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 everyyear. 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
The 2016 Rent Board Convention to select a pro-tenant slate for the elected Rent Board will be held on April 24th – THIS SUNDAY! – at the South Berkeley Senior Center on Ellis at Ashby. The gathering is sponsored this year by BTU, Friends of Adeline, the Berkeley NAACP, Berkeley Green Party, Berkeley Progressive Alliance, Berkeley Citizens Action, Socialist Alliance, the Peace and Freedom Party, CalSERVE, and UC Berkeley Students for Bernie Sanders.
The convention has been held each election year by a coalition of progressive groups for over 20 years in order to present a unified slate for the November Rent Board election. This year, there are 11 candidates for four seats. Because Rent Board Commissioner is the only elected office in Berkeley with term limits, there are only two protenant incumbents: Asa Dodsworth and Alejandro Soto-Vigil.
Candidate statements are on the convention website. Asa Dodsworth and Marcia Levinson did not send written responses. Sponsoring groups also send representatives to rate the candidates, interview them, and get more information about specific concerns of their membership. The convention site will also host the ratings and comments from community screeners, as well as the rules of the convention.
Asa Dodsworth, Marcia Levenson, Matthew Lewis, Thomas Lord, Christina Murphy, Poki Namkung, Christine Schwartz, Leah Simon-Weisberg, Alejandro Soto-Vigil, Igor Tregub, Eleanor Walden. Dodsworth, Simon-Weisberg, Lewis, and Tregub have served on the BTU steering committee.
BEWARE! You must be inside for all candidate statements in order to vote. Folks not in by 2 PM may not get ballots. Convention starts Sunday at 1:30 PM!
Your Berkeley Tenants Union’s quarterly members meeting will be March 30th. It is open to all members, and you can join BTU at the meeting if you are willing to sign our member pledge. Contact us for more information.
The 2016 Rent Board Convention to select a pro-tenant slate for the elected Rent Board will be held on April 24th, a Sunday, at the South Berkeley Senior Center. Potential candidates should contact the convention, which has been held each election year by a coalition of progressive groups for over 20 years. http://berkeleytenantsconvention.net/
Hot topics at the March 30th meeting (besides the upcoming Tenant Convention) will be proposed ballot measures to increase owner-eviction relocation funds and to fund affordable housing through a windfall profits tax on larger landlords, as well the upcoming Council consideration of an anti-harassment law known as the Tenant Protection Ordinance. Read the BTU March Newsletter
They are Organizing, Are You?
Oakland Ballot Measure to Make Rent Control Real “The measure would extend protections under the Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance to thousands more Oakland rental units, implement the currently un-enforced Tenant Protection Ordinance, and reform the existing Rent Adjustment Program (Oakland’s weak substitute for rent control) to make it much harder for landlords to raise rents above the rate of inflation, place an absolute 5% per year cap on rent increases, cover more rental units under rent control, and ensure a tenant-majority Rent Board, among other improvements.” http://www.oaklandtenantsunion.org/news
Alameda May Be Harassing Tenant Group After filing their ballot measure, Alameda renters were talking outside the clerk’s office when they were approached by police. While that may not seem odd, the same Alameda group found a police officer scrutinizing them at a public meeting the month before.
Richmond Ballot Measure “The Fair and Affordable Richmond Coalition — consisting of elected officials, renters, homeowners and activists — on Tuesday gathered to officially file the petition with the city clerk. The group will have until June to gather 4,198 valid signatures to place the measure on the November ballot. A rent control ordinance was narrowly passed by the City Council in August, but it was repealed in November after a landlord association circulated a petition. Since then, affordable-housing activists have promised to bring the measure to the November ballot. Had the ordinance approved in August been implemented, Richmond would have been the first California city in more than 30 years to pass rent control.” http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_29552957/richmond-group-pushes-bring-rent-control-measure-voters
“Claudia Jimenez, a homeowner in Richmond who is a community organizer with the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), said, “The Richmond City Council passed some renter protections including rent control, and just cause eviction protections that were supposed to go into effect last year to protect Richmond renters. However, the California Apartment Association (CAA) spent a lot of money to hire people who gathered enough signatures for a petition that blocked the renter protections from going into effect.” http://www.thestreetspirit.org/the-struggle-for-renter-protections-in-richmond/
Over on the Other Team
Berkeley Landlord PAC Attempts to Seem Reasonable… “We represent the voice of rental housing providers through our political action committee and legal defense fund. We are here to restore fairness, efficiency and objectivity to Berkeley’s rental housing policies.” http://www.thebrhc.org/
