Op-ed: Ben Gould brings real leadership to produce housing affordability

Ben Gould is the only candidate who supports housing production for middle and upper-income residents.

“If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.” – President Barack Obama, January 10, 2017

Over the past forty years, inequality has soared in the Bay Area [1]. The cities of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose, longtime beacons of upward mobility [2], are now examples of how painfully high rent can damage local communities and even the national economy [3]. How did this happen in the most progressive metropolitan area in the country?

Make no mistake: our current situation is the result of failed local policies, and today you can help to change them.

Since the fall of 2015, I have served as the chair of the Graduate Assembly’s working group tasked with helping students cope with this housing crisis. My team spent considerable time researching and developing resources to help students in need, and last summer I co-authored an internal campus report on the causes and consequences of student housing insecurity. Through conversations with local activists, readings on urban policy and economics, and meetings with campus and city representatives, I have learned that what Berkeley needs is not more platitudes but real policy changes to reverse a crippling, historic housing shortage.

I have endorsed Ben Gould for City Council District 4 because Ben understands that high rent is fundamentally a problem of economics that must be solved by researched-backed policies. This is why he has also been endorsed by Karen Chapple, U.C. Berkeley Professor of City Planning and lead researcher of the renowned Urban Displacement Project.

For too long, wealthy homeowners throughout the Bay Area, from Palo Alto to the Berkeley Hills, have opposed the tall, dense apartment buildings that are needed to sustain growing cities. They have done this all under the guise of progressivism, but with justifications such as “preservation” and “existing neighborhood character.” There is nothing progressive about forcing lower income residents to compete against wealthy newcomers for housing just because you want to stop your neighborhood from changing. (The word for opposing change is not “progressivism” but “conservatism”). Both theory and empirical data [5] have shown restrictions on development to be ill-fated, particularly for low-income renters, and that to prevent increases in rent, cities should build enough housing to meet demand on a regional scale.

Some politicians promise that opposing development will hurt no one; they promise that building some subsidized housing will do enough to support those in need. In reality, while subsidized housing does provide vital help to some of our poorest neighbors, there is no evidence that it changes demand for the remainder of the housing supply [6], and as a result, the rest of us continue to struggle under burgeoning prices. Those left out include the vast majority of Cal undergraduates, who do not qualify for federal and state subsidized housing.

Extra efforts to protect Berkeley’s most vulnerable residents should still be an urgent moral priority, and Ben has a detailed plan to preserve and expand our affordable housing supply. But housing policy needs to create affordability for everyone, not just a lucky few. To see how the candidates compare, I matched their platforms against the policies to increase housing affordability proposed by SPUR [7] and the Urban Displacement Project [8].

Ben’s platform is the most comprehensive. Crucially, his opponent’s platform makes no mention of supporting increased housing production for middle and upper-income residents, although that is precisely what is needed to make Berkeley affordable for the teachers, artists, service workers, students, and researchers who make Berkeley great. Fixing our housing shortage will not just happen on its own; it requires sustained, regional initiatives. Simply put: if you are not actively addressing our housing shortage, you are worsening it.

Ben’s policy acumen, intelligence, and earnestness have earned him the endorsements of State Senator Nancy Skinner, Councilmembers Lori Droste and Susan Wengraf, former Councilmembers Darryl Moore and Gordon Wozniak, and numerous other elected officials and local leaders who see him fit to serve the interests for all District 4 residents. Every single executive officer in the ASUC and GA has endorsed Ben for City Council (except for the Student Advocate, who does not endorse)*, demonstrating both the respect he has among student leaders and that he knows students’ housing needs best.

Most importantly to me, Ben Gould embodies the call to action that President Obama made after last November’s election. We need new local leadership, not just to challenge the failed dogmas of local politics but also to build up the future leaders of our state and federal government. Today, you have the opportunity to support an honest, motivated leader who will produce progressive outcomes for Berkeley.

Vote Ben Gould for Berkeley City Council District 4. Mail-in ballots are due March 7. More information can be found at Ben Gould for City Council.

*Titles are for identification purposes only and do not express an opinion of the ASUC or GA. The ASUC, GA, and GA Basic Needs Security Working Group do not support or oppose candidates for public office.

Tyler Barnum is the chair of the Basic Needs Security Working Group for the UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly. He now volunteers for the campaign to elect Ben Gould.