Affordable Housing Forum January 21
BTU, in conjunction with Berkeley Citizens Action, Progressive Student Association, and CalSERVE, are hosting an event on affordable housing, with guest speakers including Mayor Jesse Arreguin, Councilmember Kate Harrison, and Rent Board Commissioner Leah Simon-Weisberg. Topics include rent control expansions, student housing, and the newly proposed state law, SB827, which would take away more local control over large for-profit housing developments. At the library Sunday the 21st, from 2pm-4pm. https://www.facebook.com/events/213062839239569/
Counselor Training February 7 and 8th
Our friends at Tenants Together are offering a Tenants Rights Counselor Training. They cover state law, and refer renters with Berkeley-specific problems to us or the Rent Board. Taking their training or volunteering on their hotline is a great first step toward counseling for BTU. Right now, BTU has only one person answering questions from renters. Help us help Berkeley tenants!
Contact Sara (415) 495-8100
BTU on Campus Thursday February 8th
Cal Dems and the Progressive Student Association have invited BTU to discuss housing issues at 8pm. The location on campus is TBD, so check the Facebook event. This meeting is open to both students and non-students. https://www.facebook.com/events/213062839239569/
Tenants Endorsement MeetingFebruary 11 Meet all nine candidates for the open Assembly race for District 15. Pamela Price, challenger for Alameda County District Attorney, will also be present. While this event is open to all, you must be a member of BTU who has attended at least one other meeting in the past year and have paid dues in order to vote. Sunday February 11, 2 to 6 pm at South Berkeley Senior Center.
2018 Tenant Convention
Planning has begun for largest tenant gathering in Berkeley, the biannual convention to choose a united team to run for Berkeley Rent Board. Contact BTU if you are interested in being a candidate, and follow developments about this year’s meeting on the tcon website: http://berkeleytenantsconvention.net/
Your Name Here I moved away from Berkeley but so far no one at BTU has stepped up to manage the website, and no one is really sending me any content. Does someone in Berkeley want to take on this task for BTU?
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 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/
Businesses do not like to be regulated. In fact, Airbnb sued San Francisco, Santa Monica, and New York City quite some time ago about the same issue they have now threatened to sue Berkeley about – yet in all the discussions City Council had about short term rentals (STRs), they have never discussed those lawsuits?
Airbnb and HomeAway say they are protected when they advertise illegal rentals just like YouTube and Yelp are protected when they host user content. Not exactly the same thing? Craigslist was recently found not to be responsible for housing ads that ban minorities, with the court saying it would be like FedEx looking in every package. However, Airbnb makes money directly off the services it markets and also already claims to vet the listings in other ways. Are short term rental hosting platforms like social media, or are they like e-commerce sites?
Airbnb has invoked Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. As San Francisco Deputy City Attorney Robb Kapla said, Section 230 doesn’t apply. “San Francisco is regulating commercial transactions, not speech,” he said.
Also, some Council members have said to me that if Berkeley doesn’t give in to the mega corporation’s threats, then Berkeley’s new STR Law could be put on hold – that would be great! Right now, short term rentals are just illegal! Why not just enforce that so we can have those 200-400 homes for rent again?
That is the real problem with Short Term Rentals in Berkeley – that the city staff and city leaders have refused to enforce ANY short term rental provisions while trying to get a law legalizing some of the rentals in place. Berkeley is sending the wrong message – essentially telling owners it’s OK to break the law. By changing our new law in response to a threat instead of joining Santa Monica and San Francisco in fighting for our housing, Berkeley is sending another wrong message.
San Francisco’s law was not put on hold, just enforcement of the provision fining platforms who list illegal hosts. So why doesn’t Berkeley join on the side of SF and Santa Monica the way that HomeAway and some big property managers have joined on the side of Airbnb? If Berkeley won’t fight the lawsuit, why not file an amicus brief?
Instead the City Council voted unanimously to edit the new law – a law that has had countless public hearings and been debated for almost three years – just the way Airbnb asked them to!
Additionally, the Council report our new renter-Mayor Jesse Arreguin submitted said that changing this key enforcement provision will cost Berkeley nothing. But Berkeley contracts with an outside vendor to (not do) its enforcement. If every ad has to show the host has registered, how much easier will it be to see who is legal and who is not? How much money will that save Berkeley?