…While the BPOA Continues to Seem Odd “And so welcome to the latest arrival on the local scene, the Berkeley Rental Housing Coalition. It cannot be said to represent we, the people nor does it comprise a Declaration of Independence. It does, however, establish and ordain an organization to address our rightful grievances to the government which shackles rental housing in so many ways. And, to quote another revered figure from American history, ‘it is altogether fitting and proper that we do this.’ ” http://bpoa.org/
Students Can’t Afford Housing at $1,500 per Room “A graduate of Hunter College in New York City, Sliwowski said that the two-bedroom apartment he had rented in the notoriously competitive Manhattan housing market as an undergraduate cost him and his roommates a total of $1600 a month. In Berkeley, after subletting a room in a house for two months that had been rented out on AirBnB, he finally beat out 59 other applicants to pay $1500 a month for a room in a house. “The university is failing to do anything to control rents in Berkeley, and failing to adequately inform students about the cost of housing,” he said.” http://www.dailycal.org/2016/03/04/priced-out-of-house-and-home/
UC Berkeley’s Role in the Housing Emergency “While the student housing crisis is a symptom of a regional problem, the fault also rests with campus administrators, who have failed to create enough housing opportunities for students. UC Berkeley houses fewer students than most other UC campuses, providing only 24.7 percent of undergraduates and 2.6 percent of graduate students with campus housing. Even when the campus creates new student housing, it is often unaffordable for many students. In fact U.S. News and World report ranked UC Berkeley as the fifth most expensive school in the country in terms of campus housing costs.” http://www.dailycal.org/2016/03/08/347468/
What is Affordable Housing?
“Affordable housing is housing that only costs 30 percent of the renter’s income. In Berkeley, however, housing can be considered “affordable” when it costs up to 50 percent — and even 80 percent — of the household’s income. And in the eyes of Sophie Hahn, a member of the city’s Zoning Adjustment Board, this expectation is not at all affordable and reveals the heart of the affordable housing issue in Berkeley.” http://www.dailycal.org/2016/03/04/quick-dirty-guide-affordable-housing/
About the Co-ops “Central to its design is the understanding that in order to receive a quality education, students must have access to affordable housing. This is especially relevant at UC Berkeley, which measures its value by accessibility. UC Berkeley’s former chancellor Robert Birgeneau once said the UC’s “educational excellence is accessible and affordable,” a quality that makes Berkeley a uniquely “vital and diverse intellectual community.” But this is not the reality. Students at UC Berkeley face a brutally expensive housing market, which presents an obvious contradiction: UC Berkeley cannot claim to provide access to excellent education as long as it considers quality of life and quality of education separately.” http://www.dailycal.org/2016/03/10/sharing-berkeleys-housing-burden/
8% Affordable Housing Will Not Address Crisis “With those units, plus all of the projects at various stages of the use permit application process as well as those under construction, the totals since 2012 come out to 206 affordable units out of 2,787 total units, or 8 percent (see ABAG slide above).
…There was consensus among the experts that the city needs to expedite housing construction by facilitating funding and cutting red tape. But not all of them bought into the oft-cited notion that building lots of luxury housing will put a significant dent in the affordable housing shortage… Several lamented what they saw as the loss of economic and ethnic diversity in a city where skyrocketing residential rents are out of reach of most working people, many of them minorities. The rising rents represent “a major transfer of income from tenants to real estate investors,” and they vastly exceed what a landlord needs to profitably operate and maintain a building, said former Berkeley Housing Director Steve Barton, one of the presenters on Tuesday.” http://www.dailydemocrat.com/general-news/20160217/berkeley-forum-seeks-ways-to-speed-construction-of-affordable-housing/2
Students Ask University to Step Up The ASUC Student Housing Committee published this editorial in the Daily Californian calling for the University to produce more student housing and scrap plans for a private hotel on UC land in downtown Berkeley.
“Despite plans to increase enrollment by at least 1,500 new students at UC Berkeley over the next few years, the campus only has plans to create 725 net new beds over the next five years; by contrast, the campus is increasing enrollment by 750 students next year alone… Furthermore, the university plans to build this project — and future projects — as a P3, or public-private partnership. As a P3, such a residence hall would be on university land but operated by a private company, a situation known as privatization. As a result, students would simultaneously lack the protections of local laws — such as rent control and eviction protections — while also paying more for rent to a private company.” http://www.dailycal.org/2016/02/23/university-must-build-public-residence-hall-downtown/
Oakland: Short Term Rentals Tax to Support Affordable Housing This from the East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO): “As the result of months of EBHO members’ advocacy and efforts, on February 2nd, Oakland City Council allocated $350,000/year of the Transient Occupancy Tax revenue from short-term rentals to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund for each of the two years in the current budget cycle.
