Give Input on Housing Policy

Household-Income-DistributionOn 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:

  1. Demo Ordinance: Rent controlled housing must remain protected from demolitions.
  2. The Affordable Housing Mitigation Fee charged to developers should be high enough to actually mitigate the lower-income housing needs created by new development.
  3. “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.
  4. Code Enforcement / Habitability: Increase proactive inspections; allow anonymous complaints.
  5. Better monitoring of Below Market Rate “Inclusionary” Rentals

Write to planning: JHarrison@cityofberkeley.info; aamoroso@cityofberkeley.info-

Full BTU Letter to Planning
2015.Planning Commission Feb 18.BTU

Article on first Housing Element hearing:
http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_27491384/berkeley-commission-examines-housing-issues

Draft Housing Element itself:
http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/housingelement/

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Comments on Berkeley Housing Element

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

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Oakland: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back?

stairsRefusal to repair can be considered harassment in Oakland, but before you get too jealous that Oakland finally got an Anti-Harassment Law – there is a BIG catch: tenants will have to enforce the law by suing landlords – the city has no enforcement mechanism at all. So even though Oakland now defines actions such as repeated bogus eviction attempts, refusal to make repairs, and threats to report renters to immigration as harassment, tenants without the means to hire an attorney might not benefit from the new rules.

Such additional protections against harassment have been discussed often but never developed by our elected leaders. San Francisco, East Palo Alto, Santa Monica and West Hollywood are other Rent Control cities that have similar laws. If Berkeley renters want such protections, they will have to organize like Oakland renters did!

There is also an exemption in Oakland for new construction.

“James Vann, co-founder of the Oakland Tenants Union, responded in an email to the city council, “Why should it even be suggested that owners of new construction be made free to harass and retaliate against tenants with impunity! By what rationale does that make sense?” But the exemption remained.”

http://www.eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/archives/2014/11/06/oakland-officially-okays-tenant-protection-ordinance

More info about the law:

http://oaklandlocal.com/2014/12/know-your-housing-rights-part-1-tenant-protection-ordinance/

https://oaklandnorth.net/2014/10/22/council_manuel/

http://www.eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/archives/2014/09/25/dan-kalb-proposes-tenant-protection-ordinance-to-curb-landlord-harassment

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Myth of the Poor Landlord

See the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project for more Berkeley Areas!

See the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project for more Berkeley Areas!

In December, BTU wrote about a suggestion by the Housing Advisory Commission, spearheaded by new Councilperson Lori Droste, to lay the foundation to tax tenants on their rent control (“means testing”). The other City Council folks wisely either voted no or abstained on the item, so it is dead for the moment.

But here we have a study about this very issue by SF’s Anti-Eviction Mapping Project – it is fighting conjecture with fact – and we hope the Council and Housing Commission will review!

If you go to the Source data map, you can see data for Berkeley too!

“There are probably landlords in San Francisco who make less money than their tenants. But they are very much the exception and not the rule. That’s the conclusion of a new study by the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, which compares the median income of renters and property owners by census tract in San Francisco.

Let’s take a few examples. In Census Tract 176.01, South of Market, people who owned property had a median income of $111,330 in 2013. Renters had a median income of $17,396. Let’s move to the Mission, where there are increasingly wealthy renters. Median income for tenants? About $80,000. For landlords? About $154,000.”

http://48hillsonline.org/2014/12/29/debunking-myth-poor-landlord/

Owner vs. Renter, by Class – Map Includes Berkeley Data

http://www.antievictionmappingproject.net/ownerrenter.html

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CALL TO ACTION!

2401 Warring

2401 Warring

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.

Means Testing

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!

Council Item 17
http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Clerk/City_Council/2014/12_Dec/City_Council__12-09-2014_-_Regular_Meeting_Agenda.aspx

Warring Street Appeal

Council Item 23
http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Clerk/City_Council/2014/12_Dec/City_Council__12-09-2014_-_Regular_Meeting_Agenda.aspx

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Dear East Bay Express:

Photo Courtesy of McCormick 4 Council

Photo Courtesy of McCormick 4 Council

After a vote of the Steering Committee, The Berkeley Tenants Union sent this letter to the East Bay Express on Thursday, October 9.

