Basic Need Number One

Brook Schaaf is looking forward to Mr. G's beer party next week. Respond to him at [email protected]





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The housing situation in this city is sheite for students. You know this, and you won't be impressed by any couch-crashing, long-distanced, cramped-quartered, money-bleeding horror stories I might come up with because you are the horror stories (as in, you've lived them). You probably also haven't thought about it lately since you've managed to tuck in somewhere for the semester. Don't get too cozy though; come summertime you may again find yourself in the maelstrom, struggling to find footing.

Berkeley is the good chance of a dumpy, expensive apartment, far away from campus. This week the ASUC released its latest housing survey. One-fourth of students called their quarters "unlivable." The average rent for one person is $546 - more than 50 percent of student income. Around one-third of Cal students live outside of Berkeley. One-third! High-priced and low-quality living is detrimental to students' academic lives. The long distance between home and campus leads to attrition. Five, 10 more minutes to campus each way means you're that much less likely to go to the library, go to the game, go to the protest.

Michael Yarne, president of Students for a Livable Southside, brought up another important point when I talked to him: if housing costs are prohibitively expensive, then we risk losing some of our less affluent students to other schools or to nowhere. In other words, this is a threat to diversity, ethnic and economic. Students need more affordable housing closer to campus; we needed it years ago.

Southside density should be increased.

First, housing must be built. Second, the housing must be guaranteed to students at a price they can afford. Before this can be accomplished, points of contention among the city, university and student body must be resolved.

The Draft Southside Plan - the tentative guide for residential and commercial development on Southside - includes incentives for new housing like allowing for increased ground coverage, increased height, fewer parking spaces and the waiving of certain open space requirements. This is good; this is what we need. This is also controversial.

While all sides can hold hands and sing consensus on issues like architectural preservation, crime and safety as good, bad, and good respectively, students and nonstudents still disagree on the important issues: traffic and density.

Nonstudents may well not want more student residents in the area. To them I say "tough." We need to expand; we aren't out to spite you. As for traffic, it logically relates back to the lack of housing within walking distance of campus. According to the same ASUC survey, 78 percent of students with cars would give them up if it meant living closer to campus. I think that would be a fair compromise on our part, as fewer parking spaces means more housing.

The other part of our problem is the university failing us; housing is regarded as a low priority. Properties that might be used for housing, like the whole Underhill Lot, are currently scheduled for something else, like parking. And even if Housing and Dining were allowed to build there, they would have to pay $20,000 for each parking spot removed. This is a shameful situation. Berkeley ought to guarantee students affordable housing close to campus. And not just dorm rooms either. We aren't really after more sanitary, anti-social, Splash-Mountain wood pieces like Foothill - nobody past her freshman year is interested in sharing a cell, lacking a kitchen or being stalked by her sophomoron R.A.

Control of apartments is a necessary future step to insure quality of living for students. Other universities do this. Berkeley should dedicate an office to the aggressive acquisition of ‘off-campus' housing. Would this be a headache for them? Sure. And I say better their headache than ours. I didn't come to Cal for a special kind of ulcer.

The university doesn't need to own the buildings. There are substantial incentives the university could provide for development such as a nominal lease on land (say, a surface parking lot for $1 per year) or a low-interest loan to non-profit developers. The exchange would be units reserved for students. The university should recognize that a more cohesive student body is in its own interest. Consider a more cynical point: mightn't a Southside alumnus be more likely than a commuting alumna to give back to Cal?

University control of apartment buildings, far and away the preferred kind of residence, would not only guarantee housing; it would also be a means to control student compliance with no-parking regulations, a step towards a less-congested city.

In some regards it is a question of ownership of Southside. As has been proven (see Schaaf, Feb. 4), students are the preeminent population of Berkeley. I personally resent each and every nonstudent resident on Southside, especially college graduates too lazy to move. Students are also the city group not catered to. The situation stands to get even worse in the face of Tidal Wave II. The task is at hand; our work has been cut out for us. We need to make ourselves heard.

In fact, if there is one outside cause that you as a student of UC Berkeley should join in your own best interest, it is the push for affordable housing close to campus. In my three domestic years at Cal I never joined a political movement; nothing was ever explicit enough for me. For housing, on the other hand ... give me a time, a date and I'm there.

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