Allocating TOT revenue, which is the occupancy tax paid by hotels and other tourist accommodations, from these short-term accommodations to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund will help mitigate the impact of the short-term rental industry as the City begins to explore policy solutions addressing this issue. The TOT being allocated is from revenues the City receives over and above the $500,000/year allocated in the ’15-’17 budget, so it is not impacting other City priorities. As you read in EBHO’s report, The Impact of Short Term Rentals on Affordable Housing in Oakland, the City has an undisclosed contract with Airbnb to collect TOT.”
San Francisco: Fire Leads to Demolition, Evictions “San Francisco guarantees rent-controlled tenants who are displaced by a fire the right to return to their units after repair at their previous rent, though few do. But with the demolition, that protection no longer applies: New buildings are not subject to rent control because of state law and are not bound by the right of return. No-fault evictions on the basis of demolition are also allowed under city law. “ http://missionlocal.org/2016/02/sf-orders-demo-of-burned-mission-st-building-tenants-may-lose-right-to-return/
Housing For the Rest of Us – Success! On Sunday March 6th, about 200 Berkeley voters turned up to hear solutions to the housing emergency. The Berkeley Progressive Alliance discussed their housing platform and upcoming elections for Mayor and City Council. Berkeley Tenants Union discussed the Rent Board elections and the ballot measure to fund affordable housing via a windfall profits tax on larger landlords. Outgoing Councilman Max Anderson and District 3 candidate Ben Bartlett discussed changes and challenges in South Berkeley, and Zoning Commissioner Sophie Hahn – who is also running for City Council – discussed simple steps to bring sustainable, green buildings to Berkeley.
Max Anderson at the Forum “Increasingly, wealth and income have become a surrogate for race, providing camouflage for those who want to reshape the city and invite only those who look like them and have the kind of wealth that they have,” contended Anderson, noting the decrease in African American residents from around 25 to approximately 8 percent of the Berkeley population. “What you’re participating in today is an effort to recapture and reassert the rights and realities we face as working people and people of color in this city,” he said, arguing that if people do nothing, “We will become a gated community without gates.” http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_29606700/berkeley-progressives-call-affordable-housing-new-leadership
BPA Platform to Fund New Affordable Units “In order to increase funding, the BPA suggested increasing the Housing Impact Fee — a sum that developers can pay as an alternative to including affordable housing units in their properties — to at least $34,000. Additionally, the plan intends to increase funds for the Housing Trust Fund through taxing short-term rentals, as well as raising the business license tax on influential landlords in Berkeley. “We want the people who have benefited from this incredible increase in property value to help pay for affordable housing,” said BPA member Kate Harrison at the meeting.” http://www.dailycal.org/2016/03/06/berkeley-progressive-alliance-presents-affordable-housing-platform/
There is a solution to the Affordable Housing Crisis
Berkeley could build at least 100 units of affordable housing a year, if we raise funds for the Housing Trust Fund. Hear about practical solutions that will raise the money needed. Prepare for the 2016 Election by making plans to elect a mayor, city council members, and rent board commissioners who will represent all of us, not just the 1%. Speakers include:
Max Anderson ‐ Berkeley City Councilmember District 3 (South Berkeley)
Ben Bartlett ‐ Berkeley Planning Commissioner and District 3 City Council candidate
Kate Harrison, Berkeley Progressive Alliance and Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club
BTU is proud to join Berkeley Citizens Action and the Better Berkeley Working Group in sponsoring this forum by Berkeley Progressive Alliance. Sunday, March 6th, 2 to 4:30 pm South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis Street at Ashby
2016 Tenant Convention Your tenants union has convened other progressive leaders to begin planning the 2016 convention to elected a pro-tenant slate for Rent Board. If you are interesting in running for election to the Board, or in helping to plan the annual gathering, drop us a line or keep an eye on the tenant convention webpage: http://berkeleytenantsconvention.net/
Developers Forum Shows Possible Bias from Zoning Commissioner Housing policy wonks in Berkeley were all abuzz after a Berkeleyside article about a forum on development – because none of them heard about this forum until the article. The Urban Land Institute, one of those nonprofits that pays their top executives $300,000 – $400,000 a year, sponsored the forum. The institute’s website proudly displays their “corporate partners”: developers, real estate firms, and the banks that lend them money. One Zoning Commissioner was a presenter: “Cities also have a financial bias against housing; they prefer retail and office buildings that generate taxes, rather than housing that demands schools and services, she said. One of the biggest issues are the legal challenges to large projects, said Pinkston. Environmental reviews are used to delay development rather than to actually consider the impact of a project on a community, she said. Extra litigation adds to the cost of building housing, which pushes up rents, she said. Every time a housing project is delayed because of litigation, it contributes to climate change, said Pinkston.” http://www.berkeleyside.com/2016/01/25/housing-forum-a-good-development-climate-in-berkeley/
