Making Sure Berkeley’s ‘Riff Raff’ Can’t Afford to Live Here Anymore: Though
2015 Copyright Dr. Amie “Breeze” Harper, The Sistah Vegan Project
Over the last month or two, I have shared with my fans that we have been searching for housing. We live in Berkeley. There appears to be 1 home for every 2.5 home-seeking folk in the Berkeley and surrounding areas.
We have found nothing yet. We must order services from the New Zealand Van Lines Ltd website and move out August 30. We are trying to figure out what to do since school starts in Berkeley after we move. Our 6 year old is already in the school system. We will most likely live in motels far away (too expensive in the immediate area) and have to drive out everyday to the school in Berkeley where our son is enrolled. We can’t even find a sublet at this point. We do assume that it will be easier to find a place after everyone has come back for the new UC Berkeley school year.
So far, we have been searching since March 2015. It’s a tough market. Seriously. We lose to people who don’twant kids around in their place or we lose out to people who can offer far more than what is listed on the rental ad; in some cases, we have been told that people drop the entire first year’s rent, in cash, to the landlord to secure the place. A while ago, we thought we’d get a place that was 2 bedroom with an additional separate detached studio loft in the back. It was perfect… but the rental agency said the land lords didn’t want a family of 5 living there. When applying to a place in El Cerrito and attending the open house for the 3 bedroom place, the person showing the place was skeptical about whether it would be big enough for a family of 5. We kept on explaining that the kids all share a room and don’t care. (A majority of the world’s children’s population don’t all each have their own bedrooms. I loved sharing a bedroom with my twin brother, growing up. My mom shared a bedroom with 3 bunk beds and 6 sisters. Am I missing something here?)
Let’s face it. Over the last five years, the Berkeley area has become ridiculously over-priced. Same with Oakland, Albany, and Kesington. Alameda and El Cerrito seem to be going that same direction. It’s nearly impossible to find something for working class to lower-middle class people that doesn’t put one into barely making ends meet. Those who locked in a place to rent, years ago, are not moving, in fear that the same type of housing would be 1.5 – 2x more expensive than what they are paying for now. Thankfully, Berkeley has rent control and excellent renter’s rights policies. We were in the same boat (low rent from years ago) until our landlords announced that they would be moving back to live in the house. Our place was a great find and we had planned to never leave.
Right now we are in a transition period and searching for permanent or temporary/sublet housing. If we can stay in this area another month, and wait for housing to become more available (assuming that once the University folk move back, there will be more availability), we would gladly sublet something for 1-2 months. If you can point me to a place in the Berkeley area (and surrounding towns) that would be fantastic.
And of course, we are searching for a more permanent option for a family of 5. We are open to co-op housing as well.
We need something by this week. August 30 2015 is our last day here.
One of my favorite scholars, Steve Martinot, wrote this piece in June 2015 about gentrification in Berkeley and the surrounding areas (which inspired me to create the infographic at the beginning of the blog). Great food for thought. It made me think about how I moved to Berkeley/Oakland area, 8 years ago, because the major players in social justice, diversity, food justice, etc were here. I wanted my PhD program to be in such an environment with rich history. I wanted to continue to build with these communities. I don’t want to lose this and living 60-80 minutes a way makes it hard for me to build and engage in more social justice/food justice work I have been doing for 8 years here. My husband has a PhD in astrophysics and is a research scientist at Cal. He received a coveted post-doctoral position to work with George Smoot, the Nobel prize winning scholar in physics which is why we moved here 8 years ago (he is now a research scientist at Cal). His work is here. His research and science community are here. …so, if these communities of color/working class/lower-middle class folk like us eventually can’t afford to live here, then what will Berkeley and the surrounding areas begin to look like, 10 years from now? How do we do the good work for society (the social justice research, the innovative research in science) when we don’t even have the stability of affordable housing?
Gentrification and the Corporate Structure – Berkeley Daily Planet, July 7, 2015 By Steve Martinot
The issue of affordable housing in Berkeley (and elsewhere) has become a battlefield, one that will affect all neighborhoods in Berkeley. Because the need is great, and housing is a human right (by international standards), many social movements, local and citywide, have arisen to get that need fulfilled. But if housing is a human right, why are political movements needed to obtain that right? After all, doesn’t capitalism function best (and profit most) by producing for extant social needs? Why is there a battlefield? Because indeed diametric interests confront each other – humans needing housing we can afford, and corporations whose needs are for economic control over markets.
