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!
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.
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/
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
Berkeley Tenants and the students of the ASUC filed an appeal last summer to stop the demolition of 18 rent-controlled units on Durant. Berkeley’s City Council finally heard the appeal on December 1st, but just sent the decision back to the Zoning Board with instructions for the volunteer board to pay close attention to several issues in the appeal as well as a lengthy economic report submitted by the Rent Board.
Both the ASUC and BTU had dozens of speakers present to highlight various aspects of the problem, and emphasize that this would be a far-reaching policy decision for the Council, not just about this one project. The Council seemed particularly swayed by a letter from a former student tenant. But in the end, there wasn’t even that much deliberation, and no decision, just a remand.
On the one hand, BTU is pleased that the Council did not uphold approval of the project, because this would be the first time in history that our city would agree that a developer can’t make a profit by rehabilitating an older building instead of tearing it down. On the other hand, it would be nice to see our elected leaders stand up for affordable student housing. BTU had hoped the Council might chastise the developer for encouraging damage to his own building in order to claim he could not afford to fix it.
It is not yet known when the ZAB (Zoning Board) will hear the appeal. In the meantime, the 4×4 Committee, which is where the Rent Board meets with the City Council, discussed changes to allow more demolitions while protecting tenants and creating affordable housing.
“In approving the demolition permit, the ZAB agreed with the owner’s financial projections that it could not make a fair rate of return on its investment if it were to rehabilitate the building in its existing configuration — a notion contested by Pamela Webster, Lisa Stephens and Matthew Lewis in an appeal on behalf of the Associated Students of the University of California. The trio noted, moreover, that the owner allowed the building to deteriorate by keeping it vacant and inviting the Berkeley Fire Department to do training exercises there in late 2014, which involved cutting holes in the roof.…
Dozens of speakers warned that upholding the demolition permit would set a dangerous precedent. They warned that it would encourage landlords to pay exorbitant prices for rent-controlled buildings and let them go to waste while expecting the city to guarantee them a good return by allowing them to tear down the buildings and build larger ones with market-rate apartments.” http://www.contracostatimescom/breaking-news/ci_29192392/berkeley-council-sends-permit-demolish-rent-controlled-building
Zoning Board Approved Kennedy Bait-and-Switch A while ago, infamous Berkeley developer Patrick Kennedy (Panoramic) got approval for a residential hotel which was to house folks making less than 120% of area median. The other day, Zoning allowed him to change the project to tiny studio apartments (300 square feet) with no parking. Kennedy will make two of the 22 units at 2711 Shattuck affordable to 120% AMI, and two affordable to folks making 50% of Area Median Income. The other 18 will be market rate. Commissioner Denise Pinkerton was particularly vocal, condemning other ZAB members for calling for more affordable units. http://www.berkeleyside.com/2015/12/14/berkeley-zoning-board-approves-new-units-on-telegraph-shattuck/
Tenant Sues over Eviction for Air BnB “…case highlights an ongoing issue of Airbnb and other sites that allow people to rent out spare rooms or entire apartments to temporary visitors. Critics charge that the new sharing-economy services are so lucrative – and so laxly regulated – that they are forcing out residents and driving up rents by reducing the supply of available housing.” Airbnb profits prompted S.F (PDF)
Rich People Say the Darndest Things “The problem is that the world and this country should not talk about envy of the 1 percent. It should talk about emulating the 1 percent,” he said. “The 1 percent work harder. The 1 percent are much bigger factors in all forms of our society.” –Billionaire Sam Zell, who owns Equity Residential, now Berkeley’s Largest Landlord. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/05/sam-zell-1-percent_n_4733196.html
Class Action Lawsuit Against Central Valley’s Biggest Slumlord “When repairs are made, the complaint alleges, they are merely cosmetic and fail to address the health and safety issues, and JD Homes often retaliates against tenants who complain to authorities.” http://tenantstogether.org/article.php?id=2944
More on Tenant Displacement in San Francisco “There’s 50,600 proposed units of housing coming to San Francisco. Approximately 27,000 of these housing units have already been approved by officials, with 6,100 currently under construction. Most of the housing being built is “market rate,” meaning that it’s priced for those who can afford to spend roughly $36,000 a year on rent…The tech boom has conspired with rising housing prices to create an incredibly profitable incentive for landlords to push out low-income tenants and replace them with wealthy buyers, in spite of all the new units coming to market.” http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/02/13/san-franciscos-displacement-crisis/
DATE: November 5, 2013 TO: Planning Commissioners RE: Demolition Ordinance
SUMMARY: Please preserve affordable housing by again recommending the June 4 compromise on the Demolition Ordinance. Please find attached our petition — with 270 signatures.