Artists Warehouse Shut Down By Oakland “The building was previously managed by Madison Park Financial, a real estate company owned by John Protopappas, a close friend of Mayor Libby Schaaf. Madison Park Financial withdrew from managing 1919 Market Street last year and was replaced by a company called 1919 Bayside, which is run by San Francisco real estate entrepreneur Danny Haber. …last year another company run by Haber, The Negev, was sued in San Francisco over alleged wrongful evictions to push out rent-controlled tenants and use their apartments for tech bunk houses.” http://www.eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/archives/2016/01/28/dozens-of-renters-lose-homes-as-city-closes-1919-market-street-warehouse-in-oakland
Residents Get 72 Hours to Move
“Singer said the company will abide by all the laws in regards to tenants’ rights to return to the complex upon completion of the renovation and units will be priced at whatever market rate the law allows.” http://www.ktvu.com/news/83415325-story
The Berkeley Rent Board gets quarterly reports on market rents for new tenancies in rent controlled apartments. Since rents are rising so quickly, they recently voted to send their latest reports to the City Council. Keep in mind, these are not controlled rents, nor are they inclusive of the whole market. Because of the 1996 state law Costa-Hawkins, owners can set a new rent at anything they want when a new tenant moves in. Those new rents are the numbers recorded in this report. Berkeley’s Housing Element report shows these rents tend to be lower than the total market rent in Berkeley because rent controlled buildings are older and don’t have fancy amenities like gyms or even WiFi.
EDIT: Planning Commission final public hearing 1/20 Housing Commission Strengthens Recommendations for Local Law Berkeley’s Housing Advisory Commission sent a follow-up to their earlier short-term rentals recommendations. The HAC did this both because the draft ordinance does not seem to reflect their recommendations and because there were additional issues to address. “During the meeting, Darrow expressed concerns that current regulations could allow owners to turn rent-controlled housing units into short-term rentals by evicting all tenants in a building under the Ellis Act, a state law that allows property owners to evict tenants in order to “go out of business.”
According to the new language approved by the commission at the meeting, if an owner evicts a tenant from a unit through no fault of the tenant, the owner must wait five years before the property can be turned into a short-term rental. Additionally, owners must obtain a business license through the city and list their license number in their rental listings.” http://www.dailycal.org/2015/12/06/citys-housing-advisory-commission-approves-short-term-rental-recommendations/
Draft Law Making Final Rounds The draft of Berkeley’s Short Term Rental (STRs) ordinance is now available to the public. The next step is for the Planning Commission to hold a final public hearing, then the law will go back to the City Council, which last discussed the matter in July. Unfortunately, the staff report specifically says they did not address concerns from the Housing Commission in the draft.
It is also unfortunate that the draft law seems to contravene two Council referrals (one on ADUs and one on STRs) by allowing accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on the same property in which an owner occupies another unit as her primary residence to be used as hotel rooms. As usual, the language in the draft law is unclear: “Host present” means the host is living at the premises of the dwelling unit that is being used for STRs during the short-term rental period or living in the Primary Residence or the Accessory Dwelling Unit.” Read the Draft: 2015-12-16_Information_Item_Draft Short Term Rental Ordinance-Combined The Planning Commission is expected to hold a public hearing on January 20 or February 3rd.
Berkeley Owners Sent Warning Letters
At the 4×4 Committee meeting in December, Planning Director Eric Angstadt told Council leaders and Rent Board Commissioners that the City Manager’s office sent warning letters to several STR operators who are violating Berkeley’s current ban on rentals of less than 14 days. BTU has done a public records request to see if letters were sent to the 4 owners BTU filed complaints about in May and June of 2015.
STRs in the News
Ousted Tenants Sue In Los Angeles “Their rent-controlled building allowed them to enjoy below-market rents of less than $2,000 a month for their two-bedroom pads in the upscale neighborhood. That came to an end in late 2013 when the owners evicted them under the Ellis Act, a state law that allows landlords to get out of the rental business….Within weeks, their apartments began appearing on Airbnb — a short-term rental site geared at tourists — for nightly rates that could total $15,000 a month, they said.” http://www.latimes.com/local/westside/la-me-1217-ellis-suit-20151217-story.html
Airbnb Fined for Offering Lodgings Without Permits in Barcelona “With the aid of a software programme, the town hall detected listings for 1,891 lodgings that did not have proper permits on Airbnb, and another 3,929 on HomeAway, it said in a statement. Each have been issued a fine of €60,000 ($65,000).
Since taking office in June, Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, a former anti-eviction activist, has kept her pledge to try to curb a boom in visitor numbers that she fears could drive out poor residents and spoil the charm of Spain’s second largest city.” http://www.thelocal.es/20151222/barcelona-city-hall-fines-airbnb