Update: Thursday March 18 is now the day TOPA will be before the City Council’s Land Use, Housing & Economic Development Committee at 10:30AM.
This Thursday, the Berkeley City Council’s Land Use Committee will hold a final hearing on The Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA). Now is the time to get involved!
ACTION: Write to PolicyCommittee@cityofberkeley.info today to express your support. “I stand with the Berkeley Tenants Union in expressing enthusiasm for the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act.”
If all goes as planned, the City Council will vote on this at their April 20th meeting.
Berkeley’s TOPA is the first ordinance of its kind in the state of California, but other places have tried this model – and it works! Washington DC passed a similar law in 2002; that law has preserved over 3500 units of affordable housing in the capital.
The desperate opposition is hyperbolically claiming TOPA will “seize your private property.” While for those without property, that may not seem like a bad idea – it’s just not true! The new law would just give renters AN OPTION to pay market price before their homes are sold to a new landlord. But it also SETS UP HELP for a group of renters to buy, including the opportunity to work with affordable housing groups who may fund some of the cost, and access to special loans.
As BTU member and Berkeley leader Igor Tregub put it, TOPA “reflects core Berkeley values such as cooperative ownership, democratic control, and the empowerment of underserved communities.” It is supported by Mayor Arreguin, and the East Bay Community Law Center has done substantial work shepherding the law through its five-year process to this point – where we almost have it!
The Community Power Slate sponsors a Yes on 10 forum:
SUNDAY OCTOBER 21 – 3 PM South Berkeley Senior Center 2939 Ellis Street at Ashby
Community Power Slate
Elect a Pro-Tenant Rent Board in Berkeley
For over a quarter century, Berkeley progressives have come together to choose a consensus slate for the Rent Board. This spring, the Berkeley Tenant Convention chose local leaders John Selawsky (formerly on the School Board) and Paola Laverde, currently the Rent Board’s Vice Chair and an outspoken advocate for Yes on Prop 10. Also on the Community Power Slate for Berkeley Rent Board are James Chang, UCB junior Soli Alpert, and Maria Poblet, a founder of Causa Justa Oakland.
Berkeley City Council
BTU endorsed Kate Harrison (District 4: Downtown) and Igor Tregub (District 1: Fourth Street, North Berkeley BART). Igor used to be on the Rent Board and has always been a solid advocate for tenants. Kate is the wisest leader in Berkeley, with a lot of behind the scenes experience in San Francisco’s crazier days. She has done amazing work for affordable housing on the City Council in her very short term.
BTU also endorsedRigel Robinson, a newcomer whose website mentions nothing about renters in the housing policy statement. He is currently External Affairs Vice President of the ASUC and will fill the district with the most renters, taking the place of longtime tenant leader Kriss Worthington, who has endorsed Robinson.
“Rigel believes we need to build more housing, for all students, right next to campus, right now. As a City Councilmember, he’ll push for zoning requirements that allow for taller, denser buildings around campus — while fighting for more units that are affordable.” https://rigelrobinson.com/
Finally, BTU endorsedMary Kay Laceyfor District 8. Lacey will fight for renters in the district which has been represented by Lori Droste, who repeatedly voted to eliminate rent controlled units through demolitions and conversions to Air BnB. Lacey became known for her work on the Task Force to Save Alta Bates hospital.
“Protect against displacement by building targeted affordable housing for students, working families and those facing eviction… I am also fully committed to the Pathways Project and a ‘housing first’ solution to our homelessness crisis.” https://lacey2018.com/issues/
State Assembly: Jovanka Beckles
Rent Board: Soli Alpert, James Chang, Paola Laverde, Maria Poblet, John Selawsky (Community Power Slate)
Council District 1: Igor Tregub
Council District 4: Kate Harrison
Council District 7: Rigel Robisnon
Council District 8: Mary Kay Lacey
BTU-Endorsed Housing Measures:
Prop 10 (Costa-Hawkins Repeal): YES!
Measure O (Affordable Housing Bond): Yes
Measure P (Transfer Tax for Homeless Services): Yes
Measure Q (Rent Board Amendments): No Endorsement
Prop 1 (Affordable Housing Bond): Yes
Prop 2 (Homeless Prevention Bond): Yes
Prop 5 (Property Tax Break): No
Now, The Good News
At their 10th anniversary celebration, the statewide renters group Tenants Together chose to honor Berkeley’s own Julia Cato, who has worked hard with several groups – including BTU – to make sure the voices of seniors and tenants are heard by the folks who represent us.
