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 Berkeley Tenant Convention is a decades-old biennial event in which all Berkeley residents who fully support rent control are invited to nominate the progressive, pro-tenant slate for the Berkeley Rent Board. The sponsors of the 2020 Convention included the Berkeley Tenants Union, Berkeley Citizens Action, the Berkeley Democrats (NOT the Berkeley Democratic Club), the Cal Berkeley Democrats, the East Bay Democratic Socialists of America, Friends of Adeline, the Gray Panthers, the Green Party, the NAACP, Our Revolution East Bay, SEIU 1021, UAW 2865 (the UC student-workers union), the Young Democratic Socialists of America – UC Berkeley, and Young Democrats for Justice in Palestine – East Bay.
ABOUT THE CANDIDATES
The candidates chosen at this year’s convention are Dominique Walker, who works at the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment; Mari Mendonca, a lifelong Berkeley resident who was appointed to the Rent Board recently; Xavier Johnson, who is a legal fellow at Centro Legal de la Raza; incumbent attorney Leah Simon-Weisberg, who has worked for San Francisco’s Eviction Defense Collaborative and Tenants Together; and Andy Kelley, Communications Director at the California League of Conservation Voters.
They are calling their campaign the Right2Housing Slate.
You can watch the whole 2020 Tenant Convention on video at BTU’s Facebook page, and keep up with the priorities and activities of our candidates at their website: https://berkeleyrentboard.org
FOR MORE INFO
Tenant Convention Slate for Berkeley Rent Board “About 615 electronic ballots and 95 paper ballots were cast, this is an unprecedented turnout. Because of the pandemic, most efforts were done online.” http://berkeleycitizensaction.org/?p=1193
The State of Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin is a renter who rose to prominence as strong voice for tenants when he chaired Berkeley’s Rent Board and while he represented the downtown area on City Council. His first State of the City address highlighted his dedication to affordable housing and antidisplacement.
BCA Progressive Town Hall Sunday July 15
Progressive Town Meeting with many City Council members – sponsored by our good friends at Berkeley Citizens Action: Sunday July 16, 3-5pm at the South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis Street.
Berkeley Rent Control – in 1942! “Bay Area housing rent control went into effect July 1, 1942, and the first day of required registration was July 15. Anyone who rented an apartment, house, or room had to register and list the rents. “No landlord may now charge a rent higher than that prevailing on March 1, 1942”, the Gazette noted on July 15. “Any tenant who for personal reasons, privately agrees to pay more than the legal rate is equally guilty of evading the law.” Six stations had been set up to receive registration forms.” http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2017/07/10/berkeley-a-look-back-wartime-introduces-city-to-rent-control/
On Student Housing “The old dorms, forced by state policy to be financially self-sustaining, are already insanely expensive. And now, with UC Berkeley pitching itself to wealthy out-of-state students who pay high fees , with an emphasis on the privileged offspring of well-off foreigners, even pricier alternatives are on offer, under the rubric of “Affiliated Properties.” What does this mean? If you click under this heading on the UC Housing website, you see these three buildings: Garden Village Apartments; New Sequoia Apartments; Panoramic Residences. The first two were originally permitted by the city of Berkeley as tax-paying private rental development, the kind marketed as “luxury apartments. Presumably the third, developed in San Francisco by Patrick Kennedy, who made his original fortune in Berkeley, is in the same category. Now, however, they seem to have been subsumed into UCB’s housing schemes. Are they consequently off the tax rolls?” http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2017-07-07/article/45868?headline=UC-expansion-engulfs-Berkeley–Becky-O-Malley
San Mateo County Study on Displacement If you know me, you know I love data. Data from this new study of evictions and displacement in San Mateo County could help Berkeley leaders make the case for more funding for enforcement of eviction protections and rental assistance as a means of homelessness prevention.
“The surveys found that of the people who reported being displaced in the last two years, one in three had experienced homelessness or marginal housing (defined as living in a motel or hotel, renting a garage, or “couch-surfing”); only one in five was able to find a new place to live within a mile of their former residence; and one in three left the county. Several reported that their families had to split up to find housing.”
