A map details Berkeley’s gulf between rich and poor

Source: Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks

Source: Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks

It’s no secret there is a huge income disparity in Berkeley. Data from the 2010 Census Bureau’s Gini Index showed that Berkeley had the widest gap in the Bay Area between rich and poor, according to a 2011 Bay Citizen article.

Now a man named Chris Persuad has mapped out all the census blocks in the United States. Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks provides a visual glimpse of how income is distributed. In Berkeley, it’s much as you would expect. The wealthiest areas are around the Claremont Hotel and in the hills. The census tract with the highest median income is around Solano Avenue, specifically the neighborhoods between The Alameda to Grizzly Peak, north of Marin.  That tract, 4212, has a median household income of $158,988.The poorest census tract, according to Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks, is the University of California itself. The median household income on the UC Berkeley campus stretching south to Durant and as far north as Cedar Street is $6,125.  Other areas adjacent to the university also have low median incomes ranging from $20,586 to $34,778.

This would seem to be skewed because of the presence of students, but another Bay Citizen article states that the Census Bureau did not count adults living in groups in calculating the Gini Index just to avoid distortions.

The map also shows that residents living in the south side of Berkeley are among the poorest in the city. The median income in the area is $38,790.

Check out Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks for yourself.

(Hat tip: Paul Rauber)

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  • withak30

    If you look around at other places, college campuses are always red. They may try to correct the data for “adults living in groups”, but college students always skew neighborhood income stats low.

  • Tom

    I get a negative connotation from the title of this post, like it’s a problem that needs to be fixed. Sure it’s unfortunate that there are so many households with low income but Berkeley has such a “Gulf” because the city supports diversity with low income housing and public services. Other cities just try to get rid of the poor.

  • MarcusHart

    The follow-up article about excluding on-campus dorms, fraternity/sorority, and co-ops is not covering the whole student housing issue. I don’t know the numbers, but significant amounts of students live in apartments and have low incomes. To conclude, as the headline states, “Berkeley Wealth Gap Not Caused by Students,” is premature without acknowledging that category of student.

    The author continues that Berkeley has a higher Gini coefficient than other similar college towns, but doesn’t show the comparison of high-end incomes in those college towns compared to Berkeley’s. My hunch is that the upper income level in Berkeley is higher than the similar college towns in California. It’s at least worth checking.

  • The Sharkey

    Berkeley supports diversity and low income housing in middle class and lower-middle-class neighborhoods. When’s the last time you saw them add a new Section 8 housing project in Claremont or the Berkeley Hills?

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    This is assuming people actually give correct info to the census…i know i don’t give my income info, it’s none of anybody’s business also it feels like people should be ashamed because they worked hard their whole lives to get where they are. I’m sick of people trying to make others feel guilty for ones success from hard work.

  • The Sharkey

    Yeah, the swatch of red around the campus isn’t accurate for the reality of that area. While these students may be low- or no-income, most of them are propped up by wealthy or middle class families. No matter what the raw data says, Northside, Southside, and downtown aren’t as poor as, say, South Berkeley.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    There aren’t many large lots in the Berkeley hills to build low-income housing in the hills, and if there were they would would have too high of a price tag thus driving up the cost of the project pricing it out of the window. Besides if someone built a section 8 project next to my home i would move before it drove down the value of my home…i didn’t buy my home to lose on the investment that would be foolish!

  • The Sharkey

    And thus we get to the problem with “diversity advocates” in Berkeley. Folks in the hills love voting for it, as long as it doesn’t affect them directly.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    Sorry I missed the sarcasm

  • Berkeley (and a couple of other parts of the bay area) is the only place I’ve ever lived where low income people actually DO live on the same blocks as high income people. I think that’s diversity.

  • irisandjules

    Very interesting. Again, nothing I imagined when I looked at Berkeley from afar. It reflects poorly on Berkeley from my perspective. The US has one of the highest Gini Scores of a developed country – it was 45 in 2007 (0 = most equal; 100 worst) – while the European country I come from has a score of 26. Why – because there is a solid middle class. It makes for a higher quality society and community, I believe. I don’t know what Berkeley could do to make changes, a city is not a country after all. While there may be social programs that attract the poor – these programs apparently are not lifting people into the middle class, they are just giving them fish. But I am not surprised because while my husband and I are middle class, we could barely afford to buy in the “poor” section of Berkeley.

  • chamelean75

    I think those results are skewed, especially in the areas around campus. Many full time students and grad students don’t work.

  • The Sharkey

    Sorry, should have included a smiley or something.

    I don’t seriously expect Section 8 housing to ever be put in the hills, I just like to point out the hypocrisy of the folks who live in wealthy neighborhoods voting to add micro-ghettos in the working-class parts of town.

