JUNE 21 – Robin Hood Committee Party! – CANCELLED The Committee for Affordable Housing and Robin Hood Initiative host a thank you party – next steps will be announced, but mostly this night will be for having fun and hanging out.
JUNE 24 – Housing at City Council According to the Berkeley Citizens Action newsletter, the Berkeley City Council will consider several proposals from the Housing Advisory Commission on Tuesday, June 24.
JULY 13 – CALLING ALL PROGRESSIVES! The bi-annual Convention will be held to choose a progressive slate for the November Rent Board election. The convention starts at 1:30 PM at the South Berkeley Senior Center. See http://berkeleytenantsconvention.net/ for updates.
All potential candidates who believe in rent control and will work so that affordable housing remains a priority in Berkeley are invited to seek the nomination and should contact the convention in order to participate in the screening process during June.
Tenant Sues over Eviction for Air BnB “…case highlights an ongoing issue of Airbnb and other sites that allow people to rent out spare rooms or entire apartments to temporary visitors. Critics charge that the new sharing-economy services are so lucrative – and so laxly regulated – that they are forcing out residents and driving up rents by reducing the supply of available housing.” Airbnb profits prompted S.F (PDF)
Rich People Say the Darndest Things “The problem is that the world and this country should not talk about envy of the 1 percent. It should talk about emulating the 1 percent,” he said. “The 1 percent work harder. The 1 percent are much bigger factors in all forms of our society.” –Billionaire Sam Zell, who owns Equity Residential, now Berkeley’s Largest Landlord. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/05/sam-zell-1-percent_n_4733196.html
Class Action Lawsuit Against Central Valley’s Biggest Slumlord “When repairs are made, the complaint alleges, they are merely cosmetic and fail to address the health and safety issues, and JD Homes often retaliates against tenants who complain to authorities.” http://tenantstogether.org/article.php?id=2944
More on Tenant Displacement in San Francisco “There’s 50,600 proposed units of housing coming to San Francisco. Approximately 27,000 of these housing units have already been approved by officials, with 6,100 currently under construction. Most of the housing being built is “market rate,” meaning that it’s priced for those who can afford to spend roughly $36,000 a year on rent…The tech boom has conspired with rising housing prices to create an incredibly profitable incentive for landlords to push out low-income tenants and replace them with wealthy buyers, in spite of all the new units coming to market.” http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/02/13/san-franciscos-displacement-crisis/
Calling All Members! The Berkeley Tenants Union, The Council of Neighborhood Associations and Cal Dems – UC student Democrats – have endorsed the referendum on redistricting. Join us in collecting signatures for the Berkeley Referendum Coalition. We must stop a new map of council districts clearly designed to disenfranchise neighborhood groups and progressive students from the co-ops — in order to unseat Kriss Worthington. Worthington has been a strong supporter of tenants for many years – plus he is a BTU member!
PICK UP A PETITION THIS WEEKEND SATURDAY at 10am or 1pm
SUNDAY at 10am or 1pm
Grassroots House (where BTU meets) 2022 Blake Street
The Coalition also needs folks who can’t collect signatures to verify signers and do other office work. Contact berkeleyref (at) gmail.com
Denim Ohmit, vice president of finance for Cal Berkeley Democrats, believes…that more perfect district lines are attainable and worth all the effort of a referendum. ‘Why not get the best district possible?’ Ohmit said at the rally. ‘Redistricting is an opportunity that only comes once every ten years. The Daily Californian also compares the two student district maps, and has a photo of BTU member Judy Shelton collecting signatures. http://www.dailycal.org/2014/01/05/berkeley-referendum-rally-held-new-district-lines/
DATE: November 5, 2013 TO: Planning Commissioners RE: Demolition Ordinance
SUMMARY: Please preserve affordable housing by again recommending the June 4 compromise on the Demolition Ordinance. Please find attached our petition — with 270 signatures.
Respected Planning Commissioners:
The Berkeley Tenants Union is extremely concerned about proposed changes to the demolition ordinance. As you may recall, you already approved changes to this zoning code in the spring. We think it might be a bit confusing that this law is before you once again, so we have tried to provide a comprehensive summary with links to all relevant documents in this correspondence.
