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 next meeting will be Saturday, February 13 at 5:00 PM on the Zoom platform, online. Members will be sent an email about the meeting. Agenda items will be sent out soon, but the major topic of this meeting will be the status of the local eviction moratorium.
To become a member, contact Berkeley Tenants Union by email. Dues are on a sliding scale and can be paid in a number of different ways. Members are eligible for our monthly counseling sessions as well as a strong say about what issues the organization chooses for action. Ask to see the BTU by-laws for more information.
These days, BTU communicates about actions via emails and Facebook. Be sure to like the Facebook page you see displayed on the sidebar to the right!
Also, please share this Facebook link to our meeting, or a link to this post – let’s build our numbers and bring more power to the people! https://fb.me/e/3KLr3BzA5
Berkeley Tenants Are Organizing! “The current city moratorium has “weak” penalties for property owners who institute late fees, lock out tenants or threaten renters, according to (a Berkeley Tenants Union leader) Lewis. He said crucial parts of the measure, such as amendments to include renters’ rights on eviction notices, were removed Nov. 17. If the stricter moratorium passes, it will not take effect until February 2021 due to restrictions in a statewide moratorium that prevents property owners from taking tenants to court, according to Lewis.” https://www.dailycal.org/2020/12/08/berkeley-city-council-votes-on-measure-to-strengthen-eviction-moratorium/
Berkeley Landlords Are Organizing Too! “There are multiple Eviction Moratoriums in effect during this pandemic. Berkeley’s Eviction Moratorium currently prohibits any type of eviction during the local state of emergency and dictates how rent not paid during the pandemic is to be handled. The state’s Eviction Moratorium (AB 3088 effective Sept 1 to Jan 31) is currently being modified at the legislature. We expect the moratorium will be extended through June of 2021, as well as continue to defer the 25% payment of rent until then. BPOA is working to provide guidance as to how the state’s extension will interact with our local Eviction Moratorium.” https://www.bpoa.org/
Other News The East Bay Community Law Center is working with City of Berkeley leaders to establish a housing policy called the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act. Learn more about TOPA here: https://ebclc.org/topa/
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/
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.
The Rent Boardoffers 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.
Thanks to BTU Members Who Sent in Most of These Stories
The Windfall Profits Tax on High Rents (Robin Hood) “In Berkeley, activists are in the early stage of advocating for a so-called “windfall profits tax,” which would increase the business license tax for larger property owners and thus generate revenue that could be invested into affordable housing. “This money is being extracted from tenants for the benefit of people who own real estate, and it’s windfall profits,” explained Stephen Barton, former housing department director for the City of Berkeley, who is pushing for the windfall tax. “We’re going to take some of [the money] that’s being extracted from the community … and use it to mitigate some of the harms of the system.” http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/how-east-bay-tenants-get-displaced/Content?oid=4216802
SF Supervisors Want to Fix Airbnb Law “The legislation would prohibit all tenants or homeowners, regardless of whether or not they live in their house or apartment full-time, from renting out their spare space for more than 90 days a year. If they did, neighbors would have the right to sue them. The legislation would extend the existing 90-day limit from entire homes to smaller spaces.” http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/2-supervisors-want-to-tighten-up-law-regulating-6153957.php
New York City Enforcing Vacation Rentals Law “New York’s investigators have cited over 7,000 fire and building code violations, shut down over 200 short-term apartments and sued several operators — ending an additional 250 short-term rentals — over the last nine years, according to the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement. With Airbnb and other websites sparking a short-term rental boom, some lawmakers now want to triple the illegal-hotel investigation staff and have it go beyond answering complaints to scour the web for suspect listings.” http://www.usnews.com/news/business/articles/2015/03/28/in-nyc-an-unusual-task-force-fights-home-as-hotel-rentals
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
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).
Please join us tonight, when controversial rules about tearing down rent controlled buildings will be before Berkeley’s City Council.
The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, Berkeley Neighborhoods Council, and Sierra Club joined with the East Bay Community Law Center, Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, and 136 members and friends of the Berkeley Tenants Union to inform the City Council that proposed changes to the part of the Zoning Code called the Demolition Ordinance will be bad for Berkeley.
Council will consider changes TUESDAY JULY 2 but are likely to continue the discussion in coming weeks. BTU will present a petition with over 135 signatures at the meeting.
One major reason everyone is objecting: the Council majority wants to ask for a fee of only $20k for each rent controlled unit destroyed – but it costs $400,000 to build a new unit of affordable housing! So under this July 2 draft of the Ordinance, for every 20 rent controlled units lost, one replacement unit might be built many years from now. And what will happen to the tenants?
Below are links to letters from the other organizations.
Please join us TONIGHT – JULY 2 – at 7 PM
Say you support the Berkeley Tenants Union position on Item 17, the Demolition Ordinance.
State that no occupied units should be eliminated for any reason.
Emphasize that units emptied via the Ellis Act cannot be eliminated.
Ask that demolished empty units be replaced with permanently affordable housing.
Argue that this new draft will violate the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance.
Point out that a mitigation fee will not meet our housing needs soon enough.