Tenants Together also has a counselor trainingcoming up. I don’t think anyone does counseling for BTU since I left, so someone really should try to get the program up and running again! Tenants could use a peer advocate to help them navigate the bureaucracies that govern, even if California does get some better laws this election day!
More Worried About Trump than Lakireddy?
Get Involved on the National Level!
The Right to the City Alliance / Homes For All held their second national Renter Power Assembly this summer, with over 100 tenant groups coming together from all over the United States. Start by joining their mailing list to give renters a unified voice on national housing policy!
“If the housing crisis has been slow to register at the level of national politics, it’s not for lack of momentum at the grassroots. There is no major city in the United States today without a multitude of tenants’ rights groups, and “gentrification” has, in the span of a decade, crossed from left-wing academic journals into everyday language. From coast to coast, a loosely organized, intersectional, and bottom-up movement is coalescing around housing justice—the idea that housing is inextricable from a range of other issues like racial justice, poverty, the environment, immigration, and the rights of the formerly incarcerated.” https://righttothecity.org/
Tuesday the City Council will vote on a proposed ballot measure updating the rent laws to prepare Berkeley for a world without Costa-Hawkins. One of the major changes is that buildings build after 1980 could be rent controlled! Right now, the state law Costa-Hawkins says that cannot happen. The Berkeley City Council will be discussing how old a building should be before rent increases are limited. They seem to favor setting this period to be between 12-15 years. Maybe you would like all buildings under rent control NOW?
BTU member Paola Laverde sent in the information below:
Berkeley Renters We Need You!
The Rent Is Too Damn High!
Come out to Tuesday’s City Council meeting and make sure your voice is heard as the City Council debates whether to expand rent control.
We need you there to ensure that the City Council does not cave in to developers who want to delay new rent control for 20 YEARS OR MORE!
Where: Council Chambers: 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
When: Tuesday, July 31, 2018 at 6 P. M.
What: The Council will be debating how long rent control should be delayed on newly constructed rental units. The proposal before them is 12 to 15 years. However, property owners and developers are screaming that nothing less than 20 to 30 years is acceptable.
If tenants do not raise their voices loudly, the City Council may cave in to property owners and developers, leaving renters to suffer as already unaffordable rents sky rocket even higher.
The decision reached by the Council on Tuesday night may be put on the November 6, 2018, ballot for Berkeley voters to decide. It will only go into effect if Proposition 10, the Affordable Housing Act, is approved by California voters.
Now is the time to take a stand against big money and the rental housing industry that is responsible for the affordability crisis impacting Berkeley.
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
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.” http://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/06/15/with-council-all-in-on-berkeley-way-homeless-housing-trust-fund-at-zero/
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.” http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2017-06-30/article/45843?headline=The-affordable-housing-crisis-how-Berkeley-should-deal-with-it–Harry-Brill-
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.” http://www.beyondchron.org/sf-advances-berkeley-retreats/
BTU Calls For Landlords to Be Fined for Campaign Violations, Again On Thursday, May 18, 2017, Berkeley’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission (FCPC) would not decide to enforce the Berkeley Election Reform Act. Commissioner Dean Metzger asked that the staff report include past violations from the same offenders after BTU pointed out their history. In addition, Commissioner Greg Harper asked the city attorney for further information.
The next FCPC meeting will be Thursday, July 20, 2017
BTU LETTER: BTU letter for FCPC
June 13 City Council Votes on Developer Fees On Tuesday, June 13 the City Council will hold a public hearing to increase the affordable housing mitigation fee from $34,000 ($30,000 if paid when the building permit is issued) to $37,000 ($34,000 if paid when the building permit issue is issued). The affordable housing mitigation fee is one of the primary ways that the city funds affordable housing, making this increase extremely important.
