Now more than ever, UC Berkeley and the city of Berkeley are confronted with the issue of a debilitating housing crisis. Berkeley is currently the home of more than 40,000 UC Berkeley students, and the city continues to grow in population yearly. Population growth and underdevelopment have contributed to an urgent housing shortage in Berkeley. The lack of affordable and quality housing is an issue that plagues students and Berkeley residents at large. Measure M and Measure N are vital components to addressing the dire housing shortage. On Nov. 8, Berkeley residents and students have the opportunity to vote on these relevant measures, and we strongly urge you to vote YES on both.
UC Berkeley has a severe housing crisis. UC Berkeley only houses 22% of undergraduate students and 9% of graduate students. The housing shortage additionally impacts long-time Berkeley residents and has displaced long-term residents out of the city due to unaffordable housing costs. Historically, Black, Asian and working-class people have been displaced from their housing at higher rates. Today, nearly one-fifth of Berkeley residents live in poverty.
A significant issue that hinders the housing supply is the number of unoccupied homes within Berkeley. 3% of rental units in Berkeley are off the market and unavailable to the public, many due to corporate landlord speculation. Still, landlords face no consequences for having vacant properties. During a period where UC Berkeley students and residents are constantly struggling to find affordable housing partly because of a lacking supply, it is unreasonable and unjust to have vacant housing units going to waste.
The city of Berkeley is attempting to take the step in combating the housing crisis through Measure M. Measure M is a vacancy tax that addresses the housing shortage by taxing landlords with vacant properties for prolonged periods. The proposed tax would be imposed after 182 days of vacancy status and motivates property owners to put available properties back on the market and open to the public.
Since there is a demand for larger units that can accommodate more people, the tax will be progressive — higher for bigger buildings. Single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and duplexes not used as primary residences will be taxed $3,000 for the first year, increasing to 6,000 dollars the following year. All other residential units will be taxed $6,000 the first year, increasing to $12,000 each subsequent year. There are extensions and exceptions for specific units, such as nonprofit and government housing providers.
We hope that Measure M motivates property owners to place unoccupied housing back on the market to increase housing availability and alleviate the housing crisis. If we are serious about the housing affordability crisis, we must be willing to use all the tools in our toolbox to increase the housing supply in our city. All funds from this measure will be designated to city services, including constructing more affordable housing.
Measure N also takes steps to address the housing shortage in Berkeley. The city of Berkeley’s exclusionary and racist housing policies have led to gentrification and the housing shortage. The housing crisis disproportionately burdens low-income residents and renters of color, and there is an urgent demand for below-market housing in Berkeley. Article XXXIV of the California Constitution requires citizens to vote on authorizing any federal, state and local public entities to develop low-income housing units. Measure N allows the construction of an additional 3,000 low-rent housing units in the City of Berkeley.
We believe that Measure N will benefit low-income students’ and residents’ housing needs. Measure N is an opportunity for the city to remedy the effects of gentrification and displacement and increase housing availability for low-income residents.
Housing is a human right. Measures M and N both take steps to ameliorate Berkeley’s critical housing crisis. We urge students and residents to vote yes on Measures M and N.