How Developers Are Milking the Housing Crisis for Profit

This is how homelessness happens. These absurdly small, dorm-style, windowless nightmares are efforts by developers to capitalize on the housing crisis. Absolutely no more square footage in the densely populated town of Berkeley should be squandered on any proposal that makes no effort to address the housing crisis.

“I can’t afford to live here.” Berkeley resident Carol Denney tries to alert the public that luxury apartments don't meet the housing needs of anyone except the wealthy. Photo by Urban Strider

 

by Carol Denney

I read the proposal for the former Center for Independent Living site at 2539 Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, and my first thought was: This is how homelessness happens.

Patrick Kennedy, the same developer who managed to convince Berkeley to build ugly, only-a-student-could-stand-it condos and apartments on toxic former gas station sites, now wants to up the ante on one of Berkeley’s southside neighborhoods that suffers the most.

Instead of creating functional, affordable housing, which is not rocket science, these dorm-style, revolving-tenancy nightmares are efforts by developers to capitalize on the housing crisis. According to Kennedy, only a handful of units are purported to be affordable, aimed at renters making 50 percent of the median income. Even if you’re willing to dance with the semantics, this means that 59 of the 65 proposed units will be unaffordable — in other words, highly profitable.

It goes without saying that in a deliberately created housing crisis, people will, in fact, double and triple-up in absurdly small, expensive, windows-free units for the duration of their undergraduate or graduate student tenure. Take a look at the horror that is now the town of Isla Vista near the UC Santa Barbara campus for the full view of what happens to a community when ripping off students becomes the dance of the day.

The median income, a number wildly skewed by a techie millionaire or two in our midst, is $72,000, so half of the median income is around $35,000. If you do the math, this still leaves a minimum-wage worker $11,000 short of being able to pay rent in one of these units, let alone any other living expense.Now, $35,000 a year may look like a low salary to the $200,000 set, but I have news for the planning department, the Berkeley City Council, and anybody else who doesn’t object to such proposals: People who are making $35,000 a year are not homeless.

Absolutely no more square footage in this densely populated town should be squandered on any proposal that makes no effort to address the housing crisis.

Kennedy’s proposal is absurd for other reasons as well — the windows-free bedrooms, the annihilation of the nationally renowned Center for Independent Living building, the destruction of any privacy for nearby homes and backyards, etc.

But if we’re going to sacrifice the views as well as the atmosphere of an entire neighborhood, compound the current parking insanity, and force students to live like dogs in a kennel, let’s at least get some honestly affordable housing out of it.

You may not think this is your arena. But it is. It is unjust for Berkeley, or any town, to turn a blind eye to the creation of homelessness. Please help by sending letters to the planning department and City Council supporting actual, honest, affordable housing instead of profit-driven proposals that destroy communities and rip off students.

A Brief Encounter

by Diane Villanueva

A woman enters a cafe in San Jose, attractive, younger than 35. She talks non-stop and people listen. She’s living on the edge but still has her joie de vivre.

She tells my roommate and me that her husband died unexpectedly and she lost her motor home. She’s desperate. Her car is parked in a Wal-Mart parking lot and it needs a new transmission.

She’s in a motel and cannot afford another night there without help. I buy her a coffee and hand her $20.We exchange cell phone numbers. I wonder if we will ever see her again.

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