In December of 2011, the Berkeley City Council directed staff to draft amended language to Berkeley Municipal Code Chapter 23C.08, the “Demolition and Elimination of Dwelling Units Ordinance.” (Document:Council Direction 12-6-11) In June of 2013, staff presented a draft that met all the requests Council made in 2011, and was approved by the Rent Board and the Planning Commission. The same draft has also been presented one month before, at the 4×4 Committee, and neither Mayor Bates nor Councilman Capitelli voiced any concerns with the draft. On June 4, it looked like Council was going to pass this compromise draft (Document: June 4 draft), until time ran out on the meeting.
Then something changed. The Council began to question the June 4 compromise, and considered a new draft, perhaps hastily prepared, presented at the July 2 Council meeting. (Document:July 2 Draft). The new draft appeared to be based on requests made by developer Equity Residential (Document:ER Letter to Council), who are now Berkeley’s largest landlord. Since Council got letters of objection from many civic groups, including the Sierra Club, Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, Berkeley Neighborhoods Council, and Berkeley Tenants Union, they sent the Ordinance back to the Planning Commission and the Housing Advisory Commission.
What do these drafts say?
Currently BMC 23C says “controlled rental units” cannot be eliminated unless the owner “cannot make a fair return on investment by maintaining the dwelling unit as a part of the rental housing market” and that those apartments must also be “seriously deteriorated beyond the conditions which might reasonably be expected due to normal use.” It also says that demolished rent controlled units must be replaced with permanently affordable housing. (Document: DemoCURRENT)
Problems with the current law arose because the City Attorney decided that empty units which would otherwise be under rent control are not “controlled rental units” and therefore not subject to the rules above. This means any empty unit can be torn down with no mitigation for the loss of affordable older units which would be under rent control if they were rented. Such a policy encourages owners to leave buildings to rot, promotes evictions and harassment, and may violate not only the Demolition law, but also the voter-approved Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance. (Document:NPO)
To end the controversy about the interpretation of the law, the Rent Board and the City Council called for revisions, but Council also asked that new rules require “units are replaced with an equal or greater number of new units inclusive of the current number of existing affordable units.” (Document: Council Direction 12-6-11) Likewise, the June 4 draft required developers who tear down multiunit buildings built before 1980 (those covered by rent control) replace them with “designated below-market rate units equal in number and comparable in size to the demolished units.”
However, the July and August drafts do not call for one-for-one replacement of affordable rent controlled units with housing for low-income renters. The July 2 and August 30 drafts both require developers pay a fee into the Housing Trust Fund. However, the fee in the July 2 draft is about 10% of what it costs to build an affordable unit, and the fee in the August 30 draft is unspecified and thus could be changed by City Council at any time. (Document:Worse Aug 30 draft)
There are numerous other problems with the July and August drafts. For example, one scheme outlined by developer Equity Residential was included in the July draft. This calls for replacement units in the new building which would be “designated rent increase restricted” – however, the Rent Board (Document:Berkeley Rent Board letter) and East Bay Community Law Center (Document:EBCLC Letter) have both pointed out that this violates the state law called Costa-Hawkins, because that law banned any new rent control in California, even if you call it by another name.
In addition, later drafts contradict the voter-approved Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance and may be challenged in court if they are made law. (Document:NPO)
Several community groups have sent communications on this issue that raise various additional concerns, such as the wisdom of tearing down perfectly fine small buildings at all, and the environmental impact of encouraging growth through demolition. You can find copies of public communications from The Sierra Club, Berkeley NAACP, Berkeley Neighborhoods Council, and Berkeley Architectural Heritage Assn. on our website along with all documents we have linked to in the text above.
The real question here is what kind of community benefits does Berkeley need in exchange for allowing speculators to tear down a useable rent controlled building in order to build a bigger one with market rate apartments? This is not just about what legal mitigations a nexus study might allow. We can actually choose, as Berkeley did in the 1970s, to ban demolition altogether. BTU hopes you might realize that rent control has been Berkeley’s most successful affordable housing program, and that rent controlled units should be preserved, even if they are not rented at this time.
You can choose not to allow demolition – and you should choose this if there is going to be a long wait for a Nexus study.
Please see the attached petition, with 270 signatures. Please note that, following pages with electronic signatures and comments, there are scans of the paper petitions.
Please again recommend the June 4 compromise draft.
