Illustration by Mia Turner
On October 25, the Berkeley Zoning Board approved plans to build 125 studio, 82 one-bedroom, and 67 two-bedroom apartments above Walgreens Pharmacy in downtown Berkeley. Construction of these 17 additional stories is scheduled to begin in April of 2019, and the process is estimated to take five years.
The idea was intended to combat the constantly increasing Bay Area housing crisis. While most agree with the concept of fighting the housing crisis through more affordable living accommodations, there was also criticism of the specifics of this plan.
The housing crisis has affected many families but has specifically impacted Berkeley college students. One such student is Robert Brown, who has been studying at UC Berkeley for the past three years. He faced issues regarding affordable housing when he was accepted. After months of searching, Brown said, “I was fortunate to find, a block from campus, an apartment complex that was rent controlled and single room occupancy for a relatively low price.” However, he added, “The compromise for getting my preference was not having a bathroom or sink in my room and two windows that face a noisy radiator.” Brown would, by many, be considered very lucky for having found a home at all, despite not having running water in his room.
The recently approved housing units could potentially provide space for hundreds others in similar situations. However, some critics of this project claim that this is not actually the case as there are not enough regulations on the building to provide those students with affordable housing. They claim that a lack of rent control would allow for property owners to charge much more than what any person living in Berkeley could afford. Rent control is a government regulation influencing the amount that a property owner can charge those living in a housing unit. This idea has been widely discussed as one of the many methods to fight the steeply increasing price of living in the Bay Area. While the term “rent controlled,” has been thrown around in respect to this new apartment building, nothing has been officially confirmed. Jack McShane, a member of the East Bay Democratic Socialists of America, is well known for voicing his concerns with the way that he feels unregulated housing units falsely claim to deal with the housing crisis. Regarding the new apartment complex, he said, “The way that this building is being built is not going to actually supply Californians with affordable housing.” He believes this is due to the fact that while Berkeley is continuously funding new housing projects and encouraging an increased supply of housing, there is no actual change to the regulations of those same buildings, specifically of the prices to rent them.
“We’ve seen what happens in Berkeley and Oakland which is that all these luxury apartments are being built, and they’re sitting empty because nobody can afford them,” said McShane.
From traffic congestion to changes in downtown Berkeley businesses, this new housing unit will affect people across the city for many years to come.