  • Frances Dinkelspiel

    Berkeley students don’t come from as much wealth as you may think. A large percentage come from families where they are the first to go to college. 40% are on Cal’s Blue and Gold program for low wage earning families. They pay no tuition. And Cal has more students on Pell Grants than all the Ivies combined.

  • M.E. Lawrence

    Interesting point. I live right in the center of Central Berkeley, near Section 8 housing, grad students, people whose one-bedroom apartment is one of three homes, others who live modestly and spend their disposable income on travel, etc. We tend to get along OK: smile at each other on the street, attend the same neighborhood meetings and block parties. I prefer it to the hills.

  • The Sharkey

    Interesting! A couple decades ago when I was in college the majority of my fellow classmates at another UC seemed to all be in the same lower-middle-class boat I was. How does Cal compare to other UCs in terms of poor students?

    Still, the great majority of Cal campus isn’t housing (and the housing that is there is rather specialized), and that clearly skews the results. Just from my observations walking around town, I don’t buy for a second that the neighborhoods bordering campus (my neighborhood among them) are as poor or poorer than most of South Berkeley.

    Then again, these are 2006-2010 numbers so maybe the recession is being reflected here? I know some of my neighbors who I consider relatively well off spent a fair chunk of time being unemployed during those years.

  • Completely_Serious

    “Marin City”

  • serkes

    Dear The Deer – Doe your wealthy relatives in the Tilden 1% fawn upon their less well to do brethren, or do their bucks stop there?

  • bgal4

    There is some confusion about subsidized housing options in this thread. Section 8 is now referred to as Housing Choice program, vouchers allow the recipient to rent from any eligible landlord. There lies the rub, landlords have to want to rent to a recipient, most do not want to, many good tenants, disabled folks for instance, would love to use their voucher in a safer, calmer and more beautiful neighborhood, but rarely are landlords willing to participate in the program, despite the benefits.
    Project based vouchers are different, they are connected to the development. Public housing for the most part is history, across the country public housing projects are being sold to private developers, the current tenants are offered vouchers if still eligible.

    So all it takes to spread the low income subsidized housing tenants across neighborhoods is willing landlords who maintain decent units which pass HUD standard inspection.

  • EBGuy

    I certainly understand what you’re getting at. Many of these problems are national ( or transnational — see globalization). But for a more positive outlook, education is one way that children of the poor can have upward mobility. Around 50% of Berkeley Unified elementary & middle school students are socioeconomically disadvantaged. Because of the diversity of Berkeley school system, students have opportunities they would not have otherwise in cities with less of an income mix.

  • The Sharkey

    Interesting. So certain complexes (like the one on Bonar at Allston) attract Section 8 renters because the landlord wants them to be that way? If we want true diversity in Berkeley, why aren’t all landlords everywhere in the city forced to accept Section 8 vouchers?

  • The Sharkey

    I can certainly see how low-income students might have more opportunities, but what additional opportunities would it offer the children of wealthy households? Or do they all just send their kids to private schools?

  • Nick H

    Yup. The way these statistics are reported is misleading. Contrast this with Oakland’s this area is very poor and dangerous/this area is very rich and comfortable and SF, Marin’s, and most of the Peninsula’s you have to be rich to live here–thus creating income “equality.”
    Happy to be living in Berkeley!
    (As a very modestly paid teacher, definitely towards the poorer end of the spectrum).

  • Charles_Siegel

    “there is a huge income disparity in Berkeley. Data from the 2010 Census
    Bureau’s Gini Index showed that Berkeley had the widest gap in the Bay
    Area between rich and poor, according to a 2011 Bay Citizen article.”

    There a confused assumption here that Berkeley’s inequality is a bad thing.

    The US has the most inequality of any developed nation, and on the national level, that is clearly a bad thing. It could be corrected with a more progressive tax system.

    Berkeley has a bit more inequality than the US as a whole. The US gini index is .47 while Berkeley’s is .51, according to that Bay Citizen article.

    Most cities in the Bay Area have less inequality than Berkeley and less inequality than the US average. As the Bay Citizen says, “Bay Area cities with low Gini scores were primarily middle-income suburbs, including Daly City, Dublin, San Lorenzo and Windsor – and they have low inequality because they keep out the poor. Richmond and East Palo Alto have less inequality than the US average because they have more than their share of poor people.

    So does it make sense to decry the high level of inequality in Berkeley, as the article implies?

    Which sort of city would we prefer:

    A city like Berkeley, with high inequality because we have a mix of different income types

    A city like Dublin with low inequality because you have no poor people
    A city like East Palo Alto with low inequality because you have no rich people

    If a city has less inequality than the US average, that simply means that it favors some economic classes rather than others, so it doesn’t reflect the economic diversity of the entire nation.

    We could write the headline to say that Berkeley has the most economic diversity of any city in the Bay Area.