Again, it would also be really easy to see who is breaking the law if we just went back to not allowing any short term rentals, and enforced that! Isn’t that what our leaders should be saying to Airbnb? Isn’t this just a big game of chicken?
Then the item from Jesse Arreguin goes even further: it says Berkeley will lose money if Council doesn’t do what Airbnb wants, not because we will be sued, but because we won’t get revenue from short term rental listings. Like we just sold Berkeley’s housing rights? Actually we could generate a lot of money by fining all the people who are already breaking the law.
Shouldn’t the City Council have at least held a closed session to discuss pending litigation before they let Airbnb off the hook?
Santa Monica responded to their lawsuit – which actually claims the law violates the US Constitution – by making their rules even stricter and demanding any business renting for the short term appear on a public city registry just like other small businesses do. This is something BTU asked for in Berkeley, so we could make complaints and track enforcement by being able to see who is legally registered. But even Berkeley’s new City Council would not do this for tenants. The registry is not public.
In San Francisco, New York, and many other places they have moved toward more and more restrictive laws because owners just continue to ignore them. In San Francisco, Airbnb made a big show of taking 900 of the thousands of illegal listings off of their site. In New York, you can now call 311 if you think your neighbor is running an illegal hotel.
Santa Monica recently won a case where a large landlord created fake profiles to get around the local laws. BTU has found several owners with fake profiles, including some who rent all the rooms in one house under two different “host profiles” to disguise that they are renting a whole unit, since renting rooms is allowed under Berkeley’s new law.
Another trend we see in Berkeley is that large landlords who had complaints filed against them just move their listings away from Airbnb and HomeAway and try to hide them on Sabbatical Homes, Flipkey, or even Craigslist.
Berkeley Council Has Second Reading April 25th – it’s not too late!
Meet the New Boss, Same As the Old Boss? “After over two years of discussion and a lengthy community process, the City Council voted on an ordinance that would regulate Short Term Rentals (STRs) in a balanced way that ensures people can rent out a spare unit, while preventing the exploitation of converting units into mini-hotels. The ordinance provides a method of enforcement that would make it easy to identify violators, and prevent Accessory Dwelling Units from being used as STRs (a position 8 out of 9 members of the Council agreed on). However, during the second reading of the ordinance, last minute changes were proposed that jeopardized the entire process. Despite a previous consensus, several Councilmembers are backtracking as a result of intensive lobbying from Airbnb, which among other things would make it very difficult to enforce.” Jesse Arreguin, July 2016 Newsletter
Airbnb Letter to Berkeley and City Council Response “After consultation with AirBnB representatives and City Attorney, it is prudent to strike this section to avoid unnecessary litigation so the ordinance can move forward and so AirBnB can work cooperatively with the city in implementation.” 2017-04-04 Item 11 Amending BMC Section 23C 22 050, Short-Term Rental-1
San Francisco Lawsuit: Initial Ruling Against AirBnB “City Attorney Dennis Herrera applauded the ruling. “I am grateful for Judge Donato’s thoughtful ruling recognizing that just because Airbnb and Homeaway conduct their business online, they are not exempt from any regulation of their commercial transactions,” he said in a statement. “Online businesses don’t get a free pass from the types of regulations that apply to other businesses in San Francisco.” http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/Airbnb-rebuked-in-SF-lawsuit-10602042.php
Why San Francisco is Winning “James Donato, a US District Court Judge for California’s Northern District, didn’t see it that way. In November 2016, he dealt a major setback to Airbnb when he rejected the company’s request to block the ordinance. Donato didn’t buy Airbnb’s Section 230 argument. As he put it, San Francisco’s ordinance doesn’t treat Airbnb as the publisher of illegal rental listings, nor does it force Airbnb to police its website and remove such listings. It simply holds Airbnb accountable for its own conduct: providing “booking services” in connection with unregistered units.” https://backchannel.com/the-most-important-law-in-tech-has-a-problem-64f5464128b6
Santa Monica Sued In September “The goal of Santa Monica’s legislation is to eliminate so-called “rentalpreneurs”, people who use services like Airbnb to lease out several units that, critics argue, would otherwise be used as housing stock in L.A.’s historically tight rental market. For example, a group of evicted tenants sued their former landlord last December, after their old homes showed up in Airbnb’s listing pages.” http://laist.com/2016/09/03/airbnb_sues_santa_monica_over_airbn.php
Tech Industry Wants Its Shield “…Detractors say the law has been applied too broadly, and judges have pushed back in a string of recent cases. Section 230 was intended to protect free speech online by removing liability for a newspaper, say, for libelous comments posted on their websites by readers.