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/
Repealing Costa Hawkins would solve a lot of problems for Berkeley.
This state law gives landlords the right to jack the rent upon vacancy, bans local laws to regulate rents on any post-1996 construction, and exempts single-family homes and condos from rent control too. To get the state to repeal Costa Hawkins is the first step to making rent control cover all rentals and work for all renters.
California Assembly Members Bloom (Santa Monica), Chiu (San Francisco), and Bonta (Oakland) introduced AB 1506 in February – the bill as currently written would repeal the 1996 Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act.
The Berkeley Rent Board voted to support this bill in March; City Council votes tonight.
To repeal Costa-Hawkins would also mean Berkeley can have the kind of rent control Berkeley voters wanted: the rent would not go up astronomically when a new tenant moves in. This means landlords have less motive for bogus evictions, tenants can afford to move as their lifestyle changes, and speculators are discouraged from using housing as a short-term investment.
Berkeley Tenants Union leaders considered postponing any support for the bill because too many changes could happen before the state legislature actually votes – two years from now! But upon advice from Tenants Together (we are a member organization of this statewide group) and because we saw a “Red Alert” to members of the mega-landlord group BPOA, we are asking that you TAKE ACTION!
Right now, AB1506 is at the Committee on Housing and Community Development.
No hearing date has been set.
1) Ask the sponsor Bloom to pledge not to amend AB 1506 by calling (916) 319-2050. Say you ask that Costa Hawkins be repealed, not amended.
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/
re: Item 1, Second Reading of Short Term Rentals Law
Berkeley Tenants Union letter to City Council
February 14, 2017
Berkeley Tenants Union members have spent countless hours waiting to address the City Council in the past several years to deliver our message: in order to protect our rental housing stock, Council should only ease the ban on Short Term Rentals (STRs) a little bit at a time. We have been asking City Council for years to please JUST allow renters and owners to rent THEIR OWN HOMES for the short term, and move on to enforcing the existing ban on other STRs as soon as possible.
We remind you that the ban on renting for less than 14 days was created to make sure there was not an easy way around rent control protections.
We remind you that all permanent housing – even housing that is not rent controlled – contributes to the diversity and affordability of Berkeley.
Some people say they want a compromise; allowing short term rentals for unlimited days when the owner is present WAS a compromise — those rooms could ALSO be used for students and other permanent residents.
We join the Rent Board in asking Council to please change the language in Section 23C.22.020D – BTU has always asked that Council not allow rentals for less than 14 days in any whole unit that could be used for people who live and work in Berkeley. Berkeley Tenants need you to preserve all existing housing for residents, and to create new housing. We do not want new accessory dwelling units (ADUs) to be used as vacation rentals – we worked hard to get that into the initial Council referral for the ADU law many years ago – but it did not get put into that final draft. Berkeley Tenants have always asked that Council not allow STRs in any existing in-laws, or even converted garages – if they have a kitchen. It doesn’t matter if someone bought it last week, wants to use it for their nanny, father or second cousin. Berkeley people need that housing!
We are very concerned that Section 23C.22.020D will encourage new owners to evict long term tenants.
BTU members have also been consistent in our other message — simple laws make for better enforcement. Allowing some ADUs to be short term rentals but not others will be confusing for owners as well as adding an additional layer, and thus additional costs, for enforcement.
We did not send people to the Council meeting on January 24th because we thought that the leaders we worked so hard to get elected this fall had heard our pleas. We are not asking members to come out on Tuesday for the same reason – we expect you to preserve housing and create new housing, not establish new hotel rooms.
Short Term Rentals to new City Council January 24th
There are two proposals before the Council tomorrow. One would allow folks who have been breaking the law by renting their “in-law” unit to visitors to continue to do so while continuing to ban others with in-laws (the ones who have been abiding by the current law) from short term rentals. Yes, you heard me. Item 41a would reward some duplex owners who have been breaking the law by “grandfathering” their short term rentals! This item is a carry-over from the previous City Council, and BTU hopes and expects the new Council to see the inherent risk to renters and reject Item 41a.