  • bgal4

    Bonar was built as public housing. Concentrated public housing does correlate with higher crime rates. There is an inherent bias against the HUD voucher program by most landlords. It is very difficult for a recipient to locate an eligible unit within the limited time frame HUD allows, most agencies require a new recipient to obtain housing within 60-90 days. If you check on HUD website it is easy to see the geographic distribution of eligible units. Landlords from the low income part of town tend to participate.

    When I was searching for a quality unit for my disabled brother in Santa Cruz I learned that many of the property managaement companies advise property owners against renting to voucher recipents, some promote misinformation and generate hostility that is not based in facts. Santa Cruz housing authority has made a concerted effort to comply with federal laws and most of the new vouchers become available because a tenant lost their eligibility, usually due to fraud. California is catching up with other state implementing e-verify systems which easily detect fraud.

    We were incredibly fortunate in Santa Cruz, when a unit become available that was owned by the county planning director, she and her husband are supporter of low income housing, and they provide quality units. What a blessing. They like participating in the program, they are guaranteed an electronic transfer on the 1st of the month, their responsibility is simple, provide clean and safe units. The 8 unit building is divided by voucher recipients and UCSC grad students. Very nice mix of folks.

    Public housing built in block configurations such as Bonar/Acton units concentrate low income folks, with all the social disorder challenges, this is a recipe for failure.

    Crime data tracks with the bias against public housing.

    The charge for rent allowed by HUD is competitive with the local market rates, it is irrational for landlords to not consider HUD voucher recipient out of hand, yet most landlords do. Any one of us can find ourselves very sick, unable to work and having to rely on the social safety net.

  • The Sharkey

    So it sounds like at least some of the micro-ghettos are left over from failed public housing projects and we really ought to start forcing more landlords to rent to people with housing vouchers. Very interesting stuff. Thanks for sharing!

  • bgal4

    Yep, the micro ghettos are also the result of poor monitoring and enforcement of illegal activity in this areas. Oakland housing authority tries very hard to stay on top of things with serious efforts at criminal background checks etc. On Russell St in south Berkeley Rosewood Apt has had a history of ups and downs regarding criminal activity. Lots of times the girlfriend with a clean record allows the bad boy boyfriend to live with her, the management often looks the other way until there is a problem. One of the most violent criminal robbing folks in south Berkeley last year was staying at Rosewood. He had a criminal felony record so he was not the voucher recipient. Berkeley city council used to find ways to avoid federal compliance, but after HUD audit , some minor changes improved things, but there is still far too much illegal activity in HUD subsidized units in Berkeley, like I said Santa Cruz cracked down some years ago. At the local level SC added a regulation prohibiting any known gang associate from living in the Beach Flats area public housing.

  • Tizzielish

    In Washington State, it is illegal for a landlord to refuse to rent to someone based on the source of their rental income. If the source of some rental income (all people with vouchers pay some of the rent, of course) is a voucher, the landlord cannot deny housing because the rent money comes from a voucher. I think this should be the law everywhere. When private landlords can refuse to rent to voucher tenants, they are discriminating against income sources. Why is one form of discrimination okay and others not?

  • EBGuy

    With more income diversity, there is less of a focus on “Keeping Up with the Joneses” and the attendant social pressures that come from that. I know this can be an issue at some private schools or in wealthier public school enclaves. Also, I was talking to the parents of a Berkeley High grad whose child thanked them for keeping him in the public school system. He felt better equipped to negotiate challenging social situations that the ‘bubble wrapped’ generation might not encounter.

    Wealthy households is a relative term given the high costs of housing in Berkeley. There are a couple families I know where one of the parents is a doctor and they all send their kids to Berkeley schools. Also, I know Berkeley folks who went the private route for elementary/middle school, but then end up at Berkeley High.

  • Tizzielish

    You are wrong, bgal4, it is not constitutionally ‘illegal’ to require landlords to treat all sources of rental income fairly and the same as any other income. It might be illegal to force landlords to rent to some folks but it is discrimination to reject a tenant solely on the basis of their source of income. Just because CA tolerates such discrimination does not make it legal. Refusing someone as a tenant because of where their rent comes from is not different, constitutionally, legally, from refusing to rent to someone because of race or ethnicity. It is discrimination. CA allows this discrimination but should they? Oh, I think landlords have rights and a right to screen tenants’ for past rental history but I think it immoral and unconstitutional to reject someone because of where their money comes from. The truth is the landlords who refuse to rent to tenants paying with housing vouchers are rejecting such tenants for very discriminatory, irrational, prejudiced assumptions that are no different than racist prejudices or cultural ones. they use the rejection of vouchers as a smoke screen for racist or classist rejection. Why assume that someone relying on some money help is an unworthy tenant? It is possible to screen tenants for how they treated past apartments and whether they paid rent on time — that is all that should matter to a landlord. Where the money comes from should not affect who can rent where. If someone can pay the rent, have a good rental history, it is discrimination to reject them.

