Expensive Housing is UC Berkeley's Demon

Courtney Leeds is a UC Berkeley senior majoring in chemistry. Respond at [email protected]





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I am writing in response to an opinion piece about rent control in The Daily Californian ("Rent Control: Affordable Housing Program or Political Tool?" March 2). In this article, Robert Cabrera makes definitive statements about the nature of rent control. He says, "everyone acknowledges that rent control is a failed policy and that vacancy control is the worst form of that failed policy." This can be admitted as true if one considers the definition of a failed policy to be one that goes on to be revoked.

But if one is to deem a policy failed when it is of no utility then I would have to differ with Cabrera. For I believe that rent control does have potential use and rewards. Cabrera's gross understatement of the facts behind rent control are bothersome. I will immediately profess my ignorance to all the facts, but based on his statistics, one cannot get a complete feel for what has transpired in the life of the rent policy.

He states that after rent control was passed the number of students that commute increased by 4,300. This is a completely useless piece of information because the sentence preceding notified the reader that the following information, "are the facts about the 17-year experiment with vacancy controls." So is the reader to realize that over 17 years the commuter population increased by 4,300? This seems quite reasonable in light of the lack of knowledge pertaining to the student population. If over those same 17 years the student population had increased by 10,000, it would stand to reason that many students would have had to look elsewhere for housing.

Cabrera then goes on to discuss the percentage of households in the Berkeley area that is home to students. He states that before rent control 70 percent of UC students lived in Berkeley private rental housing. In 1988 that figure was down to 28 percent. Again we will have to expand our minds. Let's say, in the 1960s (before rent control), the student population at UC Berkeley was 10,000 and there were 7,000 beds available in the area surrounding campus. That would be 70 percent as was stated to be the case. But if the student population grows faster than the number of beds (which it undoubtedly does) then the percentage goes down. If, by 1988, the student population has grown to 30,000 and the number of beds to only 8,400 then the percent of student living around Berkeley would be in fact 28 percent. As far as I can tell very little housing has been built in the last 20 years. But Cabrera attempts to give validity to the numbers by stating that the same area was occupied to the tune of 44 percent, by students, when rent control was dissolved. But does this mean anything? Again I say no.

A large portion of rent control was revoked 1999, about 10 years after 28 percent of the housing was to have been occupied by students. A lot can happen in 10 years. Perhaps new housing, like that dorm on Channing Way, had been constructed some time in that decade. We don't know. I could continue with my critique but it will suffice to say that everyone should be careful of open-ended claims.

It is commonplace for numbers to be misused and I get so aggravated at people's inability to comprehend what statements are significant and what statements are nothing more then frivolous propaganda. I write this article because I myself have labored through the trenches of housing warfare. Last year I commuted all the way from Walnut Creek every day. So this year I thought I would try to get a place near campus (that is, sans rent control) and was appalled by the experience.

Most apartments around school are ghetto, with landlords charging up to $1,400 for two-bedroom dumps. I said to hell with that and found a brand new home in Alameda for just a little more than I would have paid in Berkeley. So I don't want to hear Cabrera tell ME that rent control is a failed policy. Cabrera explained, "students are transient, and everyone knows that with higher turnover there is higher maintenance. When owners are not allowed to raise rents, they favor long term prospects. If owners are allowed to set the rent of a vacant unit, students are favored, and this is a student town: a perfect fit." Perhaps a perfect fit for Cabrera, seeing as he is the president of the Berkeley Property Owners Association.

How does one make the landlords in Berkeley happy? Give them money. From seeing my friends' apartments around school I can tell that the landlords do as few repairs and upgrades as possible, why? Mo' money, mo' money, mo' money. And what are the students left to do? Shut up and pay. We want to go to UC Berkeley don't we? Yeah, I am a capitalist of the first order so I support owners' rights to set the rent at whatever level they desire. But I also believe that education is the only way to create a level playing field in a country highlighted by diversity.

College is not just a collection of buildings in which research can be performed. It also needs to include affordable housing. As a capitalist pig it should pain me to say this, but if needs be, housing should be government subsidized. Again, this country will only benefit from higher education and we must fight to provide and preserve it. (Cabrera's article needs to find it too.)

As it stands today, my experience with home finding in the Berkeley area has been sufficiently painful to cause me to suggest to all high school and junior college students, "DON'T GO TO UC BERKELEY!" UC Berkeley is an institution in need of much reform, from high and mighty tenured professors to home heating systems that kill by carbon monoxide poisoning.

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