But Deputy City Attorney Robb Kapla said Section 230 doesn’t apply.” San Francisco is regulating commercial transactions, not speech,” he said.” http://www.reuters.com/article/us-tech-court-idUSKCN10T0ET
Craigslist Not Responsible for Housing Discrimination “Traditional statutes are now being applied to e-commerce models. For instance, the anti-discrimination clauses of the United States (“US”) Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) have been examined in the case of online classifieds companies like Craigslist. And, a clause under the Communication Decency Act (applicable to explicit content) has been applied to this case.” http://www.ibls.com/internet_law_news_portal_view.aspx?s=latestnews&id=2014
Related Issue – Renters Subletting
In Berkeley, the new STR law prohibits renters from doing a short term rental without permission from the owner. BTU didn’t oppose this even though it seems unfair on the surface. That is because we hear about renters getting evicted for using platforms like Airbnb. Not only do most written leases prohibit subletting and assignment (like taking money to let someone else use your apartment) – the Rent Ordinance also does not allow a master tenant (person on the lease) to charge more than the rent controlled rent. That means if the rent is $2000 a month, the rent is about $66 a day, and charging more than that is against the law.
Like progressives all over America, Berkeley voters are sad, angry and frightened about the national election results. However, we have a lot to celebrate at home, and can look forward to once again leading these United States in progressive, humane, and innovative solutions, particularly to the problem of ensuring safe and affordable homes for all.
The big landlords who control about 50% of all rental housing in Berkeley spent about a million dollars to defeat the affordable housing tax Measure U1, and promote their deceptive Measure DD. That is well over $15 per voter! Yet Berkeley voters reaffirmed affordable housing as a core Berkeley value with 75% voting for U1 and 71% voting against DD. This tax on large landlords is expected to generate $4 million annually in new revenue for affordable housing and homelessness prevention programs!!
East Palo Alto also passed a similar landlord tax, and it is hoped this will be a model to take back profits being drained out of our communities and use them to build homes.
Additionally, Berkeley supported stronger protections for families being evicted for owners to move in. Measure AA, which passed with an astounding 73% of the vote, was put on the ballot at the request of the Rent Board.
ProRenter candidates also got strong support from Berkeley. Renter Cheryl Davila beat incumbent Darryl Moore in District 2 despite generous spending by the Association of Realtors for Moore. BTU Members Ben Bartlett and Sophie Hahn were also elected to the City Council, and BTU Member Jesse Arreguin was elected as Mayor!
Perhaps the best news of all for tenants is that landlord incumbent Judy Hunt was voted off the Rent Board, with the “CALI Slate” chosen at the 2016 Tenant Convention easily defeating Hunt’s tiny team.
Elsewhere in the Bay Area, California gained its first new rent control in decades, and even in places like Alameda, where the tenant measure was defeated, renters did gain new protections on November 8.
Soon the new City Council will move forward on core BTU issues like Short Term Rentals and mitigations for Demolition of Rent Controlled Units. BTU will work to guide our new leaders, who we hope will be more responsive to what everyday folks need in order to keep Berkeley a place we can all call home.
Landslide for Landlord Tax “Berkeley voters approved a landlord tax that will raise millions for affordable housing. The measure, U1, passed with about 74 percent of the vote. A competing measure, which landlord groups placed on the ballot in an effort to undermine U1, was crushed, with 71 percent voters rejecting it…
Proponents of U1 filed a state Fair Political Practices Commission complaint against the Berkeley Property Owners Association, alleging they broke the law by using anonymous LLCs to finance their opposition campaign and make it appear that a large group of landlords were opposing the measure, when in fact it was just a handful. The FPPC hasn’t ruled on the complaint yet.” http://www.eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/archives/2016/11/09/berkeley-landlord-tax-easily-passes
Berkeley Gets Activist Renter as Mayor “Arreguin said, “I am a renter. I’m like many people in Berkeley, I’m trapped in this housing crisis.” http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2016/11/11/berkeleys-first-latino-mayor-elect-is-also-its-youngest-ever/
Progressives Take Three of Four Council Seats “Sophie Hahn handily won the District 5 council seat being vacated by Capitelli, defeating another candidate with real estate industry backing, Stephen Murphy, 61.9 percent to 38.1 percent. Hahn is a member of the Zoning Adjustments Board. Capitelli endorsed Murphy, his appointee to the Planning Commission and the panel’s current chairman.
