Conversation on Housing

Rapt attention focused on dynamic Senator Scott Wiener (D, District 11), keynote speaker at the LWVBAE “Conversation on Housing” webinar on the evening of Mar. 29, as he gave a quick history of how the Housing situation in California has grown progressively worse from World War II to the present. Today the “Golden State” has the highest poverty rate in the country driving the highest rates of homelessness, as well asthe most tenants in rent distress – i.e. those paying half or more of their income for a place to live and still forced to drive long distances from home to workplace, worsening the Climate Crisis. Trying to tame the seemingly out-of-control free market forces spawning an estimated 4 jobs for every housing unit, Wiener and his co-sponsor legislators are steadily homing in on curbing a process with bills to help local governments provide more housing for folks with less and much less than moderate incomes. He urged members of the audience to support these efforts by making their consequential opinions heard by lawmakers and government officials.

Chiming in enthusiastically with their special expertise were panel members Janis Ching, leader of the Berkeley Neighborhoods Council, Rent Stability Board member and Latinx Unidx de Berkeley representative Paola Laverde, UC Berkeley Urban Planning Professor Karen Chapple, Berkeley City District 8 Council Member and Vice Mayor Lori Droste and President of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin.

Arreguin’s pivotal role in the Housing Crisis comes from his ABAG presidency, which gives him the responsibility of overseeing assignment of the numbers of additional housing units or Regional Housing Network Allocations (RHNA) necessary for affordable housing sufficiency in the next 10 years – 9,000 units in Berkeley! Foot-dragging by cities NOT meeting their RHNA is finally being countered by State Bill (SB) 35 introduced in 2017 by Weiner. Another welcome development has been the decision of City Councils like that of Berkeley to eventually ban “exclusionary zoning” – i.e. allowing only certain types of housing, e.g., single family homes, in a restricted area. The Council’s “Missing Middle” report under the leadership of Vice Mayor Droste claims that cities can more easily reach RHNA targets if exclusionary zoning is not a potential stumbling block threatening to upend their plans. Accurate tracking of the consequences of such government measures over decades is part of the Urban Displacement Project directed by UC Berkeley Urban Planning Professor Karen Chapple with the help of her dedicated undergraduate students supported by grants from the state of California.

In contrast to long term consequences, immediate impacts of government measures concern many homeowners, represented by Berkeley Neighborhoods Council leader Janis Ching, who are alarmed at the threat of profit-driven restructuring of neighborhoods by venture capitalist developers and realty companies. Also apprehensive about money-making opportunities for developers and realty companies are tenants of lower income groups, advocated for by Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board Commissioner Paola Laverde, who also represented Latinx Unidx de Berkeley. Acknowledged for her efforts on behalf of renters, Laverde raised concerns about the accuracy of RHNA as it might affect lower income renters’ obtaining housing. With UC Berkeley such a large presence in Berkeley, Arreguin gave assurance that ABAG is taking pains to fairly count the University’s RHNA — as well as that of all other sectors — for as fair and equitable an outcome as demanded by a Housing Crisis impacting everyone.

Posted here is the video recording of “Conversation on Housing”. Stay tuned, as future “Conversations” are being planned!

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