Opinion: Measure MM sets back our efforts to provide homes for people with moderate incomes

Vote No on Measure MM to help ease the housing shortage, retain Berkeley’s diversity and reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

A one-bedroom apartment in Berkeley rents for about $2,500 on average.¹ That amount is about half of what a Berkeley teacher earns per month on average!² How can teachers, nonprofit employees, artists, service workers and folks just starting their careers or families afford to build a life in Berkeley? How could a teacher ever hope to buy a home in Berkeley when they sell for an average of $1.4 million?³

As people who care deeply about Berkeley, we fear the predictable result: an exodus of people who have made our community an interesting and unique place that leads the way on many important environmental and social justice issues.

What if we told you that there was something we could do to help ease the housing shortage and retain Berkeley’s diversity — and that it even had the power to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change? Surely, we’d all agree to do that thing right away.

It’s a simple idea: empower homeowners to create backyard cottages of all different types —attached to a main house, as a freestanding unit in a backyard, or rolled into a backyard as a prefabricated tiny home on wheels — or some combination of all three. By making it as easy as possible for homeowners to create additional units on their property, we can effectively add more homes in our existing neighborhoods that rent for less than market rate ⁴⁵⁶ and that don’t push people into carbon-intensive super-commutes.⁷

Residents tell us time and time again that they want the flexibility to add backyard cottages to their property, whether it’s for an adult child who can’t afford to live here, a caregiver needed to help a senior age in place, or simply for rental income needed during retirement.

Measure MM would discourage homeowners from creating backyard cottages by triggering a complex set of Rent Board rules to determine whether rent stabilization and eviction controls apply to a homeowner’s particular circumstance.

Rent control is a long-established policy in Berkeley for units built before 1980.⁸ We also support good cause for eviction protections, which restrict the reasons for which a tenant can be evicted; this is an important protection for tenants in multiunit buildings. But we also think that ordinary homeowners who decide to create additional units and share a backyard with tenants should have the ability to terminate a relationship that is not working out. In 2018, Berkeley citizens agreed: they overwhelmingly passed Measure Q to exempt all Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) from the Rent Stabilization Ordinance, which includes rent stabilization and eviction controls.⁹

Now, just two years later, Measure MM rolls back the will of the voters by adding complicated rules to determine when an ADU is in fact exempt from the Rent Stabilization Ordinance.¹⁰ Under Measure MM, when you create your first cottage, it will be exempt. But if you convert part of your main house into another (second) unit, for example, then you will lose your exemption for both rental units.¹¹ Similarly, if you already have a two-unit property (like a duplex), and you add a second rental unit (such as converting a garage into an ADU), you will also lose the exemption for the rental units.¹²

So what happens when the Rent Stabilization Ordinance applies to you? Even if you occupy a unit on your property, determining how the Rent Stabilization Ordinance affects you is extremely complicated. For example, a new, freestanding unit will be considered “new construction” and therefore not subject to rent control. But a newly converted garage is not considered “new construction” and would be subject to rent control.¹³ And both of these units would be subject to eviction controls.¹⁴


It’s enough to make your head spin. It’s also enough to discourage homeowners from taking on the risk and cost of creating even one ADU, which ultimately harms would-be tenants who need a place to live.

We recommend voting no on Measure MM. It reinstates complicated rules that will discourage homeowners from creating ADUs when we should be encouraging this type of housing.

Measure MM adds Rent Board fees with no justification.

Another piece of Measure MM that we find problematic is the levying of Rent Board fees on rented single-family homes, condo, and new units. With all other city departments slashing their budgets, it seems odd to us to increase Rent Board fees without a financial audit justifying the need and amount of a new fee. An impartial Alameda County Grand Jury audit in 2012 also found that the Berkeley Rent Board lacks oversight and accountability, increasing fees “without justification.”¹⁵

Measure MM does not add any new tenant protections.

Finally, do not be fooled by the claim that Measure MM provides new tenant protections. The city’s eviction moratorium already protects all tenants from eviction during and after the COVID-19 state of emergency. It permanently bans eviction for overdue rent that accrued during the emergency, treating it instead as consumer debt. Measure MM provides no new protections from eviction, but simply restates existing city policy.¹⁶

Vote No on Measure MM so we don’t undo our efforts to create homes for people with moderate incomes.

Footnotes

  1. Berkeley rents decreased 22% since 2019, according to a new study
  2. Berkeley Unified School District Teacher Salaries and Benefits
  3. Redfin Berkeley Housing Market
  4. Survey Research Lab, Portland State University, Accessory Dwelling Unit Survey for Portland, Eugene, and Ashland, Oregon, Final Methodology and Data Report, September 2013.
  5.  San Mateo County – April Report, Affordability of Secondary Dwelling Units — 21 Elements, April 9, 2014 (Used data from 2010- 2013).
  6. Chapple, et. al., Yes in My Backyard: Mobilizing the Market for Secondary Units, 2012, Center for Community Innovation, Univ. of California, Berkeley, Page 10.
  7. The Oregon Natural Resources Report – Agricultural News from Oregon. DEQ report, Build Smaller Homes, November 2010.
  8. Rent Stabilization Board, Is Your Unit Covered by Rent Control?
  9. Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, Measure Q. Also City of Berkeley Ballot Measure Q, The Question.
  10. Proposed Measure MM, Exhibit A, 13.76.050.N.
  11. Proposed Measure MM, Exhibit A, 13.76.050.N, second sentence.
  12.  BMC 13.76.050.F, third sentence.
  13. Rent Stabilization Board, Is Your Unit Covered by Rent Control?
  14. Proposed Measure MM, Exhibit A, 13.76.050, paragraphs I and O.
  15. Pages 67 and 68, 2011-2012, Alameda County Grand Jury Final Report, Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board. 
  16. BMC Chapter 13.110, Covid-19 Emergency Response Ordinance; Section 13.76.130.A.1 of Exhibit A, Proposed Measure MM

Tom Bates is the former mayor of Berkeley (2002-2016). Rashi Kesarwani is a Berkeley Councilmember (District 1). Debra Sanderson is co-chair of the East Bay ADU Task Force.