Respected Planning Commissioners:
The Berkeley Tenants Union is extremely concerned about proposed changes to the demolition ordinance. As you may recall, you already approved changes to this zoning code in the spring. We think it might be a bit confusing that this law is before you once again, so we have tried to provide a comprehensive summary with links to all relevant documents in this correspondence.
In December of 2011, the Berkeley City Council directed staff to draft amended language to Berkeley Municipal Code Chapter 23C.08, the “Demolition and Elimination of Dwelling Units Ordinance.” (Document:Council Direction 12-6-11) In June of 2013, staff presented a draft that met all the requests Council made in 2011, and was approved by the Rent Board and the Planning Commission. The same draft has also been presented one month before, at the 4×4 Committee, and neither Mayor Bates nor Councilman Capitelli voiced any concerns with the draft. On June 4, it looked like Council was going to pass this compromise draft (Document: June 4 draft), until time ran out on the meeting.
Then something changed. The Council began to question the June 4 compromise, and considered a new draft, perhaps hastily prepared, presented at the July 2 Council meeting. (Document:July 2 Draft). The new draft appeared to be based on requests made by developer Equity Residential (Document:ER Letter to Council), who are now Berkeley’s largest landlord. Since Council got letters of objection from many civic groups, including the Sierra Club, Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, Berkeley Neighborhoods Council, and Berkeley Tenants Union, they sent the Ordinance back to the Planning Commission and the Housing Advisory Commission.
What do these drafts say?
Currently BMC 23C says “controlled rental units” cannot be eliminated unless the owner “cannot make a fair return on investment by maintaining the dwelling unit as a part of the rental housing market” and that those apartments must also be “seriously deteriorated beyond the conditions which might reasonably be expected due to normal use.” It also says that demolished rent controlled units must be replaced with permanently affordable housing. (Document: DemoCURRENT)
Problems with the current law arose because the City Attorney decided that empty units which would otherwise be under rent control are not “controlled rental units” and therefore not subject to the rules above. This means any empty unit can be torn down with no mitigation for the loss of affordable older units which would be under rent control if they were rented. Such a policy encourages owners to leave buildings to rot, promotes evictions and harassment, and may violate not only the Demolition law, but also the voter-approved Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance. (Document:NPO)
To end the controversy about the interpretation of the law, the Rent Board and the City Council called for revisions, but Council also asked that new rules require “units are replaced with an equal or greater number of new units inclusive of the current number of existing affordable units.” (Document: Council Direction 12-6-11) Likewise, the June 4 draft required developers who tear down multiunit buildings built before 1980 (those covered by rent control) replace them with “designated below-market rate units equal in number and comparable in size to the demolished units.”
However, the July and August drafts do not call for one-for-one replacement of affordable rent controlled units with housing for low-income renters. The July 2 and August 30 drafts both require developers pay a fee into the Housing Trust Fund. However, the fee in the July 2 draft is about 10% of what it costs to build an affordable unit, and the fee in the August 30 draft is unspecified and thus could be changed by City Council at any time. (Document:Worse Aug 30 draft)
There are numerous other problems with the July and August drafts. For example, one scheme outlined by developer Equity Residential was included in the July draft. This calls for replacement units in the new building which would be “designated rent increase restricted” – however, the Rent Board (Document:Berkeley Rent Board letter) and East Bay Community Law Center (Document:EBCLC Letter) have both pointed out that this violates the state law called Costa-Hawkins, because that law banned any new rent control in California, even if you call it by another name.
In addition, later drafts contradict the voter-approved Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance and may be challenged in court if they are made law. (Document:NPO)
Several community groups have sent communications on this issue that raise various additional concerns, such as the wisdom of tearing down perfectly fine small buildings at all, and the environmental impact of encouraging growth through demolition. You can find copies of public communications from The Sierra Club, Berkeley NAACP, Berkeley Neighborhoods Council, and Berkeley Architectural Heritage Assn. on our website along with all documents we have linked to in the text above.
The real question here is what kind of community benefits does Berkeley need in exchange for allowing speculators to tear down a useable rent controlled building in order to build a bigger one with market rate apartments? This is not just about what legal mitigations a nexus study might allow. We can actually choose, as Berkeley did in the 1970s, to ban demolition altogether. BTU hopes you might realize that rent control has been Berkeley’s most successful affordable housing program, and that rent controlled units should be preserved, even if they are not rented at this time.
