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?
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 the April 2016 Tenant Convention – sponsored by BTU and many other community organizations – a record turnout of Berkeley progressives selected a team of four candidates for Rent Board. Christina Murphy, Alejandro Soto-Vigil, Leah Simon-Weisberg and Igor Tregub are your team – vote CALI!
However, the Pro-Tenant CALI team has opposition! Sitting landlord Commissioner Judy Hunt only managed to recruit one young property manager to run for election as part of her slate.
One of the major differences between the two groups is their positions on the ballot measures that most impact renters: Measure AA and Measures U1/DD. The team chosen at the Tenant Convention all support Measure AA and Measure U1 and consider the landlords’ measure DD a dangerous deception. Hunt was the only vote on the Rent Board not supporting U1. She repeatedly refused to vote for Measure AA as a Commissioner, though it was put on the ballot at the request of the Rent Board to update parts of the Rent Ordinance which got behind the times. (Measure AA is non-controversial, has no official opposition except Hunt and Wollman, and is endorsed by the School Board and Berkeley Federation of Teachers.)
Property Manager Wollman is one of the main critics of Measure U1’s exemption of new construction from the tax to encourage building of more housing, although he strongly supports more development in his Rent Board platform. “We have a lot of so called progressives that harp on the ideals of making this city more inclusive, more affordable, more accessible to students and low income renters and then go an protest at zoning board meetings about proposed developments,” Wollman told Berkeleyside.
Learn More About CALI:
The schedule shows the CALI team is out talking to voters with their supporters every Saturday and Sunday. They also plan to hold phone banks. http://berkeleyrentboard.org/
The Berkeley City Council may finally pass some Short Term Rental (STR) laws on Tuesday, May 31. The problem for tenants is that city staff won’t enforce the existing ban on STRs until Council makes the new laws, yet the draft being contemplated by Berkeley repeats the mistakes that have caused problems for San Francisco, Portland and other cities with tight rental markets that are popular tourist destinations.
In May and June of 2015, several activists and tenants impacted by short term rentals in their building filed code enforcement complaints on behalf of BTU against some of the landlords who are listing multiple empty units on AirBnB and other websites.
So far, Berkeley has refused to act on these and other complaints.
A new report from San Francisco on the impact of AirBnB on the rental housing market calls for SF Supervisors to require “hosting platforms” to only advertise rentals that are legally listed with the city. Yet Berkeley’s draft recommended by planning Staff does even require that an advertisement show an identifying license number.
We ask Berkeley Tenants to join BTU in asking the City Council to enact legislation requiring hosting platforms to only list units and hosts that are registered with our City and to fine hosing platforms like HomeAway, FlipKey and Airbnb if they advertise rentals which are not legal here. This would allow less expensive enforcement of the new laws, which will allow regular folks to rent out their own home. We hope the new law will stop large landlords from turning whole apartment buildings into hotels – as several have done already!
We also want to support the Rent Board, Planning Commission and Housing Commission in suggesting that units where tenants have been evicted through OMI or Ellis Act evictions should not be allowed to be short term rentals in Berkeley. Please take a look at the report from the Rent Board, which is an attachment below.
Finally, we suggest you write to the City Council to request that no whole units, not even in-law or accessory units, be converted to hotel rooms when we need every single housing unit to be offered to folks who live and work in Berkeley! Although the original Council referral asked that the law require any short term rental to be someone’s primary home, the Staff draft of the new law would allow some 2nd units on owner-occupied properties to be offered as tourist rentals. As the analysis of the impact of Airbnb in San Francisco shows, losing units to short term rentals does drive up housing costs.
Item 19 Support AB 2502 Inclusionary Housing
Ask the state to allow local requirements for affordable rental housing. Right now, Berkeley can’t require that developers include lower-income units on site if the housing being built will be rental housing. California needs to make a law to allow Berkeley control over local zoning mitigations.
Item 21 – End Discrimination Based on Tenant’s Income Source
Owners would have to accept Section 8 Housing Vouchers.
Item 27– Placing a Measure on the November 8, 2016 Ballot to Increase the Business License Tax on Owners of Five or More Residential Rental Units
Berkeley Tenants Union will hold our quarterly member potluck on Wednesday July 8th. There will be free tenant counseling from 6:30 to 7:30 PM, updates on demolitions and short term rentals regulations, and a roundtable discussion about enforcement of safety and habitability concerns for tenants.
Demolition Decision Sets Bad Precedents
Learn more about what happened at the Zoning Board at our quarterly member potluck on July 8th.
ZAB Grants Demolition…
“Some speakers at the meeting were concerned that the owner of the building deliberately worsened its condition in order to get approval for its demolition. John Selawsky, a substitute for Sophie Hahn and the only ZAB member to vote no on the use permit, said the building showed signs of deliberate neglect. Cliff Orloff, managing partner of developer OPHCA LLC, agreed to let the Berkeley Fire Department conduct training exercises in the building in 2014.” http://www.dailycal.org/2015/06/26/zoning-adjustments-board-approves-student-housing-complex-on-durant-avenue/
…Despite Strong Public Protest
“Earlier this week, in an email regarding the project, a UC Berkeley student who said she used to live at 2631 Durant said tenants had been required by the owner to move out by a certain date, and that conditions had been poor.“When I was signing my lease I was told that I was signing under the condition that I would move out on May 31, 2014. We were told that the building was going to be torn down and developed,” wrote Nicole Yeghiazarian.