Berkeley for several years has been the scene of a major debate over skyrocketing rents and the shortage of affordable housing, with a six-person council majority backing many controversial development-related issues.” http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2016/11/09/berkeley-voters-elect-arreguin-mayor/
Details on Rent Control Votes “Measure L in Richmond, which would enact limits on rent increases and landlord evictions, was victorious with 64 percent of the votes cast. In Oakland, with all 279 precincts reporting, 74 percent of voters supported Measure JJ, which requires landlords to get permission from the rent board before increasing rents above the consumer price index and expands eviction protections. In Mountain View, Measure V, which was placed on the ballot by voters, had a slim victory with 53 percent, while W, the council-backed measure fell short with 49 percent.
In Alameda, ground zero for the battle for rent control, Measure M1, the strict tenant rent control measure sponsored by tenants groups, only garnered 34 percent of the vote, well shy of the necessary simple majority. Instead, 56 percent of voters approved L1, a competing, council-backed initiative that did not cap rent increases. Instead landlords must go to mediation in order to increase rents above 5 percent. And in San Mateo County, Measure R in Burlingame mustered just 31 percent of voters, while Measure Q in San Mateo got 38 percent.” http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2016/11/03/bay-area-rent-control-measures/
Record Spending and Fair Political Practices Complaint “The political action committee for the Berkeley Property Owners Association has steered more than $892,540 in donations to defeat Measure U1 and promote Measure DD, two competing measures that would raise the business tax on rental units… Most of the donors to the “Committee for Real Affordable Housing – Yes on Measure DD, No on Measure U1, Sponsored by the Berkeley Property Owners’ Association,” have not made contributions in their own names. They have used the LLC they created to run various apartment complexes. UC Berkeley’s Progressive Student Alliance filed a complaint about this practice with the Fair Political Practices Commission, which is investigating the situation.” http://www.berkeleyside.com/2016/11/07/fight-involving-measure-dd-and-measure-u1-is-costliest-in-election/
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:
A draft of the ballot measure BTU supports will be reviewed by City Council on May 31.
The Berkeley landlords submitted their ballot measure petition to the City Clerk today. Now the Clerk will check a sample number of the signers – it could be some time before we hear if the petition was validated. They submitted 3,326 signatures; because it is a tax measure it requires 1,932 valid signatures.
The Berkeley Rental Housing Coalition was formed last summer by leaders of the Berkeley Property Owners Association as a 501(c)6 for lobbying, lawsuits, and other political activities. According to their website, they elect their Board of Directors by allowing each landlord one vote per unit, so the largest property owners control the group.
Daily Cal on the Tenant Convention “In 2012, a similar pro-landlord slate — Tenants United for Fairness — ran one candidate in order to combat allegations of a pro-tenant bias within the rent board. The following year, the slate allegedly did not submit campaign finance statements from prohibited organizations — including Premium Properties — to the city. Tenants United for Fairness agreed to pay a $4,000 fine to the city and has not run a candidate since Judy Hunt was elected in 2012.” http://www.dailycal.org/2016/04/24/pro-tenant-convention-elects-slate-candidates-november-election-sunday/
While the Tenant Convention had 267 voters, BTU’s endorsements meeting for Council and Mayor had a lower, but still impressive, turnout of 109 voters. Although Kriss Worthington announced he was also running for mayor, organizers of the event from BTU and our progressive allies would not change the rules at the start of the meeting, so only one candidate can use our endorsement in each race, although voters in the November election can rank their choices.
BTU / BPA / BCA Endorsements Meeting in Daily Cal “Registered members of any of the three groups who had paid their dues were eligible to cast a ballot. Approximately 100 ballots were cast for each position. Voters were allowed to either cast a ballot for any of the candidates who spoke at the meeting or write in candidates….Worthington, who was seeking mayoral endorsement but has not yet registered for candidacy, asked for the groups to endorse two candidates for each position. Worthington said he is running for mayor in a formal political partnership with Arreguin.” http://www.dailycal.org/2016/05/02/progressive-voters-meet-endorse-mayoral-city-council-candidates/
Code Enforcement Item Passes at City Council Jesse Arreguin’s item asking for changes to Berkeley’s Rental Housing Safety Program passed on the consent calendar after being postponed for several meetings. Of course, the item doesn’t yet set policy, it just asks for a report back from the City Manager regarding costs for proactive rental housing inspections and other proposed improvements.
