Op-ed: Delivering affordable housing solutions to Berkeley — Kate Harrison for Berkeley City Council

Unlike what has been said about my policies, they will make Berkeley more affordable, more inclusionary, and preserve Berkeley’s unique character at a lower cost to our community.

By Kate Harrison

Kate Harrison is a candidate for Berkeley City Council, District 4.

I am surprised to see, less than a week before the end of voting, what can only be described as a polemical and inaccurate hit piece written by Eric Panzer, my opponent’s campaign treasurer (and former City Council contender). The opinion piece incorrectly states my position on affordable housing. Instead of using proxies to discuss the issues, I have decided to directly address the voters and readers of Berkeleyside.

My policies will make Berkeley more affordable, more inclusionary, and preserve Berkeley’s unique character at a lower cost to our community.

To cut to the chase, Ben Gould’s campaign raises a false dichotomy: approve anything a developer offers or be labelled anti-growth. Many cities think coherently about these choices: let’s require that developments pay their fair share of costs (for affordable housing transit, parks, traffic mitigation), reasonably fit with our neighborhoods and are appropriately sized for their lots.

Berkeley’s Downtown Plan, which I supported, approved, but did not mandate, that Berkeley build tall buildings, and it also required that these buildings provide significant community benefits. A well-designed building in Downtown that paid its fair share of costs – YES; however, a 20-story building on top of North Berkeley BART, as one of my opponents’ long-time supporters proposed – NO. The new hotel Downtown is a good example of a well-thought out project that the entire council supported.

The Sierra Club endorsed me for my stance on smart infill development in urban areas and near transit corridors, with an emphasis on smart. The Sierra Club, former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos, the Berkeley Tenants Union, and the entire Berkeley Rent Board have endorsed me for the District 4 council seat for my strong support of affordable housing for ALL of Berkeley’s residents. It is precisely local, middle- and lower-income housing that is needed to get people who work here out of their cars and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Berkeley has met far more of its share of the regional housing needs for market-rate housing built or in the planning stages. The need Berkeley is not meeting, and which the market does not seem able to provide, is for “moderate” and “low-income” housing for Berkeley’s schoolteachers, nurses, firefighters and police officers, which the public sector will need to help make possible.

Contrary to the assertions made by Panzer in his opinion piece, Ben Gould’s housing policies are a repackaging of the “trickle-down economics” theory that economic benefits provided to upper income level earners will help society as a whole, which we are unfortunately seeing again in the Trump administration.

In an op-ed published on Berkeleyside on May 28, 2015, Gould describes his housing policy as, “If new housing is built for the wealthy that will reduce the demand for existing overpriced homes and slow the growth in home values. Building affordable housing will likely have little impact on market prices, as the people who need affordable housing aren’t driving demand…” In other words, let the speculators and out-of-town developers build for the rich, and ignore everybody else. In fact, most studies show that specifically building affordable housing brings down the overall cost of housing more than building only luxury, market rate housing.

Gould has yet to find a building project he doesn’t like. He has proposed building six-story buildings along all of Sacramento Street, essentially surrounding the southern portion of District 4 with a solid wall of buildings, criticized Laurie Capitelli for not being pro-development enough for refusing to endorse six-story buildings on Solano Avenue, and expressed disappointment that the ill-designed Pacific School of Religion (Holy Hill) project was cancelled. In his writings, he has endorsed “by right” development, which gives the “right” to build to the developer and eviscerates local input into the development process, a proposal roundly rejected by the California Legislature.

Panzer’s opinion piece posits it will take $38 million/year to meet Berkeley’s affordable-housing needs. I was the volunteer coordinator for the overwhelmingly approved Measure U1 landlord tax, raising $4 million/year for affordable housing. Surprisingly, given my opponent’s emphasis on “data-driven” solutions, Gould does not appear to understand how this money can be leveraged to build significantly more housing.  Each of these dollars can be leveraged by federal tax credits, Alameda County’s $600 million affordable housing bond, and the rental revenues from the projects themselves.

I have also proposed a tax on short-term rentals and a transfer tax on high-valued homes. In contrast, my opponent opposed the landlord tax and instead proposes a regressive tax on “underutilized” back yards to help convert them from play areas, BBQs, and vegetable gardens to more housing. Again, you would pay while those benefitting most from the increase in property values walk away for free.

Finally, Panzer’s opinion piece mentions the $10 million in one-time affordable housing fees from the Harold Way project, but conveniently fails to mention my role in the process. It was the successful advocacy of numerous citizens and community groups that coalesced into Berkeley Progressive Action (BPA) which I helped co-found, that doubled the amount of fees Harold Way was required to pay from the initial developer proposal. We also successfully raised the affordable housing fee from $20,000 to $34,000 per unit for new projects going forward.   Ben Gould chose not to take a position in these debates.

Berkeley consists of its people and its neighborhoods. It is a city, not just a “transit corridor” to somewhere else. Housing is not the only issue in this race. Improving public safety and police community relations, greening and replacing our aging infrastructure, and addressing homelessness are all issues that do not garner huge profits for developers but are just as important.

I started this run for City Council because I wanted to serve my community in all of its complexity. I still do. I ask for your vote.

Thanks.