Instead, BTU is asking the City Council to support proposals by the Rent Stabilization Board (see below) which would make Item 41b into a short term rentals law much closer to what we have all hoped for: one that would protect our housing stock while allowing owners and tenants to rent their own homes out on AirBnB and other platforms now and again for some extra cash.
When is a Kitchen not a Kitchen?
The whole vote on Tuesday will be made extra-confusing by an adjunct proposal; Item 42 changes the definition of kitchen. This may also be an issue renters and those concerned with housing policies will want to weigh in on: can folks rent their converted garage or other “Accessory Building” as a short term rental? Under Item 41b and 42 the answer will be yes, as long as the building does not have a history of being rented for the long term.
There is just one problem with this compromise regarding Accessory Buildings: the new definition of kitchen says a kitchen is not a kitchen if the refrigerator is small! A kitchen would now be defined as “A habitable space used for preparation of food that contains at least a sink, a refrigerator of no less than 10 cubic feet, and either a cooktop and an oven, or a range.” This leads to the questions: if you can put a full kitchen in your garage, then why would we allow it to be a vacation rental but not a permanent home at a time when we need housing? If you put a kitchen in your garage, will it be safe for short or long-term renters? BTU has always said we are fine with folks renting their garage as a short term rental if it does not have a kitchen, and thus could not be used for long-term housing.
Short Term Rentals Enforcement
Last summer the Council also directed staff to take action to enforce the existing ban on rentals of less than 14 days if an owner had more than three units listed for the short term. BTU worked with Councilmember Worthington’s office to provide information about several such owners. So far we have not heard of any action taken. Also last summer, the staff from Berkeley put out an RFP and decided to hire a private firm called Host Compliance to enforce the new rules. The firm also contracts with Oakland, Napa, Los Angeles, Denver, Toronto and many other cities, according to their website.
The Rent Board’s recommendations to Council also include language to make enforcement of the new law more effective.
Rent Board Gives Advice “The Board is requesting that Council consider proposed revisions to language in the definition of Short-Term Rental (23C.22030 –D) and Host Residence (23C.22030 –D). I addition, we believe there should be a definition for Long-Term Rental and have provided possible language. The Board also recommended that Council adopt enforcement language similar to the City of San Francisco to prevent hosting platforms from ignoring local regulations.” RSB to Council: rent-board-strs-2017 Harr / Simon-Weisberg Proposal: harr-simonweisberg-strs-2017
Soto-Vigil Proposal: soto-vigil-strs-2017
Student Groups Support Harrison in District 4 “We have an opportunity in Berkeley today to lead the way on progressive solutions to our nation’s challenges and ensure that the legacy we leave for those who follow in our paths is an equitable, sustainable, affordable and livable community for years to come. Kate will bring the lessons she has learned from her work as a consultant on the global stage to keep our city welcoming and inclusive and make it an even better place to call home.” http://www.dailycal.org/2017/01/20/students-support-kate-harrison-district-4-city-council-special-election/
Permits Bureaucracy Drives Events Underground “Everything about the permitting system is designed to discourage the type of electronic music events that people want to hold, Keenan said, from dropping off special permit applications at the city’s Eastmont police substation on 73rd Avenue, to the applications themselves that say in block-faced letters: “Dancing is not permitted between 1 a.m. and 9 a.m.” Plus, permits have to be filed at least 30 days in advance. And, it can also be incredibly costly, he said. Each permit has its own associated fee, and while special event permits are only $50, extended-hour cabaret licenses can run as high as $2,900, according to the city’s master fee schedule. There’s also the added cost of hiring security for the event if the city deems it necessary, and acquiring insurance, which is also required.” http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2016/12/09/musicians-artists-costly-permitting-system-forces-events-underground/
Oakland Tries to Shut Down Legit Activist Space David Keenan is a BTU Member. “Omni founding member David Keenan said the experience calls into question public statements from Mayor Libby Schaaf that city officials would not be conducting a “witch hunt” and would be using “compassion” in their handling of fire and code enforcement complaints. Those types of complaints spiked in the two weeks after the deadly Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood earlier this month.” http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2016/12/28/omni-commons-experience-highlights-oaklands-heavy-handed-approach-for-artist-spaces/
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