Black population declines by 20 percent over past decade


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District 1 Berkeley City Councilmember Linda Maio recalls that when she campaigned during her first election in 1992, constituents in her West Berkeley district included a number of older black residents who warmly welcomed her into their homes.

But when remembering walking the district last fall during the 2010 election, Maio said that the large number those residents - who have instead been replaced with younger, white families - had disappeared.

According to 2010 Census data, the black population in Berkeley has decreased from 14,007 in 2000 to 11,241, a nearly 20 percent decline. In Alameda County, the population of blacks fell 12 percent since 2000.

City officials and residents have pointed to a combination of causes for the decrease, including financial issues, an aging population and an inhospitable environment leading to migration out of the area.

"A lot of it has to do with the housing situation," said Morris White, co-founder of the mentoring program Brothers Supporting Brothas in Berkeley. "They're pushed out of the community. Overall, very few people either rent to them or lease to them."

Maio said that in her district, relatives of Berkeley residents who passed away in the last 10 years may have decided to sell their houses rather than keep them in the family, opting to purchase larger homes elsewhere in the East Bay at a lower cost. She said the practice is common not just for black residents but generally for many young families who inherit Berkeley homes.

Though the high cost of housing may have deterred blacks from living in Berkeley, Mayor Tom Bates said the city's low-income housing programs have made affordable housing readily available at a higher level "than any other city our size," with over 300 low-income housing units and about 500 workforce housing units.

"It's a veritable drop in the bucket," he said. "We have 112,000 people (in Berkeley). It's a small drop, but at least we're trying, while a lot of the other communities haven't been able to provide that affordable housing."

Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, who grew up in Berkeley, said he has noticed the downward trend in the city's black population, which he attributed to a different image of Berkeley from that of the 1950s and 1960s, adding that families have moved to the South to find a stronger "family infrastructure."

"Berkeley does not hold the same perception, at least for African Americans, that it may have held in the day that Martin Luther King, Jr. was still alive," Carson said.

Carson, a member of the Progressive Missionary Baptist Church in South Berkeley, said that about once a month, his pastor mentions that a longtime member of the church is leaving the city and moving to the South.

Jon Stiles, executive director of the California Census Research Data Center, said in an email that it was "very possible" the city trend is aligned with a general black migration from California to southern states.

Some black Berkeley residents and employees speculate that the decline may be related to discrimination rather than financial motivations to move.

Berkeley resident Irma Parker, who lives in Maio's district, said that 10 years ago, she could count about eight or nine black households in her neighborhood. Now, the population has shrunk to her family and her neighbor across the street, Parker said.

"I'm not sure if it's because of a job," Parker said. "I think the black people that I know who lived in Berkeley enjoyed living in Berkeley, and they wanted to live in Berkeley."

White, who lives in Newark, Calif., said the black population could drop to levels comparable to Piedmont, where black residents make up 1.3 percent of the city's population, according to census data.

"The thing about Berkeley is it's one of the most progressive cities, supposedly, and there's been a lot of landmark decisions based on what people have done in Berkeley," White said. "But if you really look behind the scenes, it's no longer the same place."

Though most areas in the city have experienced a steady decline, a tract in Councilmember Jesse Arreguin's district - bound by Dwight Way on the south, University Avenue on the north, Martin Luther King, Jr. Way on the west and Fulton Street on the east - experienced a 222 percent increase in the black population, while the tract as a whole experienced a 79.5 percent population increase. Despite the tract's increased black population, Arreguin said he is concerned about a decline in the city's diversity.

"Berkeley's becoming more gentrified," Arreguin said. "That's the sad reality, and I think the census figures show that, not only socioeconomically, but also racially."


Victoria Pardini covers Berkeley communities. Contact her at [email protected]

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