Berkeley City Council also passed Arreguin’s item to have Berkeley staff look into the feasibility of creating a “small sites program” to help nonprofits – such as student co-ops – purchase small multi-family buildings.
District 7 Council Member Kriss Worthington’s item requesting our state representatives to work to increase the California housing tax credit for low income residents also passed on consent, but several other housing items Worthington had introduced for an October meeting were held over for a fourth time and will be heard January 12th.
Students Getting Involved! BTU has added many student members this year, including two recent graduates and one current student who now serve on the steering committee of your Berkeley Tenants Union. The Associated Students of the University of California joined with BTU in appealing the demolition on Durant, and the ASUC has also formed a Student Housing Committee to create a Housing Action Plan to address how the housing emergency is impacting students. “The committee is considering several potential solutions to address the campus’s housing shortage, such as constructing additional buildings in the courtyards of Unit 1 and Unit 2 and earmarking parts of the university budget to building more affordable housing…The committee also discussed plans for a Housing and Tenants’ Rights Week, tentatively scheduled from Feb. 8-13, and a possible large public event to bring awareness to student-housing issues.” http://www.dailycal.org/2015/12/11/asuc-student-housing-committee-discusses-housing-tenant-rights/
In Other News
Fire Highlights Problems With Relocation Law
“At issue was Berkeley’s Relocation Ordinance, written in 2011 and designed to support tenants who are temporarily forced out of their rental units. It applies most often to planned renovations that displace tenants — as well as to relocation due to fire or code enforcement, except in the case of an earthquake or other natural disaster. Under the ordinance, tenants are entitled to “relocation payments from the property owner to mitigate the costs associated with a temporary move,” until they can move back into the unit.” http://www.berkeleyside.com/2015/12/10/tenants-scramble-to-relocate-after-dwight-way-fire/
Lafayette Wants Rent Control
This summer, the Bay Area suburb of Lafayette backed down on a city moratorium on rent increases when controversial landlord Sack Properties agreed to limit increases to 10%. However, tenants say the owner added on new charges and fees instead of raising the rents. Now renters are back before the City Council asking for protections. “He outlined the many charges and fees: water charges, marked-up garbage costs, pet rent, parking rent, mandatory renters insurance, questionable language in new leases that give the landlord the right to evict tenants for anything deemed to be an excessive mess, and a $3,000 charge for an early break of the lease.
A parade of concerned tenants spoke to the council about all of these issues, emphasizing the serious inconsistencies in utility charges, and lack of transparency.” http://www.lamorindaweekly.com/archive/issue0920/Tenants-Criticize-Landlord-Practices-Again.html
Mayor Bates would like to us to give up, and stay out of important City business. Berkeley City Council has two meetings on Tuesday December 1st, and both agendas are packed with issues concerning housing, renters, and poverty. The meetings will be held at Longfellow instead of old City Hall: 1500 Derby, at Sacramento Street.
The already burdensome agendas now also include items held-over and postponed from the last couple of meetings, including several issues which tenants have already waited hours to see discussed:
► Demolition Appeal (7 pm) Item 24 SUMMARY: Allowing the demolition presents dangerous precedents: This would be the first time Berkeley has allowed an owner to claim he can’t make a fair return on a rehabilitated building. The developer invited the Berkeley Fire Department to tear out walls and cut holes in the roof!! To grant this project as requested is to condone willful destruction of housing. ACTION: Come to the hearing on December 1st and hold signs showing support.
More Info: https://www.berkeleytenants.org/?p=1477 Berkeley Citizens Action: BCA-letter-111715
► Rental Housing Safety (7 pm) Item 28 SUMMARY: Landlords are letting their housing fall apart. Besides proactive inspections and confidential complaints, this would also make mold and mildew a public nuisance, and require landlords to actually turn in the self-inspection they are supposed to do each year. ACTION: Take a photo of unsafe conditions and send to Council by November 30.
