Berkeley / East Bay
Gray Panthers Newsletter
February 2015

6501 Telegraph Ave.- Oakland CA 94609

Tel: (510)595-9696

The February membership meeting will be on
Wednesday, February 25, 2015 at 1:30pm
at North Berkeley Senior Center.
Speaker: civil rights lawyer Moni Law

Board Meeting
February 11, 2015 2:00pm
At Niebyl-Proctor Library

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Become a member of Gray Panthers!

Dues: $35/year ($15 low income)
Send a check with your name and mailing address to Gray Panthers of the East Bay, 6501 Telegraph Ave.- Oakland CA 94609.
NOTE -- Traffic Tickets can also be worked off by volunteer work for Gray Panthers

Living Graveyard

Third Mondays, Noon - 1:00 pm.
date subject to change –– check
Oakland Federal Building, 1301 Clay Street (two blocks from 12th Street BART)
People lie down on the city sidewalk in front of the Federal Building, covered with sheets to represent the dead. The names of some of the Californians who have died in Iraq and the names of some of the Iraqi dead are read during the event. A gong is sounded after each name.
Please bring a white sheet. A pad to lie on is recommended.
Info: Ecumenical Peace Institute, (510)990-0374.

Tax the Rich Rally


We meet every Monday 4-5 pm at the top of Solano Ave in Berkeley to protest the inequality of taxes in our country. We hold signs saying “Tax the Rich” and “Tax the Big Corporations.” Cars passing by honk in support. Pedestrians take leaflets.

The signs and leaflets present information about the impact of tax inequities in our society, and how we must work together to bring about essential changes so that the rich and big corporations pay their fair share.

Monthly Peace Rally

Every 3rd Friday, Gray Panthers and Strawberry Creek Lodge sponsor a Peace rally, at Acton and University in Berkeley. Next rally will be on Friday February 20, 2-3 pm. Come sing, wave signs, listen to approving honks. For info, Call 841-4143

Report on the January Membership Meeting

The January 2015 Gray Panther general membership meeting was held on January 28 at North Berkeley Senior Center. About 40 people were in the audience. The topic was affordable housing needs of senior citizens. A panel of five people presented views. A summary report on the panel discussion begins on the next page.

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Summary Report on Affordable Housing Panel

The Rent Stabilization Board (usually known as the "Rent Board") is composed of nine elected commissioners. It enacts regulations, hears petition appeals and administers a program to implement the Rent Stabilization Ordinance. The mission of the Rent Board is to regulate residential rent increases in the City of Berkeley and to protect against unwarranted rent increases and evictions and to provide a fair return to property owners. The Rent Board works to ensure compliance with legal obligations relating to rental housing; and to advance the housing policies of the City with regard to low and fixed income persons, minorities, students, disabled, and the aged.

A renter with a low enough income can qualify for a Section 8 rent subsidy. The tenant pays a percentage of their income (typically 30%) and a voucher from the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) agency covers the remaining rent. Not all properties will accept Section 8 tenants.

Many seniors in Berkeley live in senior housing facilities. Julia had a list of senior housing facilities in Berkeley. Three big ones were mentioned several times during the presentations: Redwood Gardens, Harriet Tubman Terrace and Strawberry Creek Lodge. Apartments in these facilities are subsidized by HUD under Section 8 and are operated by a management company.

A panel of five people presented views. The members of the panel were:

Gray Panther Julia Cato introduced the panelists.

Gray Panther Eleanor Walden spoke first. She lives in Redwood Gardens. This is a large complex for senior and disabled, located in Berkeley on the upper part of Derby Street, where Claremont comes in. UC Berkeley owns the land. Eleanor described Redwood Gardens as “a pocket of poverty in an affluent neighborhood.” Nearly all the neighboring houses are large and expensive.

Eleanor told about CSI "Coop" Management, the company that runs Redwood Gardens. But Eleanor said that, in practice, CSI decides everything. CSI has received money from HUD to renovate kitchens and bathrooms in the apartments of the residents. Eleanor gave personal accounts of the abrupt, impolite implementation of this renovation. One member of Redwood Gardens in a wheelchair told of being run out of her home, and having to stay with another disabled person in a tiny studio. Eleanor told of a TV put in a community room for everyone to watch which was thrown in the trash by a member of the maintenance staff. The city has changed where Redwood Gardens visitors can park. One used to be able to come to an entrance door to pick up very disabled people.

