 deadline to apply for building permits for seismic retrofits. Of the 86 buildings remaining on the Soft Story inventory, 62 buildings containing 617 dwelling units have now applied for or been issued permits. The Building and Safety Division issued warning letters of administrative citation on March 28, 2017 to owners who had not applied for a building permit and the first citations were issued to ten building owners on May 30.”
IN OTHER NEWS
Tenant Activist Elisa Cooper
Berkeley has lost another important voice for housing. Elisa Cooper, who took on a major role representing Friends of Adeline on the 2016 Tenant Convention Planning Committee, was also a strong advocate for people with disabilities and those who have the very least in our community. She strongly opposed BTU charging dues and her voice will be missed when that issue comes up again this fall.
Rent Board Election: Campaign Finance Complaint
At the July 20th Fair Campaign Practices Commission (FCPC) meeting, the Commission will hear a complaint registered against the Berkeley Rental Housing Coalition for failing to properly record campaign finances. This is not the first time this has occurred. Because of the blatant repeat offences committed by this organization, the Berkeley Tenants Union feels strongly that in order for the Berkeley Election Reform Act to have any teeth, the maximum penalty should be imposed.
Please support BTU’s letter by emailing: FCPC@CityofBerkeley.info
BTU letter for FCPC
Victory on Affordable Housing Fee
“Officials voted Tuesday night, with eight in favor and Councilwoman Lori Droste abstaining, to increase a fee linked to affordable units from $34,000 to $37,000. Council also changed the formula for how the fee is calculated so it’s based on the total project rather than just the market-rate units, as it was previously.”
Problems Continue at City Council
“The major problem, one which has been the major problem in the approximately forty years since I’ve been watching the Berkeley City Council on and off, is that the only reliable way to get the attention of even the best-intentioned city council is to have as many concerned citizens as possible show up in the flesh to make their case in what’s become one or two minute sound-bytes.”
Solution? Comment Online to Council on Item 25, Berkeley Way Project
“Comments about the plan can be posted online by registered users of Berkeley Considers, with or without their name at www.cityofberkeley.info/considers. However, users are asked confidentially for their name and home address upon registration, to distinguish which statements are from local residents, according to a news release from the city.”
Is Berkeley Way Project Too Big?
“The two-building project, set to take the place of the public parking lot at Berkeley Way and Henry Street, is slated to include 89 affordable apartments in one building and, in the other, 53 studios of permanent supportive housing, 32 shelter beds, 12 transitional units for veterans, and a first-floor services center with a community kitchen. City leaders have long described the $90 million project, a collaboration with the Berkeley Food & Housing Project (BFHP) and Bridge Housing, as “visionary” in scope.”
Another Way to Reach the City Council
Our good friends at Berkeley Citizens Action are holding a town hall with (most of) the progressives we elected this fall! The meeting is Sunday July 16 at 3 PM at South Berkeley Senior Center – go tell them we need more funding for rental assistance and access to just cause eviction protections! Arreguin, Worthington and Davila are all renters!
“Confirmed: Mayor Jesse Arreguín. Councilmembers: Kate Harrison, Kriss Worthington, Ben Bartlett, Sophie Hahn, waiting confirmation from councilmember Cheryl Davila.” according to BCA
Housing Fee: Rent Control and the Housing Crisis
“ A very serious problem confronting the City Council is the limits of what a city can do since rent control was abolished by the California legislature in 1995. Unquestionably, decontrol mainly accounts for the incredibly high rents. Even if we accept the US Census underestimated count of the poor in Berkeley, which is over 24,000 –that’s too many individuals and families who can be accommodated by the relatively few available below market rate units. A Berkeley City Council member pointed out that the projects which have already been approved will meet only 3 percent of the goal for low income housing.”
Housing Fee: Was It Really a Victory?