You can choose not to allow demolition – and you should choose this if there is going to be a long wait for a Nexus study.
Please see the attached petition, with 270 signatures. Please note that, following pages with electronic signatures and comments, there are scans of the paper petitions.
Please again recommend the June 4 compromise draft.
Berkeley Tenants Union Steering Committee, on behalf of the tenants of Berkeley
Thursday, October 10 at 5 PM Final Public Hearing on Seismic Retrofits
City of Berkeley Hearing sponsored by ASUC
UC Berkeley Alumni Hall: 2537 Haste Street
Currently, the plan is to allow landlords to pass costs onto tenants if the landlord can claim paying for the retrofit is a hardship. Since Rent Board rules already allow owners to pass costs on to tenants if they are not making a fair return on their investment, these new hardship rules imply that owners who “need” to raise rents for seismic safety are already making a fair return, so where is the hardship??!
REVISED DATE!Tuesday, November 19 at 7 PM Seismic Retrofits to City Council Council Chambers: 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
Oakland fights to close rent control loophole: Berkeley tenants enjoy protections against bad business decisions by owners. Here, landlords can only passthrough “capital” costs if they were not foreseeable when they set the initial rent or they can’t make a fair return on their investment. In Oakland, their weaker rent control law is further undermined by broad rules which allow landlords who paid too much for a building to then raise the rents to pay their mortgage. Oakland is fighting to close this loophole even as Berkeley tenants could see passthrough rules relaxed so that landlords can charge for seismic retrofits:
“Of the ten major jurisdictions in California that have rent control laws, only four allow landlords to pass on the costs of debt service. Of those four, Oakland is the only municipality that allows landlords to force tenants to pay up to 95 percent of their debt.”
In San Francisco, the rents are too damn high: The SF Department of Public Health made an interactive map which shows how many full-time minimum wage jobs it takes to pay rent on the average market rate apartment in each SF neighborhood. For example, in the Mission District, it would take 5.5 minimum wage jobs to pay rent on a new 2-bedroom apartment, because market rent is $2,920. The actual median income of the neighborhood is about half of what it takes to pay that rent. http://www.sfphes.org/news/211-rent-affordability-in-san-francisco
Thoughtful tech industry comments on gentrification, development, and the “Google Bus” phenomena:
“Whichever side of this issue you’re on, it’s clear that we’re looking at a reversal of the historical norm: The workers that used to live in residential suburbs while commuting to work in the city are now living in the city, while the largest technology companies are based in the suburbs and increasingly draw their labor supply from dense urban neighborhoods…That they’re young and educated and lots of them are millionaires is kind of beside the point. It’s about more than gentrification as we’ve experienced it thus far: It’s about an entirely reconfigured relationship between density and sprawl…”
Nob Hill building with 33 units would be largest Tenancy in Common: Over in San Francisco, investors would like to use the state Ellis Act to evict rent controlled tenants and turn buildings in condominiums. Only they can’t, because like Berkeley, San Francisco has tight restrictions on how many precious affordable rent controlled units can be turned into condos each year. So speculators turn them into Tenancies-in-Common, which are like condos, only not. Pretty soon investors in Berkeley will be exploiting similar loopholes, so let’s get ready! http://www.sfgate.com/realestate/article/Park-Lane-tenants-protest-conversion-plans-4853226.php
Meanwhile back in Berkeley, BNC issues strong statement on Demolition Ordinance: The Berkeley Neighborhoods Council newsletter discusses how revisions to the Demo Ordinance are not only bad for tenants, but also for neighborhood stability:
“This provision puts multiple unit buildings that are well-integrated parts of neighborhoods throughout the city at risk of being demolished for no other reason than a developer sees an opportunity to replace it with a new and bigger building.”
Speculators Driving Up Rents in East and West Oakland: Big national companies are outbidding regular folk and buying up foreclosures all over Oakland’s flatlands, breaking up long-standing African American communities. Some firms just slap a new coat of paint on the “distressed property” and resell them right away, at prices working people can’t afford. Others are offering these homes at San Francisco-type rents, but plan to sell them in five to seven years. Several nonprofits – including Oakland Community Land Trust and Restoring Ownership Opportunities Together –are working to keep owners in their homes, or buy foreclosures and keep them affordable to working people. If you think this is going on in Berkeley, let us know! http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/whos-jacking-up-housing-prices-in-west-oakland/Content?oid=3726518