Jacquelyn McCormick is endorsed by the Berkeley Tenants Union because she is the only District 8 candidate to unequivocally support renters rights.

D8 candidate Mike Cohen just told the Berkeley Property Owners Association that he supports “means testing” – taking away rent control for anyone the government decides isn’t poor enough. Although we were impressed by candidate George Beier at our September 21 endorsements meeting when he cited specific occasions in which he had assisted renters in his neighborhood, Beier also told the landlords that he would consider means testing.

Your pick, Lori Droste, showed she is not ready for prime time by writing that she “would like to have more information on the ordinance” when asked if she supports rent control. If you don’t have knowledge about tenant protections in a city where 62% are renters, you should not serve on the City Council.

Rent control prevents speculators from making obscene profits and allows those without high incomes to live here long enough to become part of our community. Jacquelyn McCormick is only the “most conservative candidate” for District 8 if, by conservative, you mean that she wants Berkeley to remain an economically and socially diverse city.

See candidate’s responses to questions from BTU and Berkeley Citizens Action here:
http://berkeleytenants.org/?p=1145

East Bay Express: Vote Campbell Washington, Droste, Maio, Worthington, and Echols
“But we strongly oppose candidate Jacquelyn McCormick, because she backs Measure R and is the most conservative candidate running for Berkeley City Council this year.”
http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/vote-campbell-washington-droste-maio-worthington-and-echols/Content?oid=4092084

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Tenants Endorse Thurmond, Worthington

Berkeley Tenants Union had a good turnout at our first endorsements forum in many many years. Please read candidate responses to the joint questionnaire sent by Berkeley Tenants Union and Berkeley Citizen Action to learn more about why the members who voted on Sunday chose these excellent candidates!

Please be sure to support these candidates – they are the best to further the issues that impact Berkeley Tenants. BTU will send you more info on how to get involved alongside other tenants and our friends as the campaign season moves along!

The Pro-Rent Control Slate, chosen at the 2014 Tenant Convention
Chang, Harr, Laverde-Levine, Selawsky and Townley
http://berkeleyrentboard.org/

Tony Thurmond, State Assembly
http://www.tonythurmond.com/

Alejandro Soto-Vigil, District One
http://sotovigil2014.com/

Jesse Arreguin, District Four
http://www.jessearreguin.com/

Kriss Worthington, District 7
http://www.worthingtonworks2014.com/

Jacquelyn McCormick, District 8
http://www.mccormick4council.com/

Ty Alper, School Board
http://tyalper.org/

Karen Hemphill, School Board
http://karenhemphill.home.comcast.net/~karenhemphill/

For Berkeley Citizen Action’s endorsements, please visit their Website:
http://berkeleycitizensaction.org/

Candidate Questionnaires:

School Board 2014 Responses BCA BTU

City Council 2014 Responses BCA BTU

Assembly 2014 Responses BCA BTU

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Candidate Responses Now Available

FREE 2014 Candidate Forum
Sunday, September 21, 3:30-6:30pm
Fellowship Hall, 1924 Cedar Street

Linda Maio Declined the Tenants Union Invitation

Linda Maio Declined the Tenants Union Invitation

Berkeley Tenants Union, along with Berkeley Citizen Action and the Social Justice Committee of the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, will hold a forum for candidates in the 2014 election on Sunday September 21 – it being at 3:30 SHARP!

Only longstanding Council Person Linda Maio (District 1) and District 8 candidate M. Alvarez Cohen declined to attend the event. Assembly candidates Echols and Thurmond will be there for us to get to know, plus all School Board candidates and all the other Council hopefuls.

Meet the candidates and hear their ideas! After the speeches, BTU and BCA members will remain to discuss ballot initiatives and vote on endorsements (separate ballots).

Here are Responses to the BTU / BCA Joint Questionnaire

School Board 2014 Responses BCA BTU

City Council 2014 Responses BCA BTU

Assembly 2014 Responses BCA BTU

 

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BTU Endorsements September 21

September-2014-Calendar-Printable-132Berkeley Tenants Union, along with Berkeley Citizen Action and the Social Justice Committee of the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, will hold a forum for candidates in the 2014 election on Sunday September 21. Meet the candidates and hear their ideas! After the speeches, BTU and BCA members will remain to vote on endorsements (separate ballots). https://www.facebook.com/events/1491931991054041/

At BTU we’re very excited to get to know newcomers like Lori Droste and Sean Barry – and find out what they plan to do for tenants, or for landlords, or for real estate developers. So we are sending a few questions to the candidates and will be posting replies here on the website from Berkeley City Council, School Board, and candidates for the state Assembly.