You can let the city council know that you support the increase by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
Santa Rosa Nears Rent Control Vote “The largest contribution reported to date to the landlord committee, called “Citizens for Fair and Equitable Housing — No on C,” was $280,000 from the political action committee of the California Association of Realtors. A treasurer for the committee referred questions to the spokesman for the California Apartment Association…” http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/6793101-181/money-pouring-in-to-fight?artslide=0
The Democratic Party Supports Rent Control “The California Democratic Party supports rent control and just cause for eviction. This is a big deal. Many California Democratic lawmakers are in the pocket of the real estate industry, just like Republicans. They regularly vote against tenants to make sure they continue getting landlord and realtor money. Just recently, only 24 of 80 legislators voted for Assemblymember Rob Bonta’s bill to stop Ellis Act evictions of SRO hotel units in Oakland. If you are scratching your head as to how a narrow bill to stop evictions of some of the most vulnerable tenants in Oakland could lose by a landslide in the California Assembly where Democrats have a two-thirds majority, you obviously haven’t been in the halls of the Capitol recently….” http://48hills.org/2017/05/23/historic-vote-democratic-party-supports-rent-control/
Owner Move In Evictions in Local Spotlight “It is known that some landlords pretend it’s an owner move-in situation simply to evict lower-rent tenants, and then re-rent units for higher rents. Investors buying duplexes, or other small properties with only a few units, with the intention either to hold on to them or flip them, may tell long-term tenants they plan to move in, just to try to get them to move without going through a legal eviction process.” http://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/05/25/berkeley-sees-increase-owner-move-evictions-landlords/
I am thrilled that Maria is taking over my seat on the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board!
“Poblet served many years as executive director at St. Peter’s Housing Committee in San Francisco and then spearheaded a merger with Just Cause Oakland in 2010 to form Causa Justa. The new group brought together one organization that had spent 25 years organizing Latinos with one that had spent 10 years organizing Blacks to push for economic and racial justice. Causa Justa is now the largest tenants’ rights group in the Bay Area. Poblet served as the organization’s executive director from 2010 until early 2017.” http://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/05/16/prominent-tenants-rights-activist-appointed-berkeley-rent-board/
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.” http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2017-03-31/article/45603?headline=Berkeley-s-People-s-Park-is-in-the-news-again–Lydia-Gans
Report Itself “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.” http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21264&LangID=E
At a meeting in January, BTU selected fellow Tenants Union member Kate Harrison as the best candidate for renters in the District 4 Special Election for City Council.
Kate Harrison won overwhelming support at the endorsements meeting since she is already well-known for her leadership in getting the landlord tax passed last fall (Measure U1) as well as for her community work making sure big developers are forced to fund affordable units in Berkeley. Her platform also includes using a portion of the transfer tax on homes sold in Berkeley to fund even more low-income housing. Kate also wants to allow limited equity coops to use Housing Trust Fund money to purchase existing rental housing in order to keep it affordable.
The election is being held by mail to save costs. Ballots must be in by March 7th. The special election is needed because BTU member Jesse Arreguin, who was the District 4 Councilmember, was elected mayor last November.
“I would like to expand the current program helping building owners pay for energy improvements through their property taxes to include safety improvements for artists’ live/work spaces to avoid repeating the tragedy at the Oakland Ghost Ship. We cannot afford to lose our creative community either through disaster or displacement.” http://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/02/07/district-4-candidate-kate-harrison/
Berkeley Tenants Union members voted overwhelmingly to support BTU member Kate Harrison for City Council in the upcoming special election.
On Sunday, BTU joined with old friends Berkeley Citizens Action and new allies Berkeley Progressive Alliance to host a forum between the two candidates for District 4, Berkeley’s downtown City Council district. Berkeley will hold an election by mail to fill the seat left open when BTU member Jesse Arreguin became Mayor. Ballots must be postmarked by March 7.
Only about 20% of BTU members made the trek in heavy rains to cast a vote, yet almost every audience member submitted a question for the forum. The majority of questions focused on housing, displacement, and homelessness, but police accountability was also an issue. To guide members in voting, BTU / BCA / BPA also distributed responses from Harrison and graduate student Ben Gould to members of the three groups before the meeting.
Gould was a good sport about supporting the landlord tax U1 in the last election, but he did tell the Daily Cal that the main differences between himself and Kate Harrison are their policies regarding housing, so BTU voters should take a close look at both candidates.
Harrison Has Experience
“As a leader in passing Measure U-1, Harrison led volunteer efforts to secure $4 million a year in new revenues from the windfall profits of Berkeley largest landlords. These new revenues are to use to create and preserve affordable housing for the people of Berkeley. Harrison earned her master’s degree in Public Policy from Berkeley’s Goldman School. In her professional career, Harrison has managed state and municipal budgets and improved government efficiency while ensuring vital public services are maintained and employees treated fairly. Harrison’s work experience includes policy and executive positions in the San Francisco Mayor’s Office under Art Agnos, and at the California Administrative Office of the Courts….” http://berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2016-11-25/article/45183?headline=Kate-Harrison-Enters-Berkeley-District-Four-Council-Race
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 http://berkeleyrentboard.org/
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:
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.
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?