Berkeley Tenants Union Steering Committee, on behalf of the tenants of Berkeley
Oakland fights to close rent control loophole: Berkeley tenants enjoy protections against bad business decisions by owners. Here, landlords can only passthrough “capital” costs if they were not foreseeable when they set the initial rent or they can’t make a fair return on their investment. In Oakland, their weaker rent control law is further undermined by broad rules which allow landlords who paid too much for a building to then raise the rents to pay their mortgage. Oakland is fighting to close this loophole even as Berkeley tenants could see passthrough rules relaxed so that landlords can charge for seismic retrofits:
“Of the ten major jurisdictions in California that have rent control laws, only four allow landlords to pass on the costs of debt service. Of those four, Oakland is the only municipality that allows landlords to force tenants to pay up to 95 percent of their debt.”
In San Francisco, the rents are too damn high: The SF Department of Public Health made an interactive map which shows how many full-time minimum wage jobs it takes to pay rent on the average market rate apartment in each SF neighborhood. For example, in the Mission District, it would take 5.5 minimum wage jobs to pay rent on a new 2-bedroom apartment, because market rent is $2,920. The actual median income of the neighborhood is about half of what it takes to pay that rent. http://www.sfphes.org/news/211-rent-affordability-in-san-francisco
Thoughtful tech industry comments on gentrification, development, and the “Google Bus” phenomena:
“Whichever side of this issue you’re on, it’s clear that we’re looking at a reversal of the historical norm: The workers that used to live in residential suburbs while commuting to work in the city are now living in the city, while the largest technology companies are based in the suburbs and increasingly draw their labor supply from dense urban neighborhoods…That they’re young and educated and lots of them are millionaires is kind of beside the point. It’s about more than gentrification as we’ve experienced it thus far: It’s about an entirely reconfigured relationship between density and sprawl…”
Nob Hill building with 33 units would be largest Tenancy in Common: Over in San Francisco, investors would like to use the state Ellis Act to evict rent controlled tenants and turn buildings in condominiums. Only they can’t, because like Berkeley, San Francisco has tight restrictions on how many precious affordable rent controlled units can be turned into condos each year. So speculators turn them into Tenancies-in-Common, which are like condos, only not. Pretty soon investors in Berkeley will be exploiting similar loopholes, so let’s get ready! http://www.sfgate.com/realestate/article/Park-Lane-tenants-protest-conversion-plans-4853226.php
Meanwhile back in Berkeley, BNC issues strong statement on Demolition Ordinance: The Berkeley Neighborhoods Council newsletter discusses how revisions to the Demo Ordinance are not only bad for tenants, but also for neighborhood stability:
“This provision puts multiple unit buildings that are well-integrated parts of neighborhoods throughout the city at risk of being demolished for no other reason than a developer sees an opportunity to replace it with a new and bigger building.”
Speculators Driving Up Rents in East and West Oakland: Big national companies are outbidding regular folk and buying up foreclosures all over Oakland’s flatlands, breaking up long-standing African American communities. Some firms just slap a new coat of paint on the “distressed property” and resell them right away, at prices working people can’t afford. Others are offering these homes at San Francisco-type rents, but plan to sell them in five to seven years. Several nonprofits – including Oakland Community Land Trust and Restoring Ownership Opportunities Together –are working to keep owners in their homes, or buy foreclosures and keep them affordable to working people. If you think this is going on in Berkeley, let us know! http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/whos-jacking-up-housing-prices-in-west-oakland/Content?oid=3726518
On July 2, the Berkeley City Council voted to postpone discussion of controversial changes to the Zoning law known as the Demolition Ordinance. We now have time to really influence the final form of this regulation.
Public outcry led the Council to make the wise decision not to move forward with the July 2 draft of the ordinance, which would be very bad for tenants. The Berkeley Tenants Union presented a petition with over 130 signatures. It is not too late to sign our petition:
The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, Berkeley Neighborhoods Council, Sierra Club, East Bay Community Law Center and Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board also sent objections — their letters are linked under our July 2 post, below.
Council will now send the proposed changes to the law — which covers why and when residential buildings in Berkeley can be torn down — to the Housing Advisory Commission and the Planning Commission. The Council did not react to a request during public comment by Rent Board Chair Lisa Stephens that the Ordinance also be sent back to the 4×4 Committee. The 4×4 is where the changes have been discussed for the past three years – that committee is made up of four Rent Board Commissioners and four City Council members, including the Mayor.
The Housing Advisory Commission has already scheduled review of the Ordinance for their meeting on Thursday, July 11, at the North Berkeley Senior Center, MLK & Hearst, at 7 PM.
Councilmember Jesse Arreguin also requested that staff report back to the City Council on issues raised by the public regarding the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and Berkeley’s Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance (NPO).