2014 Candidate Forum
Sunday, September 21, 3:30-5:30pm
Fellowship Hall, 1924 Cedar Street
SAVE THE DATE

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Rent Increases in Berkeley

3000 block of College Ave.

Rents in Berkeley are rising dramatically. What’s going on? Two things are creating upward pressure on both rent- and non-rent-controlled units. These phenomena are:

1) The skyrocketing rents in San Francisco, which push people across the Bay, and
2) The ongoing construction of expensive new (thus not rent-controlled) apartment housing in Berkeley.

If you’re a doctor or high-paid techie, no problem. But if you’re a teacher or postal worker, good luck! Berkeley is becoming a bedroom community of upper-middle class professionals.

From $1817 to $3465
1300 block of Euclid Ave

This one-bedroom unit was rented back in 2002 at $1,550 to one tenant. Its 2014 rent ceiling is $1,817.93. Had it remained rent-controlled under pre-Costa-Hawkins rules, the rent ceiling would be $1,353.

The owner recently filed a Vacancy Registration stating that the unit had been rented to a new tenant on July 1 for $3,465. Still listed as one bedroom, still rented to one tenant.

From $1250 to $3380
1200 block of Alcatraz Avenue

This one looks like a flip, and sure enough, some pretty big rent increases have been taken. Here is the history:

All three units were rented out by the previous owner in 2007/2008:
#A was rented out in 2007 at $1,250;
#B was rented out in 2008 at $1,000;
#C was rented out in 2008 at $450 (it is a studio, but this still seems like a below-market rent).

In 2008 #A was claimed exempt because it was rented out to a Section 8 tenant, and #C was claimed exempt as not available for rent. (No change reported for #B.)

In December 2012, the entire property changed hands, and all three units were claimed exempt as owner-occupied as of that date, probably in error.

Then, in May 2013, the property was sold to a new owner. And sure enough, in August of 2013: Rents more than twice those charged in 2007/08!

#A was rented for $3,380;
#B was rented for $2,380,
#C was rented for $1,080.

The new owner has listed the property for sale several times – this is from one recent real estate listing: “Currently Producing $6840 a month from rent. THE HIGHEST RETURN ON THE MARKET IN BERKELEY! Average rent per unit is $2280. Over 200 applicants prior to August 2013 placement of current tenants. There are no substitutes for good quality of life & peace of mind! Maybe that’s why an all cash million dollar offer was dismissed?

From $3090 to $3690
1500 block of Walnut Street

This also seems to represent fairly big rent increases over the years, but it also needs to be said that the rent goes up as the number of tenants goes up.

In 2002, it was rented to 4 people for $2,200.
In 2005, it was rented to 2 people for $1,750.
In 2009, it was rented to 5 people for $3,090.
In 2012, it was rented to 7 people for $3,690.

Thus, not quite apples to apples. Without Costa-Hawkins rent increases, under Berkeley’s old system of rent control, the rent ceiling would be $1,326.

From $1600 to $3200
3000 block of College Ave

Two of the units have turned over and been fixed up. The tenant in the third unit, who had several cases before the Rent Board, recently passed away. We assume that in the near future the Board will receive a revised registration form raising the rent significantly.

While the owner has done substantial work on the property, it was purchased for a bargain price in 2008 and the owner only pays taxes on a value equal to the average single family home bought in Berkeley this year, while soon his rents will total Over $110,000 a Year for this triplex.

Unit 1
Before Costa Hawkins increase — $674.27.
After Costa Hawkins increase — $3,300.00 (8/1/13).

Unit 2
Before Costa Hawkins increase — $581.61.
After Costa Hawkins increase #1 — $1,600.00 (8/1/12).
After Costa Hawkins increase #2 — $3,200.00 (6/1/13).

Unit 3 (long-term rent controlled tenant) — $670.46.

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