There has been some pressure to shut down Redwood Gardens and turn the place into UC dormitories. Many Redwood Gardens residents are fearful of being evicted, but some are tough. One 85 year old disabled woman shouted the F-word to a man on the CSI staff who was pushing her around. The man, an ex-marine, complained about being bullied.

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Kathy Harr, who is in her 2nd term on the Rent Board, made it clear that she was speaking for herself. She was very focused. She encouraged all renters to Join the Berkeley Tenants Union (BTU). Membership forms were provided. There is a web page: BTU membership is free for now, but this may change.

She explained the “Vacancy Decontrol” bill. In 1995, the California State Legislature passed the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act to lessen the severity of rent-control laws in five cities, including Berkeley. The act, known as Vacancy Decontrol, allows landlords to raise rents to the market rate at the beginning of a new tenancy. So, if any tenant moves out, the landlord is able to raise the rent to whatever he wants. Kathy gave examples: For a 1 Bedroom in Berkeley: 2009 rented for $1275; 2010 rented for $1460; 2013 rented for $1930; 2015 will be $2239

Old buildings are falling apart. With landlords refusing to repair, plus the above monetary incentive, these are, in Kathy’s opinion, a threat to rental housing stock. The other huge threat is the Planning Commission, who talk about the poorly kept buildings, and want to tear them down and develop them, denying that there are any rent-controlled apartments in such property, which would be the way to stop the evictions and destruction of older buildings.

Kathy said there is a need for Senior Citizen representation on the Rent Board. Two members are being termed out, including Judy Shelton.

The Berkeley City Council is considering revisions to the Demolition Ordinance which would make it easy to tear down rent controlled apartments – and any other building in Berkeley!

City Council member Max Anderson said the Housing Trust Fund (HTF) charges new development for mitigations for certain building heights, floor area ratios, etc. The mitigation to HTF was $36,000 when first instituted, then voted by council down to $28,000, and now it is $20,000. Kathy Harr had suggested that it be indexed to inflation.

“At Risk” properties, e.g. Redwood Gardens, Harriet Tubman, etc, that have problems, are labeled “Stable”, when the people in them are terrified. Building inspections are lagging. Only 500 units were inspected during the last 5 years.

The city has a list of who needs units, and has definitions of the “poor”. They think that the “temporarily poor” (students) qualify. Some landlords are renting the low income units to students.

Max is a member of a newly-formed 3-member committee of the City Council to address affordable housing. It hasn't met yet.

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Steve Barton, recently retired from being Housing Specialist Planner for the City of Berkeley, spoke as a private citizen, but it was evident that he had great knowledge.

He said that there are about 50,000 apartments in Berkeley. Of these, 6,000 are classed as affordable, 2,000 as "social housing" (Section 8).

He said that 20% (10,000 apartments) should be affordable.

He said there are three needs for housing parity.

  1. Rising rents need to address affordability. The average Berkeley rent is $1500/mo versus $750/mo elsewhere in the Bay Area. SSI, Social Security is less than 1/2 the rent, and has not kept up with inflation. Real income today is 35% less than in 1980.
  2. Berkeley needs a LOT more affordable housing. Most of the curent building boom is providing housing for the rich.
  3. Berkeley should have a Windfall Profits Tax on rising rent, fr example, on a profit of 100%. We could make it a ballot measure in 2016. If Berkeley can pass a Soda tax over well-funded opposition, a Win dfall Profits Tax should pass too. We need to start now. We should keep the tax rate low -- a small tax is more likely to pass.

In 2015, an estimated 1.5 billion dollars of profit will be made from Berkeley rental housing.

Julia Cato gave a summary. She said her own apartment was a "good"situation, considering some of the altermnatives.

East Bay Gray Panthers covers Oakland too; Berkeley and Oakland need to get together.

A question and answer session followed. Some points made:

An expanded version of this report, with links to other websites, is available online at