“The building was kept in awful shape because they did not want us to stay. When I moved into my apartment, there was mold. The kitchen was filthy with food stains around the stove.… Other tenants I talked to had similar complaints of conditions inside and outside of their units being dilapidated. It really felt like they were doing the bare minimum to not be sued, but wanted to make our conditions unpleasant enough that we would move out.” Added local resident Tree Fitzpatrick, in an email to the zoning board, “To grant this project as requested is to condone demolition by neglect.” http://www.berkeleyside.com/2015/06/25/berkeley-zoning-board-to-consider-demolition-on-durant/
Short Term Rentals
We have heard that legal service providers like the East Bay Community Law Center are seeing more attempted evictions for renters who sublet for the short term on services like Airbnb. Currently, the Berkeley proposal to legalize such rentals may allow renters to sublet this way as long as the place is their home. But that doesn’t mean doing so won’t be a violation of their lease – it depends on the agreement. Renters should read the fine print, and remember the Rent Ordinance prohibits charging more than a prorated portion of the controlled rent.
Below is the document some folks currently violating Berkeley’s ban on such rentals are presenting to the Planning Commission, who will hold a hearing soon regarding the potential new laws and taxes in Berkeley.
We have just a few corrections: Regulations are not “being passed” – the current prohibition is being lifted for some users. Therefore, the number of short term rentals will not be “cut,” and no law-abiding citizens will see their “livelihood” impacted. These new regulations will not reduce any legal income, they will only legalize a currently illegal activity for some but not all users. It’s like saying the pot dealer on the corner is going to be put out of business by the legalization of medical marijuana! 2015-07-01_Communications_Berkeley Home Sharers_Recommendation on Revisions
Landlords Favor Allowing Hotels Anywhere, Unless Run By A Renter
“Sid Lakireddy, president of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, said he doesn’t think the use of Airbnb among tenants is widespread. Lakireddy believes that property owners should be allowed to use Airbnb, but not tenants.
“It’s a lot of work for a property owner to do Airbnb, and if they feel like they can make more doing it, I don’t think we should stop them,” he said. “If a tenant is doing it, that’s wrong because they’re using somebody else’s property to make a profit.” http://www.dailycal.org/2015/06/21/city-considers-lifting-restrictions-on-short-term-rentals-while-practice-abounds/
Paris Neighborhood Had More Airbnb Guests Than Actual Residents “During summer 2014, 66,320 people stayed on Airbnb in the neighborhood’s two arrondissements, slightly more than the 64,795 who actually live in them, according to 2012 figures. The popularity of tourist rentals also made it a target of French housing inspectors. In May, inspectors made surprise early-morning inspections that turned up roughly 100 potentially illegal apartments.” http://graphics.wsj.com/how-airbnb-is-taking-over-paris/
Balcony Collapse Highlights Problems with Code Enforcement
Code enforcement complaints and missing inspection forms at Library Gardens highlight the need to revamp Berkeley’s Rental Housing Safety Program. Currently, the program is a little meaningless. Landlords have to pay a fee and do inspections each year, but they don’t have to turn in the forms to the City. Issues about inspections and habitability will be the topic of a BTU member roundtable at our quarterly meeting on July 8th.
Mayor Says New Housing Is Safe “Berkeley code enforcement inspectors might not have been previously aware of Library Gardens’ failure to perform safety inspections. Those records are not required to be filed with the city unless a code inspector asks for them. Bates said it was unreasonable to mandate increased city inspection of rentals, given the city’s budget, but believed newer apartment buildings are not apt to present many hazards”. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-balcony-inspection-report-20150629-story.html
Balcony Collapse Spotlights Dry Rot Yes, but when will they realize we need to inspect more than just balconies? “In Berkeley, officials recognized this gap in oversight and a week after the balcony disaster called for a mandate on building owners to inspect balcony supports at least once every five years. State officials are considering whether the balcony collapse demands a broader fix.” http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-balcony-dry-rot-20150626-story.html
Criminal Investigation “As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, the investigation will likely focus on Segue Construction Inc. — the company responsible for constructing the building — and on R. Brothers Inc., the company responsible for waterproofing the balcony’s wooden support beams. Several lawsuits throughout the Bay Area involving allegations of water penetration due to faulty waterproofing have been filed against Segue in the past.” http://www.dailycal.org/2015/06/25/alameda-county-lead-criminal-investigation-berkeley-balcony-collapse/
On Wednesday February 18 the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the Housing Element of Berkeley’s General Plan. The hearing is at 7 PM at the North Berkeley Senior Center. BTU needs tenants to come speak out!
Berkeley’s 2015-2023 Housing Element is the basis for housing goals and policies for the next eight years. It is important that renters comment on this draft now, in order to maintain tenant protects and expand development of actual affordable housing.