  • Charles_Siegel

    They don’t come from so much wealth, but with a UC education, they generally will end up being middle class. They are not poor in the same way as people with that current income who have no education and who will keep that low income all their lives.

    One of my best friends in college was very leftist at the time and always got angry when people said college students were middle-class, saying that he and his family were solidly working class. He ended up being a corporate lawyer with a home in Beverley Hills – and an ex-wife suing him for $200,000 a year in alimony.

  • Tizzielish

    I appreciate this comment, Charles Siegel. Since I lean towards reactivity, I thought I’d write something appreciative for a change of pace. Happy New Year.

  • bgal4

    Do you have kids you have been through BUSD. BUSD is very much divided by class, social status by class is apparent by middle school and definitely influences academic outcomes. Being white, barely middle class and living in a tough low income neighborhood is actually a big negative in Berkeley social status hierarchy, especially for males.

  • bgal4


    easy Tizzielish, haven’t you jump on enough people for one day

  • Charles_Siegel

    Happy New Year to you, Tizzie, and thanks for the kind words.

  • Chris

    Isn’t one of the reasons many people move to Berkeley the “diversity”?

    I like your re-writing of the headline!

  • Keep in mind there are a lot of invisible people, like me, in this equation. I live in an in-law in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods, but like so many in-laws my apartment does not have a separate address. I’m a grad student with very low income. So there is affordable housing and diversity of income in the rich areas, just not that anyone knows about.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Since I lean towards reactivity

    and understatement… *smile*

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Yeah, but you’re INVISIBLE, right? That’s got to be frickin’ awesome!


  • Mbfarrel

    It may well have been public at one time. I is certainly “wartime housing” from the second world war. Albany village used to be comprised of it; some if not all of that was occupied by workers at the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond. That housing also had its own rail link direct to the shipyards.

    There are still units like the one you mentioned throughout much of Berkeley. An isolated group of units just west of MLK on Dwight is a reminder of the much larger Savo Island housing which occupied the block N.E. of MLK and Dwight.

    I believe the BUSD property further south at Carleton was also Navy housing. Berkeley used to have a large Navy presence both in the flats and in the hills, Chester Nimitz being one of the officers who lived in Berkeley

  • The Sharkey

    Good point, Tizzie, and I agree for the most part. I actually thought all apartment building owners were legally obliged to accept Section 8 vouchers for those exact reasons, which is why I’m a bit surprised to find out that’s not the case.

  • The Sharkey

    As someone who went to fairly diverse public schools elsewhere in California and wore mostly hand-me-downs and thrift store clothing, I’m not sure I buy that. Kids are mean, and kids are critical, no matter how diverse the school is or isn’t. Having huge income gaps seems like it would just give kids more things to make fun of each other for.

  • The Sharkey

    I’m curious – how much do you pay for your illegal in-law?
    When I was last renting even under-the-table stuff in the “nice” neighborhoods was super expensive, but that was well before the real estate implosion.

  • irisandjules

    Well, schools, e.g. Berkeley High, was one of the other aspects that completely surprised me in Berkeley. I figured the schools in Berkeley would be excellent ( I suppose I judged that from the University) but was told as soon as I moved her, by middle-income parents with two high-school aged girls, that no, the public schools are not good, and the majority of parents that can afford it, send their kids to private school. This is of course no different that in a lot of “inner cities.” The richer suburbs tend to have good public schools

    To me, the start of upward mobility is when kids of all socio-economic levels can attend schools that are very good, and get the help that may need to be part of it. There are cities with less of an income mix, such as Danville, where your kid, regardless of income levels, will attend a very good public school because they have a very good public school system. So, why don’t we have that in Berkeley – lack of money or what?

  • irisandjules

    A country like the US has high income inequality because we have a mix of different income types.

    We could rewrite the headline to say that the US has the most economic diversity of any developed country.

    We should be proud of it.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Because instead of using our considerable resources to help Berkeley kids across all socio-economic levels, we’ve decided to take on the entire East Bay.

  • Have you ever noticed the types of neighborhoods favored by a Popeye’s franchise? I’ve noticed this in a couple of states & regardless of whether it’s Berkeley or another city, when I’m at a stop light near a Popeye’s, I tend to lock the car doors.

  • The Sharkey

    I might be the pig-ignorant minority, but I moved to Berkeley because of the commute distance to San Francisco and the public schools. I wasn’t aware of the huge income gap before I moved here.

  • The Sharkey

    Thank goodness we have the 1% there to help make America so much more diverse! ;-)

  • The Sharkey

    Corruption, attendance fraud, wasteful spending on feel-good but poor-outcome programs, teacher’s unions defending bad apples, refusal to deal with problems, etc.