If You Build It...

Bryan thinks indoor plumbing is for wimps. Complain to him at [email protected].





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While years of inflated costs and decrepit conditions may dull us to the harsh reality of the matter, paying $500 to $800 or more for cramped, oft-dilapidated housing in Berkeley every month is by no means normal.

By comparison, many students throughout California-or the rest of the nation, for that matter-will never pay so much for so little.

A key part of the problem rests in the troubles developers have dealing with the city's bumbling. Patrick Kennedy, a local developer, has struggled with the Berkeley City Council frequently over his projects.

"Several (council) members talk a good game (regarding support for new housing), but then they routinely vote against everything I propose," Kennedy said.

The council is frequently bogged down with approving new housing projects. Inaction among council members can be attributed to anything from outspoken local crazies who have a way with words in influencing voting decisions to some industrial-strength heel-dragging by the council members themselves.

But rental woes are in no way unique to UC Berkeley-all other UC campuses are constantly forced to pack more people into smaller spaces. Some, such as UCLA and UC Davis, have seen efforts from which UC Berkeley should learn.

Construction is in its final stages for UCLA's new De Neve dorms, which will house 1,550 students. This comes as welcome news to many, as housing officials have had to make several unlucky students take up residence in UCLA dorm study lounges as temporary rooms. Closer to home, people at UC Davis must look no further than the student government to find efforts to help alleviate the housing crunch.

While the city and university in Davis have been at odds regarding local growth, Tiqula Bledsoe, president of the Associated Students of the University of California, Davis, has been working with local developers on a deal that would ensure more affordable housing for students.

Despite these advances, neither campus is doing particularly well in providing enough decent, affordable housing to go around.

Some UCLA dorm residents were forced to choose last month between paying higher rent or being relocated to other rooms during finals week following an official decision to change policies with dorm vacancies. Also, property ownership at Davis is quickly becoming similar to Berkeley, with a decrease in competition among property owners and poor maintenance of units.

But even with all the problems both campuses face, they nonetheless showcase progress that UC Berkeley is lacking.

Because of several factors, local housing does not and will not accommodate all UC Berkeley students.

If things weren't bad enough already, the UC Board of Regents has been hellbent on cramming as many students as possible into UC Berkeley without developing matching beds to complement their admittances.

The Underhill complex currently in development between units 1 and 2 won't contain half the beds it could have, sacrificing additional rooms for parking and a dining facility.

"The parking needs are really very, very real," said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl after the decision to adopt the Underhill Area Plan in November 2000. "As real for faculty and staff as housing issues are for students."

Despite any concerns over parking, however, the Underhill structure-coupled with the regents' thoughtless attempts to jam another 4,000 people into UC Berkeley by 2005-shows a complete lack of responsibility toward current and future students. The regents have other plans on the table, but mainly, that's all they are-plans.

All the blame for why we have to pay extreme amounts of money for lame housing can't be placed on others, however. Students are largely to blame for the housing crisis-and while it's hard to affect development and rent prices directly, we could stand to be a lot more outspoken to make a case for better, cheaper and more abundant places to live.

ASUC is also largely inept when it comes to better housing for its constituents-save for the efforts of Andy Katz, a UC Berkeley senior who is part of the ASUC External Affairs office and a member of the city's Zoning Adjustments Board, whose work on housing policy has made a definite impact on the city level. Compare, however, the efforts of ASUCD leader Bledsoe to Wally Adeyemo, president of ASUC, and it's obvious that on the whole, we're severely lacking in representatives to support student interests at the city level.

With all these odds stacked against local students, it's amazing we even have what little housing we have now. UC, the city and students have acknowledged that there is a housing crisis, but we've seen little action with positive steps to remedy the problem. With any luck, Berkeley as a whole can take action similar to what has been done at other campuses like UCLA and UC Davis to improve the situation for everyone. In the meantime, as long as the parties involved continue to fail one another, the housing crisis will continue to be the dismal mess it is now.

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