Underneath this confrontation, serious political purposes lurk. Various government concerns – ABAG, the Plan Bay Area, and the financialization of the region – are in operation. ABAG’s purpose is to reverse the “white flight” to the suburbs that occurred during the the 60s and 70s. At that time, massive social movements targetted “Jim Crow,” and fought to enable people of color to become full members of US society. Though racial discrimination was never fully abolished (it persists in education and housing), the economy changed. Industry “ran away,” technology turned into technocracy, and a financial economy independent of production became a more facile source of profit, supplanting productive capital while controlling its destiny from its heights.
The heirs of those who fled are the suburban technocrats, professionals, and executives of the area’s three major industries: financiers, IT technicians, transportation managers and their underlying bureaucracies. Today they spend time in traffic jams that clog their lives and their ability to work. So ABAG seeks to bring them closer to their desks, and gilds this project with ecological tinsel, saying that city densification will curtail expressway traffic, and preserve the countryside by curtail urban sprawl. To facilitate this, massive construction of high income apartments and condos is required. And planned. It is a restructuring of the area to facilitate its role as a major capitol city for the Pacific Rim Economy.
That the Plan’s focus is on the very well-to-do is evinced by the absence of necessary infrastructure – enhanced public transportation, social services to enable low income people to deal with inflation, and affordable housing. Instead, funding of services is cut, and mitigations are enhanced that enable developers to avoid including affordable units. In other words, communities and life styles will be sacrificed to the wealthy, and moved out to the suburbs to replace the former commuters.
Many white people think they can weather this storm as people of color leave because they live in the development industry’s target areas. Berkeley’s black community is now a third of what it was a decade ago. Many people of color wonder how it is that a version of the old time colonialism has resurfaced, without everyone noticing, and why they and working class whites are the one’s who must move out of town. It is a corporate process, but with a racialized dimension.
The corporate picture The fundamental operations of corporate developers Developers are corporate businesses. They operate on the basis of profit. A developer (corporation) will buy land or real estate where prices are lowest, so that when it sells the building and real estate to the next owner (and some of these buildings go through three or four owners before construction is even finished), its profit will be maximized. Working class neighborhoods generally have lower valued real estate, which is why workers find they can afford to live there. When real estate values go up, or rent levels rise – perhaps because the area is targetted for development – low income people find themselves forced to find other low priced areas. This is especially true for black and brown communities, where real estate values have been keep low by redlining and segregation (banks restricting loans to black and brown people, charging higher mortgage rates, restricting employment, discriminatory hiring and union membership, low funding for education, etc.). Without access to credit, property owners have trouble renovating or improving their properties. Without access to advanced employment opportunities, communities suffer forms of cultural famine. The purpose of segregation may or may not have been to provide for land profitability, but it now provides the opportunity for high development profit.
Oddly enough, the Plan Bay Area broadcasts where the development areas are going to be (Priority Development Areas or PDAs). And Berkeley has actually published a list of properties that will be the targets of development in each of its four PDAs. That means that developers will face increased property values, as the property owners raise their asking prices in dealing with them. Three effects of this are foreseeable. (1) It will neutralize opposition to development among property owners. (2) It will set them against the social movements that demand affordable housing and political input into the process. (3) It will induce new buildings to be aimed at higher income use.
The corporate origins of Gentrification Yet this doesn’t explain the conflict between corporations and affordable housing. Why do they find it unprofitable? It is not just inflation, raising the cost of materials and labor. And it does not stem from the difficulties low income families have in getting rent subsidies. It has to do with the corporate structure itself.
Affordable housing is housing whose rents or mortgage payments relate to the residents’ income, rather than to the value of the property or the real estate markets. “Affordable” is defined as no greater than 30% of a family’s income (specifically for those earning less than the area’s median income ($90,000 a year for this area). 24 hour Locksmith Roseville CA will make sure your home is a secure place.
Because the affordability of housing is controlled and regulated by political means – namely, land use permits, construction permits, rent control laws, and federal grant conditions – it is more difficult to recapitalize the building. When, in the course of construction, a developer to find itself out of funds, it will seek to sell the partially constructed building. This happened roughly three time