“On the same night of San Francisco’s OMI victory, Berkeley retreated to its failed anti-housing past. The Berkeley City Council ignored the pleas of housing experts such as Karen Chapple of the UC Berkeley Urban Displacement Project, environmental groups such as the Greenbelt Alliance along with ample public testimony and voted 8-0-1 to impose new housing development fees based on 2015 rather than 2017 cost data. Why would the City Council raise fees based on a 2015 feasibility study? Anyone familiar with rising construction costs since 2015 knows that such data is outdated.”
Berkeley Rent Control History Rewrite
When the landlords took over the Rent Board, they hired this guy!
More About Elisa Cooper
“What I will remember most about Elisa was her stating at numerous council meetings how the property transfer tax had been increased by 0.5% in 1990 for the purpose of providing a steady revenue stream for affordable housing – but then the revenue was diverted to the General Fund during the Great Recession – and never restored.”
Demolition on Tenth Street Remanded
The Berkeley Tenants Union was the subject of a recent research paper.
Quarterly Member Gathering
Tuesday June 6th
Not a member?
Email us to learn how to join at the meeting.
(*Tenant Counseling at 6 PM)
Want to know more about your tenants rights in general?
The Rent Board made a video that is a good place to start:
Want to get some emotional support, make the next renters able to defeat the landlord you just could not stop, or change that stupid law that screwed your friend? Become a BTU Member by coming to our next general meeting on June 6th! We can also mail you a member form if you email us a request. Sign up in the right-hand column to get on our mailing list, and click the link to Berkeley Tenants on Facebook. We are also going to be at Berkeley Farmers Markets this summer!
If you are a Berkeley tenant in crisis, the first thing you need to do is figure out is which sets of laws apply to you and where you can go for free advice on your rights.
YOU HAVE LOTS OF RIGHTS!
You can look online to see if you are covered by Rent Control, but just because your unit doesn’t appear on the Rent Board database does not always mean you are not covered. Also the Rent Ordinance gives renters many rights beyond just rent limits; for example, most units in Berkeley have Just Cause Eviction Protections even if you do not have controlled rent.
Rent Board Database: http://www.cityofberkeley.info/RentBoardUnitSearch.aspx
The Rent Board offers phone, email and drop-in help, but they tend to take a while (up to a week) to respond to messages, so BRING YOUR PAPERS and go see them!
Remember if you have an Eviction Notice (sometimes called a Summons or Complaint or Notice to Quit) you need help RIGHT AWAY. Sometimes you only have a FEW DAYS!
Although the East Bay Community Law Center will only help Extremely Low Income Renters (for example, two people must make less than $20,025 per year combined), they do hold periodic workshops for everyone. You must call 548.4040 to register for one.
BTU struggles to keep up with our counseling, which – for now – we can only do via email. It is best to write to us if you need help figuring out where to go first, want peer-to-peer assistance, or want to work on changing policies and laws. Also, drop us a line if you want to become a counselor or if you are an attorney who wants to get on the referrals list we are making.
See our Resources Page for other assistance!
BPOA employee says U1 funds being misdirected.
“Tuesday night, they approved an “emergency” ordinance to buy the old Premier Cru building complex on University Avenue for $6.65 million. They want to use the site for future City Council chambers and maybe later, for affordable housing.”
More on Council Item
“It will repay the funds from money generated from excess property taxes and Measure U1, the new business tax on rental properties that voters approved in November. The funds will be repaid with interest, said city spokesman Matthai Chakko.”
Council Item Itself
“$4.650 million (70% of the purchase price) from Measure U1 revenue”
Rent Board Delays Appointing Commissioner
The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board honored outgoing Commissioner Harr but decided to delay appointment of a new Commissioner until May. They chose to delay because Commissioner Murphy was absent due to a family emergency.
Here is the report that ranks contenders for the position, including several candidates who did not make the slate at the 2016 Tenant Convention. BTU is not taking a position yet, because most candidates are BTU members, including Stefan Elgstrand, Tim Kingston, and Christine Schwartz.
