UC Berkeley Professors Face High Home Prices, Limited Housing

Photo: Professor Kimberly TallBear poses with her family in their apartment in Oakland. TallBear, like many UC Berkeley associate professors, could not afford housing in Berkeley.
Victoria Chow/Staff
Professor Kimberly TallBear poses with her family in their apartment in Oakland. TallBear, like many UC Berkeley associate professors, could not afford housing in Berkeley.

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Drawn to Berkeley's cultural vibrancy and wishing to send her daughter to the ethnically diverse public schools, Kimberly TallBear planned to buy a home when she took a job as an assistant professor in environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley this year.

But even with university housing assistance, she is unable to afford a modest home close to campus on her salary as a first-year professor.

"My husband and I have been working for quite a few years now to live smaller - we do not have aspirations of owning a huge house," said TallBear, who rents a two-bedroom apartment in Oakland. "But even for people committed to living smaller, that's not easily attainable in Berkeley."

Over time, the gap between the campus's entry assistant professor salary and median home prices in Berkeley has widened to an unaffordable level.

Back in 1960, a first-year UC Berkeley assistant professor could afford to buy a home in Berkeley with a median salary of $7,008 and median home price at $16,600, making the price-to-income ratio 2.4, according to the City of Berkeley Housing Element of the General Plan from 2001.

According to federal standards, home ownership is affordable if home price does not exceed three times the household income, said Jay Kelekian, executive director of the city's Rent Stabilization Board.

Today, two first-year assistant professors cannot afford a home together in Berkeley on salaries alone. For an entry UC Berkeley assistant professor making $80,000 annually, the median cost of a Berkeley home-$769,500-is more than nine times his or her salary.

For Martin Lettau, a new professor at the Haas School of Business accustomed to expensive real estate in New York, the campus's assistance fell short of what was offered to him if he had taken a job at Columbia University.

"The big problem here is offering assistance to new faculty to settle in, by offering, say, faculty housing and day care services," he said.

Lettau's appointment was approved in June and the late notice made it difficult to find housing. He said he received limited housing assistance from the campus and faculty housing was full, forcing him to rent in Berkeley.

The University of California offers faculty some financial assistance for housing expenses. For one, it provides mortgages with an interest rate usually below market rate and a recruitment grant for housing expenses.

In 2007-08, the average grant amount was $36,514 system-wide though taxes, resulting in a lower net amount, according to Paul Schwartz, UC spokesperson.

Despite the expensive housing market, UC Berkeley has done fairly well recruiting and retaining faculty, with 75 percent of recruitment offers accepted and 80 percent of faculty retained in the 2007-08 academic year, said Sheldon Zedeck, vice provost for academic affairs and faculty welfare.

"The issue of housing comes up all the time in recruitment; it's always an issue. My judgment is it hasn't been a primary issue for faculty when turning us down for offers," he said, citing other factors such as greater career opportunities elsewhere and family issues.

Campus officials are considering creating new, more affordable housing for junior faculty members, he said.

Lettau said faculty housing should be bolstered to keep UC Berkeley competitive with other colleges.

"In my case the most pressing issue was faculty housing," he said. "This is not a issue just for Berkeley but for many other universities, for other schools I think they are a bit more aggressive in addressing those issues."

UC Berkeley has 75 condo units for faculty to purchase and 31 units to rent, Schwartz said. Currently, there are a total 1,506 faculty members, according to the campus's Academic Personnel Office.

When it comes to a wide gap between real estate and faculty salaries, UC Berkeley is not alone.

At Stanford University, the Palo Alto neighborhood is ranked the fourth most expensive city in the country, according to the 2008 Coldwell Banker Home Price Comparison Index.

The average single-family home in the first half of 2008 was $1,740,333, nearly 23 times more than the maximum $77,000 salary that two-thirds of assistant professors in the humanities make, according to campus data.

But Stanford, unlike UC Berkeley, can accommodate far more faculty. With 1,878 members, the campus rents and sells a total of 1,478 housing units, according to Stanford officials.

Nicole Ardoin, a new assistant professor of environmental education at Stanford, took advantage of all the housing assistance available to her.

But she said she could only afford a faculty condo because of her dual-income household and the money she earned from selling her old house in Washington, D.C.

"Honestly, without a second income, if I was single, there was no way I could purchase a home here," Ardoin said. "If we had not owned a home we could not have done it.

For TallBear, the housing assistance she received from UC Berkeley is helpful. But at the end of the day, it's not enough to help her afford a mortgage.

"Without it, it would just be impossible for a lot of people," she said. "I think Berkeley knows that, if they don't do that, they will lose out on a lot of high-quality faculty and it's going to affect their standings."


Carol Yur covers housing. Contact her at [email protected]

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