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People’s Park Community Responds to UC Berkeley’s Housing Project

A 'Save People's Park' protest attendant holds up an information flyer regarding UC Berkeley's People's Park Housing Project in Berkeley, Calif. on Jan. 29, 2021./Photo by Cheyenne Tex

By Camila Ceja

On February 22, Chancellor Christ sent out an email to UC Berkeley students that addressed her response to Berkeley’s housing crisis and the university’s plans to mend it. Before announcing the plans for new sites of construction and university housing, the email discussed the urgency for campus housing. According to the university, the “high cost and low supply” of housing has left less than 40% of students unable to live in Berkeley. With these statements, the Chancellor declared that in effort to support the students, the “land-poor” campus must use “all the land they have to support.”

With the effort to support the student housing crisis, the university has planned to build the construction of two new residential spaces, a center at People’s Park and a new space along University st. and Oxford st. called Anchor House.

According to the university, building at People’s Park is a supportive decision made for both the community and students. Claiming the decision to be a “win-win-win-win,” the construction on People’s Park is planned to provide housing for about 1,200 students, housing for very low-income and unhoused members of our community, resources for the houseless, as well as a new open and safe space. The plan further states intentions to commemorate the park’s past.

After receiving a generous donation from a donor that was not named in the email, the university has begun its plans for Anchor House. Claiming to be a space like no other, the building will be placed by University Avenue, Oxford Street, Walnut Street, and Berkeley Way. Anchor House will be dedicated to funding scholarships targeted toward under-represented and first-generation undergrads, as requested by the donor. The residential building is claimed to be one that prioritizes both transfer and commuting students, communities that are also stated to be low-income. As stated by the Chancellor, Anchor House will be a space to support minority students especially in mental health and retention purposes.

Anchor House will cater to 722 students, featuring a fitness center, yoga and meditation room, two dining venues, and social interaction spaces. Currently, the plan location includes a university- owned apartment building at 1921 Walnut Street. Though 10 tenants are living in the space, the university claims that it will not be “relocating” the people during the pandemic. Furthermore, the people living in the space will be given “relocation packages,” when construction begins at the end of 2021. Though construction has not yet begun for either spaces, the concrete and task forces placed for both constructions are placed to be finalized and ready for construction by 2022.

Just a day after the email’s circulation, the People’s Park community organization released a response to the Chancellor on Instagram. In a six page response supported with cited links of evidence, People’s Park organizers refuted 16 of the assumptions stated in the email, claiming statements to circulate disinformation.

As the university claims the projects are the result of the “high cost and low supply” of housing, the response refutes that the students inability to afford the housing is a direct result of the university. Given that housing accommodation is determined by university established financial aid packages, the student’s affordability is in the university’s hands. Furthermore, increased housing will only repeat the profit- driven pattern of building housing above market rates, according to the response.

The People’s Park response further refutes the University’s claims to be “land- poor,” as is it the largest landowner in Berkeley. In 2019, the City of Berkeley filed a lawsuit against the university for the civic and environmental impacts that would be caused by the 30% increase of enrollment.

In response to the university’s claims of the project to be a “win- win- win- win,” People’s Park dives deeper into the community support that the project claims to uphold. Though the project claims to provide supportive housing, this will not be established until the Environmental Impact report that will be done after student housing is completed, according to People’s Park.

Furthermore, as the university claims to have provided the park with a full-time, on-site social worker, the students that have occupied the park for 16 days have reported that said social worker has not come to the park once. In the project plan, the University states that the resources department will be led and established by Resources for Community Development (RCD), a Berkeley, Calif. based organization focused on maintaining affordable housing. The RCD’s main donors are the Alameda County Sheriff Department and Home Depot. The RCD will also be the ones to decide who is allowed to live in the community homes.

One of the most emphasized points in the People’s Park project is centered on the Chancellor’s claim that the construction will help eradicate crime. As the University provides statistics for park crime, it does not further state its relation to city-wide data, according to People’s Park. Citing the data, People’s Park notes that the park does not prove to be a locus. In fact, data proves that Sproul Hall has become an epicenter. Furthermore, the organization refutes the university’s “criminalization of poverty,” relating to the university’s organizational supervision of fraternities, which have resulted in equal or more sexual and intoxication violence related violations.

In the University’s People’s Park project outline, open house events stated to have collected public and student opinions. According to student organizers that attended said open houses, no option for students to give direct input was provided.

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