People’s Park Anniversary as UC Considers Building, Again
April 23 is the anniversary celebration for People’s Park.
“In 1968 the University used eminent domain to evict the residents and demolish all the houses on the block. Apparently they talked of plans to build needed student housing but nothing happened. For a year the empty lot was an eyesore, muddy and strewn with garbage. In April 1969 activists put out a call for people to help create a park. Hundreds came and cleared the ground, planted flowers and trees and built a children’s playground. They created a park, a People’s Park, that still lives today.”
BARF Lawsuit Could End Neighborhood Preservation
The Bay Area Renter’s Federation, (SF BARF) known as a tool for developers and not a tenants group, is suing over a Council decision to deny permits at 1310 Haskell.
“The law states that a city or county cannot deny the approval of a housing project that complies with its general plan and zoning ordinance without substantial evidence that it will negatively impact public health or safety.”
Low Income Tenants Ousted By Oakland Fire
“The residents even obtained a restraining order against the building’s landlord. And, now, their lawyer is calling for an arson investigation.”
Harsh Laws Drive Artists to Unsafe Warehouses
The father of one artist who died in Oakland’s Ghost Ship Fire is speaking out about how impossible permitting processes and costly complex rules make it impossible for artists and musicians to make their spaces safe and legal and leave those without resources prey to slumlords.
UN Report on Housing as Commodity
“It details the shift in recent years that has seen massive amounts of global capital invested in housing as a commodity, particularly as security for financial instruments that are traded on global markets and as a means of accumulating wealth. As a result, she says, homes are often left empty – even in areas where housing is scarce.”
“This influx of capital has increased housing prices in many cities to levels that most residents cannot afford – in some cities by more than 50% in a 5-year period. Housing prices are no longer commensurate with household income levels, and instead are driven by demand for housing assets among global investors. When housing prices skyrocket, low and sometimes even middle-income residents are forced out of their communities by high rent or mortgage costs. When housing prices plummet, residents face mortgage foreclosure and homelessness.”
This year, Berkeley Tenants Union held two endorsement events. In the spring, we shared a meeting with Berkeley Progressive Alliance and Berkeley Citizens Action to select candidates, and in the fall we shared a meeting with BCA to make endorsements on measures.
This is the first year the reconstituted BTU has done endorsements on measures, because this year there are several measures important to renters – particularly Measure AA (relocation funds for evicted renters) and Measure U1 (tax big landlords to fund affordable housing). Results of our ballot measures vote will be posted tomorrow.
Vote for four. Vote for only four — no ranked choice in this race.
Vote for the CALI Slate chosen at the Berkeley Tenant Convention!!
All are BTU Members:
Christina Murphy, Alejandro Soto-Vigil,
Leah Simon-Weisberg, Igor Tregub
Mayor: Jesse Arreguin
Jesse used to chair the Rent Board, was chosen at the Tenant Convention multiple times, and help pass recent rules for renters, including:
- Buyout Ordinance
- Tenant Protection Ordinance
- Steps Toward Proactive Safety Inspections
Ending the Bates hold on City Council could really help make Berkeley’s housing policies into housing realities. Electing a realtor as mayor probably won’t.
District 2 West Berkeley: Nanci Armstrong-Temple
An activist with strong ties to the community and Black Lives Matter.
District 3 South Berkeley: Ben Bartlett
Chosen by Max Anderson to take his place.
District 5 North Berkeley: Sophie Hahn
Voice of reason on the Zoning Board. Leader at Sierra Club.
District 6 Northeast Berkeley: Fred Dodsworth
Longtime advocate who has helped with Tenant Convention. BTU Member.
Here is a link to the responses to our questionnaire from all local candidates who chose to answer (BPA led the questionnaire, in collaboration with BTU and BCA).
Thanks to California Senator Diane Feinstein, there is a national movement to call for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate how commercial landlords using short term rental platforms are impacting housing shortages and contributing to high rents nationwide.