Your Berkeley Tenants Union has written an extensive critique of the draft, linked below. We hope you will attend the hearing or write the Planning Commission right away supporting our goals:
Demo Ordinance: Rent controlled housing must remain protected from demolitions.
The Affordable Housing Mitigation Fee charged to developers should be high enough to actually mitigate the lower-income housing needs created by new development.
“Illegal” Units: City should provide path to legalize 4,000 rent controlled units which do not have permits – San Francisco’s program could be our model.
This is from John’s letter to the Planning Commission for the February 18 hearing:
It is clear from the Draft Berkeley Housing Element document that Berkeley is falling short of providing a mix of affordable housing for lower income AND middle income residents. I will focus on middle income residents, and particularly in my view an acute need for additional family housing within the City of Berkeley. Recent projects within the City have included a limited mix of primarily studio rentals and high-end rentals and condos, but units falling in the middle of these two extremes are, in comparison, few. I cite Table 1-1 as an example, which indicates that between the years 2000 and 2006 Berkeley provided only 4% of the Regional Housing Needs Determination as set by ABAG for moderate-income residents. Further, Table 2-14 indicates a lack of Renter Occupied 3 and 4 bedroom units, units which could be utilized by moderate to large size families.
I quote from the Objectives section of the Draft: “Berkeley residents should have access to quality housing at a range of prices and rents.Housing is least affordable for people at the lowest income levels, and City resources should focus on this area of need.”
I do not argue with the egalitarian goal of this statement, but in reviewing the documentation in this Draft it is clear to me that the middle class, and particularly moderate-income residents with children (i.e., families) are the ones primarily being squeezed for housing in Berkeley. I do not see that trend reversing without an emphasis on strategies and programs to address this essential need.
John T. Selawsky
Member, Berkeley Tenants Union
Commissioner, Rent Stabilization Board
We at the Berkeley Tenants Union need your support on Tuesday, December 9 at the City Council meeting.
First, Council are considering a suggestion to tax the benefits of rent control on any long time tenant the government decides is earning a living wage. (Item 17)
Also, BTU members have appealed a dangerous decision by the Zoning Board which would set bad precedent and put over 4,000 units in Berkeley at risk. (Item 39)
Both items are expected to be near the beginning of the meeting, as early as 7:30 PM. Council meetings take place in Old City Hall, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
2401 Warring Street Appeal by Harr and Stephens
This is the latest in a series of disputes BTU has fought at the Zoning Board – at the core is the interpretation of the Demolition Ordinance. In this case, a huge building on Warring near Channing has been under rent control for many years because it was used as a boarding house. Now, a new owner has removed all the renters and wants to turn it into a triplex. Rent Board staff and the owner appeared at the Zoning Board in the summertime. BTU was there as well. Everyone – even the owner Nathan George – seemed to agree that it was fair that one of the triplex units would be new construction because the owner is adding a lot of space, but that the other two units needed to stay under rent control.
Yet when the decision was written up by the staff from the Planning department, they chose to word the agreement in a way that would be legally unenforceable. This can get complex, but the gist of it is that Planning wants to give the building a new certificate of occupancy, and state law Costa Hawkins says a new COO means no rent control.
This is not what the Zoning Board intended. So BTU members Katherine Harr and Lisa Stephens filed an appeal.
Once again, the City Attorney is saying the units are empty and therefore not rent controlled units under the Demolition Ordinance. This means any building where the landlord can get the tenants out could easily be torn down with no mitigations for the loss of rent controlled housing.
The City is also saying that although Planning was aware that the building was a boarding house, it was not licensed to be one. This opens up over 4,000 units that have rent control but are not in Planning records as “permitted units” to lose rent control because they, too, could get a new certificate of occupancy.
Yes, you heard us right: the Housing Advisory Commission has asked Council to begin the process of means testing rent controlled tenants. Item 17 on the City Council agenda for Tuesday is the first step toward a plan by certain bitter property owners and the Council majority to tax middle income renters on their low rents.
“One approach we believe should be explored is to determine if some of the long term tenants in Berkeley’s rent controlled housing have been enjoying low rents while their incomes have been rising,” they wrote. There are many disturbing things about the proposal: the underlying assumption that rent control is a charity program and only the very poor deserve housing stability; the invasive nature of the proposal wherein longer term renters would be forced to disclose their income while owners do not have to do so; and the idea that measuring only income and rent would give the government any idea who can afford to pay more for housing, without considering medical bills, student tuition or student loans, number of dependents or other factors.
While BTU is pretty sure portions of the plan are actually illegal, and we expect the Rent Board will work to educate Council on that aspect, we need renters to stand together to show that local efforts to whittle away tenant protections and pit lower income folks against teachers, firefighters and small business owners making mid-range salaries will not be tolerated. Means testing would make Berkeley a city of just the very rich and very poor – just what rent stabilization was designed to prevent!
This type of proposal would never have been considered in the progressive Berkeley of the past and is clearly retaliation against tenants for supporting the “Robin Hood” ballot measures to tax owners of multiple rental units on their profits under vacancy decontrol.
JOIN US TUESDAY at CITY COUNCIL – items are early on the agenda
RSVP to info at berkeley tenants dot org to learn the plan!
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