Opinion: Teacher-only housing? Just say no, Berkeley

Teachers are not the only sector of society struggling to afford high Berkeley rents. So Berkeley should not treat them preferentially by building them housing. We need affordable housing for all.

At least one member of the Housing Advisory Commission winced when Julie Sinai of the Berkeley Unified School District School Board presented a proposal to allot $150,000 to study putting teacher housing on BUSD property and a supporter suggested that teachers are especially burdened by a housing shortage which leaves all of us scraping to pay the highest rents in the nation, fuming over long commutes, or homeless.

Teachers are underpaid in light of those rents, and they serve a crucial community function. But that same argument for special consideration can be made for police officers, firefighters, medical personnel — in fact all workers expected to function within an unsolvable equation.

The proposal to cannibalize much needed publicly funded recreational space, open space, and crucial parking is questionable enough without the proposal’s offensive suggestion that teachers, and only teachers, need special “company town” housing, which they will presumably lose when their employment ends much like the “student” housing which, like homeless shelters, offer only temporary assistance.

The taxpayers who fund the Berkeley Unified School District deserve a more just proposal in a town which was once legally divided by redlining along racial lines. Berkeley continues to reflect serious racial divisions which a recent city report on homelessness states has perilous projections if we don’t address them with more aggressive efforts.

Setting aside coal country’s perilous precedent of the company town, our Berkeley City Council is better served by the New Deal era’s tradition of respect for recreational space as intrinsically connected to social and cultural values as well as its willingness to create whole housing communities open to all of the workers who collectively create a thriving town.

Carol Denney is an East Bay writer and musician.