“Senators Dianne Feinstein of California, Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts wrote a letter to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez requesting the agency “study and quantify” the prevalence of commercial renters using Airbnb, HomeAway Inc., VRBO and other short-term rental services. The letter said activity on those sites can result in housing shortages and drive up prices.”
Feinstein, Elizabeth Warren and other US Senators are also calling for investigation into charges of race discrimination on sites like Airbnb:
Democrats Discuss Airbnb Problems…
BAD DATA: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jul/27/airbnb-panel-democratic-national-convention-survey
…But Party Leaders Boost Short Term Rentals Use During Convention
“Like Grucella, one-quarter of all Philadelphia-area hosts for this week’s DNC were new to the role. And their homes were in demand. Airbnb estimated its Philadelphia partners would welcome over 5,000 guests for the convention, a 250 percent jump from a typical week.”
“About 40,000 people are in Philadelphia for the convention, and Airbnb says 7,000 of them are using its home rental services, staying in spaces rented out by 3,000 hosts.”
Berkeley has passed up another opportunity to be a leader of policies that protect affordable housing by delaying any vote on short term rentals, even after a year of debate.
Berkeley’s next hearing on Short Term Rentals is expected to be Wednesday September 7th at the Planning Commission.
Video about Airbnb Race Discrimination:
Congressional Black Caucus On Airbnb Racism
“Members of the CBC are deeply concerned about recent reports of exclusion of African-Americans on the Airbnb platform, and we sincerely hope the leadership of Airbnb will take the issue of discrimination seriously and implement common sense measures to prevent such discrimination and ill-treatment of its customers in the future.”
More on Warren’s Call for Investigation:
“Opponents argue that Airbnb, a platform that allows users to rent out their homes to strangers, is aggravating housing crises in cities across the country by flooding markets with short-term rentals and, as a result, reducing much-needed affordable housing. While Airbnb claims that many of its users are occasionally renting out rooms to make extra cash, some experts who have studied the limited data available argue that the platform is allowing people to operate sophisticated hotel businesses while dodging taxes and other key regulations.”
This Tuesday, Berkeley’s City Council indicated they might backtrack on the decent short term rentals law they passed on May 31st. The second reading of the new law was held over at Councilman Capitelli’s request, and will be heard June 28th. Councilman Capitelli is also running for Mayor.
Basically, Berkeley Tenants have until next week to get as many letters to the City Council as AirBnB hosts already sent, or we will continue to see our rent controlled housing converted to hotel rooms. Air BnB got at least 200 Berkeley users to send our elected leaders form letters last week, and that’s all it took for Council to start wavering from the strong referral they made last summer.
ACTION: Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for passing a fair short term rentals law.
I support allowing people to rent their homes when they are on vacation, but I stand with the Berkeley Tenants Union in asking for strict enforcement of a ban on converting empty units into tourist rentals. It’s important that “hosts” be required to have a business license just like any other small business in Berkeley, pay their fair share of taxes, and display that license on their listings so it will be easier to enforce the law.
So far, the Rent Board, Planning Commission, and Housing Advisory Commission agreed about most provisions of the new law – The same provisions the Council itself asked for after a long public process last summer! But because a couple folks who are already breaking the law by renting their second unit as a short term rental pleaded that they will lose their homes if they are not allowed to continue to break the law, Council is wavering on a decades-old policy of not letting folks circumvent rent control by renting for less than 14 days. Also, because of pressure from corporations like HomeAway and Airbnb, Council is wavering on the only enforcement mechanism in the new law: requiring the business license on advertising.
This late first step toward dealing with the problems caused by short-term rentals in Berkeley comes at the same moment that San Francisco is revising their law to fine corporations like Airbnb $1000 per day if they advertise places that are not registered with that city, because so far only 25% of hosts in San Francisco are legal. San Francisco collected over half a million dollars in fines in the first six months of its new program.
