Landlords or Panhandlers: Who Is Really to Blame?

But before Berkeley sends another potentially pointless anti-poor ordinance through the courts, it makes sense to institute a retail vacancy fee on landlords who keep storefront locations empty for years, refusing to acknowledge the recession’s effect on merchants, generally, and the effect of empty storefronts, specifically, on a struggling commercial area.

Commentary by Carol Denney

In 1997, Berkeley repealed its ordinance prohibiting sitting and panhandling after a challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union. But the Downtown Berkeley Association, which initiated the ordinance, never stopped pining for some way to clear the streets of homeless people and panhandlers, whom they blame for a decline in retail sales. Currently, the Downtown Berkeley Association is lobbying for an anti-sitting law similar to San Francisco’s recently enacted sit-lie ordinance.

Berkeley has panhandlers, of course. But it also has hundreds of empty storefronts owned by landlords reluctant to rent at lower commercial rates, empty storefronts which burden a once-vibrant downtown. Commercial leases tend to be long, so locking into even three years at a lower rate is less appealing to many landlords than taking a tax write-off for the previous, higher rate.

Even a business like Amanda’s Feel Good Fresh Food, which won entrepreneur of the year and design awards, cited the inflexibility of the rental rate as the reason it closed in December after two-plus years in business.

There’s no political downside to stomping on the poor, and Mayor Tom Bates has the votes to criminalize sidewalk sitting.

But before Berkeley sends another potentially pointless anti-poor ordinance through the courts, it makes sense to institute a retail vacancy fee on landlords who keep storefront locations empty for years, refusing to acknowledge the recession’s effect on merchants, generally, and the effect of empty storefronts, specifically, on a struggling commercial area.

“Richie.”  A homeless man silently appeals for spare change.  Artwork by Tammy Grubbs

“Richie.” A homeless man silently appeals for spare change. Artwork by Tammy Grubbs

 

Merchants can’t sidestep the recession any more than they can avoid paying mandatory fees to a misguided business association. But they can avoid the hypocrisy of blaming panhandlers by addressing the real burden on our commercial areas and supporting a retail vacancy fee.

I’d much rather be annoyed by a panhandler now and then than continue losing businesses like the art house theater, the music store, and the ice cream parlor.

Society’s Failure to Care Is the Root of Homelessness

In one of the richest places in the world, people become so wrapped up in their own comfort and status that they don’t care about the human beings they are stepping over.

Visionary Art of Leon Kennedy

In Leon Kennedy’s painting, his living friends are portrayed next to long-gone elders and assassinated civil rights leaders. Even death does not shatter the bonds of love and community.

Welcome to Homelessness

The worst thing about homelessness, I sensed, would have nothing to do with bad weather, hunger or sleep deprivation. It would be the way I soon would be cast out like a leper, as though one would contract a deadly disease just from being in my presence.

Big Money Spends a Fortune to Fight Rent Control

Wealthy landlords, realtors and developers have teamed up and are spending a fortune to fight the efforts of renters to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Act, the law that severely limits the rent control options of California cities. Tenants have also launched rent control campaigns in 10 California cities.

Vicious and Cruel Assault on the Poorest of the Poor

Elected leaders of the national tenants union denounced the housing bill proposed by HUD Secretary Ben Carson as a vicious and cruel assault on the poorest of the poor. “Millions will be displaced if these deeply cruel proposals see the light of day. Congress should reject them out of hand.”

The DBA’s Assault on Free Speech in Berkeley

The DBA launched a new poster destruction policy, despite being warned it was unconstitutional by the City Attorney. Tearing down fliers is a textbook example of a free speech violation. No one has the right to make content-based distinctions about what is allowed to be posted or said in legal, public places.