Berkeley community members celebrated the conversion of a building on Solano Avenue into affordable housing Wednesday after a thwarted attempt to evict the building’s residents under the Ellis Act.
In 2019, seven residents of an apartment building located at 1685 Solano Avenue received eviction notices from the building’s owners. After extensive negotiation and help from the city, the Bay Area Community Land Trust was able to intervene in the evictions by purchasing the building with plans to turn the apartments into low-income housing.
“Housing is a human right,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín at a press conference. “That’s why we as government leaders must do everything we can … to protect people from displacement and create new affordable homes.”
The Ellis Act is a California state law that allows building owners to evict their tenants in order to withdraw a rental unit from the housing market.
Berkeley City Councilmember Sophie Hahn alleged the evictions were “completely unwarranted” under the Ellis Act and that the owners were likely attempting to remodel the building into luxury apartments without a permit.
“They were clearly trying to get rid of long term renters protected by rent control,” Hahn said. “It’s a classic case of displacement.”
Hahn added that only three of the tenants who received Ellis Act evictions remain in the building due to the ongoing difficulty.
After being contacted by the building’s residents, Hahn connected them to resources such as the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board and the city’s Health, Housing and Community Services Department, as well as legal services at the Eviction Defense Center.
She also reached out to the Bay Area Community Land Trust, a Berkeley-based nonprofit organization that specializes in stabilizing small apartment buildings where low-income residents are at risk of eviction, to see if they could purchase the building.
After three years, the land trust was able to negotiate a sale June 29 to permanently convert the building into affordable housing and allow the current tenants to stay in place. The city of Berkeley’s Small Sites program and Enterprise Community Partners helped fund the purchase, according to a press release from the Bay Area Community Land Trust.
“It’s a strong message to private investors that Berkeley will not tolerate Ellis Act evictions,” said Tracy Parent, organizational director of the Bay Area Community Land Trust. “Berkeley will not let long-term tenants be displaced for the sake of one person to gain a profit — it’s not good for the community.”
The cost to preserve and renovate the 13 units is projected to be $7,105,000 or about $546,538 per unit, according to a press release.
Parent added that the eviction intervention is especially timely with the upcoming midterm election, which will have several measures relating to affordable housing on the ballot.
“The city has a shortage of affordable homes for low-income people and working families,” Hahn said. “This is an incredible opportunity for affordable housing.”