City Council has asked staff to come back with more information on the 28th:
Info on the business license process, What is a Zoning Certificate? Why is displaying the license number on the ads is key to enforcement? What is the new San Francisco law? What is the difference between the staff and planning commission drafts? What is an ADU? What about in-laws with no separate kitchen? What are penalties for non-compliance? How will enforcement occur?
About Berkeley’s Draft Law
“We’ve gone years letting large landlords take entire buildings and a sizable number of rental units off the market,” said City Councilman Kriss Worthington.… “We need to start enforcement on large landowners who are constantly breaking the law and raking in lots of money… We need to stop that as fast as we can.”
Short Term Rentals Are a Way to Circumvent Rent Control
“For these reasons and more, it should come as no surprise that so many Berkeley homeowners are choosing to rent via Airbnb (where any commitment is limited to a matter of days), rather than leasing to a local (who may overstay their welcome by decades).”
Airbnb Berkeley Form Letter
Airbnb Letter (PDF)
City Council Item Under Consideration
San Francisco Starts $1,000 Penalties
Surprise! Corporation Fights New Regulations
Harvard Study: Unregulated Airbnb Allows Racial Profiling
Remember Robin Hood? Berkeley tenants tried to put a measure on the 2014 ballot to tax the rich and build homes for the poor. It didn’t work out. But in 2016, Berkeley progressives of various stripes all joined together in a coalition to fight the housing emergency with good public policy. We expect the City Council to place a balanced measure on the ballot which will fund affordable housing by increasing fees to Berkeley’s largest landlords.
The Committee for Safe and Affordable Housing is led by Berkeley’s two leading candidates for mayor. That’s right, Councilmembers Jesse Arreguin and Laurie Capitelli agree – to get more money for affordable housing we need to tax the real estate investors whose rent increases create the need for more affordable housing. We need the money to help non-profit organizations, land trusts and limited-equity cooperatives to build or buy housing and keep it affordable for everyone from teachers and childcare workers to cooks and secretaries. And our measure won’t pass on these increased fees to renters.
Great News, right? Until…
The Berkeley Property Owners Association saw a way to stop this new ballot measure by creating a competing measure. It is well known that two measures on a ballot usually mean both measures fail.
The landlords have already succeeded in confusing the voters – so members have been asking us for more information on The Petition You Should Not Sign. Here it is:
► This landlord trick is the only “affordable housing” petition being circulated. Our measure will be placed on the ballot by the City Council if we can keep the pressure on our leaders. Do not sign any “affordable housing” petitions.
► The City Council measure supported by BTU will raise about $5 million annually. The BPOA measure will raise about $1 million annually, saving Berkeley’s larger landlords $4 million a year.
► The Safe and Affordable Homes City Council measure will finance construction or acquisition & rehabilitation of one project with 40 to 50 affordable homes every year. The BPOA measure on the petition will only raise enough money to do one project every five years.
► The BPOA measure can be passed through to over 1,200 Berkeley tenants who are not protected by rent control. The Council/BTU measure uses carefully targeted exemptions to protect almost all renters from an increase.
► The BPOA measure on the petition being circulated is unfair because
- It taxes income from “inclusionary” units where the rent is restricted and the unit is rented to lower income tenants.
- It taxes smaller, moderate-income landlords instead of focusing on larger professional real estate investors like the owners who control BPOA.
- It taxes income from apartments rented to tenants receiving assistance from the Section 8 and Shelter + Care programs, while the Safe and Affordable Homes measure exempts these owners to encourage renting to Section 8.
Have Your Signature Invalidated – use the form below. You can fax, scan and send as an email attachment, or drop it off in person to the Berkeley Clerk at 2180 Milvia Street. They must be able to see your signature, so you can’t just email (unless it’s a scan, in which case send to clerk @ city of berkeley dot info).
REQUEST FOR WITHDRAWAL OF SIGNATURE