More Info: https://www.berkeleytenants.org/?p=1456 Wellstone Democratic Club: Wellstone-letter-111715
Update from the Windfall Profits Tax Special Workshop November 17:
The City Council gave the new landlord PAC, the Berkeley Rental Housing Association, a seat at the table for their very own PowerPoint on how it must be somebody else’s job to fund affordable housing. However, the Council seemed receptive at the workshop since the measure has what passes for bipartisan support, Berkeley-style: both Arreguin and Capitelli want to fund affordable housing through a reasonable increase in the business license fee. Only Mayor Bates asked aggressive questions which betrayed his ignorance of the process of crafting Council ballot measures.
Contra Costa Times Covers Landlord Tax “Satellite Affordable Housing Associates Executive Director Susan Friedland said $4 million annually would mean construction of 40-to-50 affordable units every year given that nonprofit housing developers must get about 25 percent of their funding from local sources to leverage other funds….Barton proposed a number of exemptions, including one- and two-unit and nonprofit-owned properties; rent-controlled properties with pre-1999 tenants (before vacancy decontrol allowed landlords to set rents of rent-controlled units as high as the market will bear when units are vacated); low-and-moderate income landlords; and units with federally subsidized tenants.” http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_29134727/berkeley-tax-proposed-fund-low-income-housing
Leaders of the Berkeley Property Owners Association – including owners of Premium Properties, Shaw Properties, Everest, real estate agent Jon Vicars, legal advocate Michael St. John, and the notorious Lakireddy family – have formed a new political coalition. Is their primary purpose to run candidates for the Rent Board? No. Is it to bring lawsuits like the 2012 libel cases, to scare tenants away from running for election? No. We fully expect them to do those things as well, but the Berkeley Rental Housing Coalition is landlords pooling their money mostly to sue the Rent Board over a $19 increase in the registration fee. It was the first increase of the fee, which funds the Rent Board agency, in six years.
CA Supreme Court Upholds San Jose Requirements for Developers – But Inclusionary Housing Ordinance Will Not Apply To Rentals!
The state Supreme Court upheld the right of a city to impose affordable housing requirements on developers of for-sale housing, but let stand the 2009 Palmer decision, which said cities cannot limit the rent a developer can charge for newly built rental units because of the state Costa-Hawkins law. The decision also made it clear that a nexus study is not required because cities do not have to prove that the demand for affordable housing was created by the development of new buildings.
The ruling will impact over 170 local governments with similar inclusionary housing requirements and allow Berkeley to move forward with inclusionary laws. It’s good news for anyone who might scrape it together to buy some “affordable” housing, but bad news for folks who are pretty sure they will be renters for the rest of their lives. The decision again shows the need for tenants to come together statewide to change the Costa-Hawkins law.
“The Court noted that many land use regulations result in a reduction in the market value that a property may command in the absence of regulations and this does not constitute a taking of the diminished value of the property. In this regard, the Court reasoned that the affordable housing requirement was no different than limitations on density, unit size, number of bedrooms, required set-backs, or building heights.” http://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/california-supreme-court-upholds-88596/
Berkeley Tenants send huge hugs to the families of all the young people lost or hurt at Library Gardens.
Faulty Construction Likely Cause of Balcony Collapse “The horrible structural failure of a 5th floor balcony that killed six and injured seven…has brought to the forefront the issue of safety in the frantic construction of apartment buildings mushrooming the city.” http://dissidentvoice.org/2015/06/berkeley-structural-tragedy/
A History Of Housing Safety Complaints “The apartment complex’s housing code violations included holes in walls, trip hazards from damaged floors, loose metal strips in doorways, inoperable ceiling fans in laundry rooms and missing or inoperable exit signs throughout the building. The majority of violations were found during a random September 2013 city inspection of several low-income and affordable housing units in the complex.” http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-berkeley-code-violations-20150619-story.html
Builder Under Scrutiny BEFORE Balcony Collapse “The building has been the subject of numerous complaints, both through the city and online. The most recent official complaint, submitted in February to the Berkeley Rent Board, listed missing or broken stairwell lights, missing handrails on stairwells, holes in the walls of public spaces, expired fire extinguishers, and peeling floor material that posed a tripping hazard.” http://www.berkeleyside.com/2015/06/17/berkeley-building-under-scrutiny-before-balcony-collapse/
Protest Calls For Investigation, Halt for New Construction A group of concerned citizens has called for a moratorium on new building construction in Berkeley until the tragedy at Library Gardens can be analyzed. The Berkeley Daily Planet posted an editorial with a similar suggestion.