On Wednesday, February 17, the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) board made the decision to approve the parking lot of the Berkeley Adult School for a new initiative that would build as many as 110 homes for BUSD staff.
The cost of living in Berkeley, California, is 80 percent higher than the national average, according to PayScale. Housing in Berkeley costs more than 225 percent of the US average. Despite this huge difference, many people in Berkeley are not making 80 percent more than the national average, nor can they afford to pay 225 percent more on housing. This has led many people, including BUSD employees, to live far away from work – in cities like Concord, Vacaville, Brentwood, and Antioch. This leads to long morning commutes and extra difficulty added to their work days, especially during the current pandemic.
The parking lot of the Berkeley Adult School, located on San Pablo Ave in Berkeley, could potentially fit up to 110 living spaces for BUSD teachers and staff. This plan would eliminate the above problems and increase efficiency and liveability for BUSD employees. The homes would be situated as an apartment complex, with six stories. The top four stories would contain multiple three-, two-, and one-bedroom apartments, with a few studio apartments as well. The bottom two floors would be reserved for parking. The school board ideally plans to charge 30 percent of a tenant’s income, providing an affordable place for educators and other BUSD affiliated employees to live.
Carrie McKee, a 10th grade teacher in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), believes this plan is a necessary step toward keeping teachers, especially young teachers, in the Bay Area. “It is increasingly difficult for a teacher to live and work in the Bay,” McKee explained. “I think about this a lot, looking in the next decade – I ask myself if I can even afford to stay here long-term. Especially if BUSD wants to retain younger teachers, an affordable housing option will go a long way toward making this into a more feasible future,” she explained. She would enjoy new and affordable housing as a young teacher, but would like to own a house in the long-term. “The problem is that this sort of plan does not provide a pathway for that,” said McKee.
Daniel Leibsohn, a Bay Area financial counselor and head of non-profit Community Development Finance in Oakland, believes that these steps should have been taken long ago. “These ideas have been around for a long time. I’m not sure why all of a sudden the city has decided to act on them…I worked for the City of Berkeley in the Housing Department back in the ‘80s. My experience there was frustrating, with people too timid to take action or go outside of their ‘comfort zone,’” said Leibsohn.
“This is a very difficult situation, especially considering that the high cost of living in Berkeley affects not only teachers and [BUSD] employees, but all sorts of people in all sorts of jobs. This is a real issue here,” he expressed.
Leibsohn does believe that affordable housing could possibly lead to future property ownership. “People can save money – along with some sort of financial coaching, they can build up to being able to buy a house. But again, with the prices here, they may not be able to save up enough at all.”
Development and building of the complex will take at least five years to complete, with the process really heating up this spring, when the district will decide upon a developer. Along with this, BUSD will also be submitting a Request for Proposal to the city, a document detailing a specific project’s requirements.
With housing and living expenses in Berkeley only rising, a project like this one is a necessary step in keeping teachers and other staff, such as Safety Officers, in Berkeley schools. Other cities in the Bay Area are taking similar steps, indicating that we may see this concept become more widely popular in the future.