Opinion: More housing is needed in Berkeley; vote ‘yes’ on Measure O

We — a group of city officials, candidates and civic leaders — have agreed how to equitably allocate the $135 million in affordable housing bond money if Measure 0 passes.

Our city needs to build more affordable housing units. According to the city of Berkeley’s most recent Bi-Annual Housing Pipeline Report, we need to build at least the following estimated number of units to meet demand, with families paying no more than approximately 30% of their monthly income on housing costs:

  • 441 extremely/very low-income units. This income level is 50% of area median income (AMI) or below, which is equivalent to an annual income of $58,100 or below for a family of four.
  • 376 low-income units. This income level is 80% of AMI or below, which is equivalent to an annual income of $89,600 or below for a family of four.
  • 584 moderate-income units. This income level is 120% of AMI or below, which is equivalent to an annual income of $134,400 or below for a family of four. Half of all four-person families in Alameda county make $134,400 or less.

The statistics are alarming

The median cost of a single-family home in Berkeley is over $1 million; median monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment is over $3,000.

The impact is real

The high cost of housing has real effects on people of extremely low, very low, low and moderate income. Elder care workers, health care workers, firefighters, teachers and other public-sector employees struggle to find and afford housing. The low-wage economy only serves to exacerbate the impact on restaurant workers, caregivers, gardeners, retail employers, and many others. And the situation for our homeless residents is even direr. The result is that too many people—people who take care of seniors, people who provide high-quality health care, people who teach or take care of children, people who make and serve meals, often young families and people of color—cannot live in the community that they support. This is not the Berkeley in which we want to reside.

We can do something

We applaud the Berkeley City Council for unanimously placing Measure O on the November 2018 ballot. The measure would raise $135 million “to create and preserve affordable housing for low-income households, working families, and individuals including teachers, seniors, veterans, the homeless, and persons with disabilities.” We first call upon all registered voters to vote for Measure O!

In order to ensure a successful and broad impact of Measure O, we have asked all City Council members, all candidates for City Council, all School Board members, and all candidates for School Board to support distributing the Measure O funds as follows:

  • Approximately 1/3 of the funds for units designated for extremely/very low-income (below 51% AMI) tenants. The priority for these units should be for those individuals in need of permanent housing and the lowest paid workers in our community.
  • Approximately 1/3 of the funds for units designated for low-income (51%-80% AMI) tenants. The priority for these units should be for seniors and (to the extent permitted by law) low wage public employees such as custodians who work in our community.
  • Approximately 1/3 of the funds for units designated for moderate-income (81%-120% AMI) tenants, although this portion of the funding may also be limited to just units designated for median-income (81%-100% AMI) tenants. The priority for these units should be for workforce housing (to the extent permitted by law) such as teachers who work in our community.
  • Limited variation from this distribution is understandable. We recognize that unforeseen circumstances may arise. Thus, minor deviations of up to 5 percentage points may be necessary.

Tracking results

In order to support transparency and proper use of Measure O funds, we have also asked all City Council members, all candidates for City Council, all School Board members, and all candidates for School Board to support a requirement for the City to conduct annual, independent financial and performance audits until all Measure O funds have been spent to ensure that funds have been used only for the purposes listed above. Additionally, we have asked all City Council members, all candidates for City Council, all School Board members, and all candidates for School Board to support including in the measure a requirement for the city to appoint a citizens’ oversight committee to inform the public concerning the spending of the Measure O funds.

Part of a larger solution

While this letter focuses on Measure O, we also keenly acknowledge that such a measure alone will not solve the housing crisis faced by Berkeley. It is complicated; it is regional and long-standing. To be successful, we must take an “all-of-the-above” approach. We need to build more housing of all types and for all income levels to address the 30+ years during which insufficient housing was built while our population and employment rose. We need to adopt tools and strategies to address the growing mismatch between wages and housing costs. And we need to work with our municipal neighbors to address the larger regional housing shortage and prevent further displacement of and disruption to our communities.

City Council Members, City Council candidates, School Board Members, and School Board candidates: Ben Gould, Berkeley City Council candidate, District 4 Ces Rosales, Berkeley City Council candidate, District 7 Igor Tregub, Berkeley City Council candidate, District 1 Josh Daniels, Berkeley School Board president Julie Sinai, Berkeley School Board candidate Kate Harrison, Berkeley City Council member, District 4 Linda Maio, Berkeley City Council member, District 1 Margo Schueler, Berkeley City Council candidate, District 1 Rashi Kesarwani, Berkeley City Council candidate, District 1 Rigel Robinson, Berkeley City Council candidate, District 7 Other civic leaders and community members Alan E. Miller, BUSD teacher Ann Graybeal, Berkeley resident Barry Fike, Former president, Berkeley Federation of Teachers, current BUSD teacher Carlos Hill, Sifu Carol Wilkins, public policy consultant Darryl Moore, Berkeley City Council, former member David Ritchie, Berkeley resident Eric Weaver, education activist Iris Starr, Strategic Advisor Jack Kurzweil, Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club Jane Scantlebury, Berkeley resident Jeanne Allan, Berkeley Resident Jeff Vincent, city of Berkeley Planning Commission, member John Brauer, Berkeley resident Katie Gladstein Skjerping, Berkeley resident Kim Kruckel, early childhood advocate Marty Lynch, health and elder care advocate Stephanie Allan, BUSD Career Tech Education advisor Steve Lustig, Berkeley School Board, former member Tim Frank, Center for Sustainable Neighborhoods REAL Berkeley (Real Equity And Access to a Livable Berkeley) is an organization of Berkeley resident and civic leaders committed to finding real and practical solutions to address our city’s housing crisis.