Berke­ley ten­ants fear be­ing forced out

San Francisco Chronicle - - BAY AREA - By Carolyn Said Carolyn Said is a San Francisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: csaid@ sfchron­i­cle.com Twit­ter: @csaid

Natalie Lo­gusch reeled as she read the let­ter taped to the front door of her down­town Berke­ley apart­ment in mid­april.

UC Berke­ley pro­posed “to un­der­take the de­vel­op­ment of the prop­erty you cur­rently oc­cupy,” it said. “If you are dis­placed for the Project, you will be el­i­gi­ble for re­lo­ca­tion as­sis­tance.” It pro­vided contact in­for­ma­tion for a re­lo­ca­tion com­pany.

“It was dev­as­tat­ing,” said Lo­gusch, who’s lived in the rent­con­trolled two­bed­room at 1921 Wal­nut St. for 10 years. “This is my home. The world was in the mid­dle of a pan­demic.” Her fel­low ten­ants in­clude peo­ple who’ve lived there 25 years, she said.

Ten­ants from six of the build­ing’s eight units have joined forces to fight back. They plan a so­cially dis­tanced protest on Mon­day at 4 p.m. out­side their build­ing. Berke­ley Mayor Jesse Ar­reguin, Coun­cil­woman Kate Har­ri­son and hous­ing ac­tivists will speak.

“Un­der­stand­ably, for th­ese ten­ants there’s a lot of anx­i­ety, a lot of un­cer­tainty,” said John Selawsky of the Berke­ley Ten­ants Union. “They’re in dan­ger of los­ing their homes; wait­ing for the next shoe to drop.”

A larger is­sue, he said, is that UC cam­puses are not sub­ject to lo­cal zon­ing laws and hous­ing reg­u­la­tions, such as Berke­ley’s rule that de­vel­op­ers who raze rent­con­trolled units must re­place them by build­ing new rent­con­trolled apart­ments.

UC Berke­ley is in con­tract to pur­chase 1921 Wal­nut, but the sale has not closed, said spokesman Dan Mogulof in an email. Berke­ley’s F.E. Forbes Co., a real es­tate in­vest­ment man­age­ment and pri­vate mort­gage len­der which ap­pears to be the build­ing’s owner, ac­cord­ing to Berke­ley­side, did not im­me­di­ately re­ply to re­quests for com­ment.

The univer­sity al­ready owns ad­ja­cent prop­er­ties and plans to de­velop them for stu­dent hous­ing to “pro­vide hun­dreds of new beds within apart­mentstyle units,” he said. “In­cor­po­rat­ing this fi­nal piece of the block would pro­vide us with space and flex­i­bil­ity needed to ef­fi­ciently con­struct the best pos­si­ble fa­cil­ity.”

A Jan­uary memo to the re­gents said a donor had of­fered to build a com­plex called the Gate­way Stu­dent Hous­ing Project to house up to 810 stu­dents on land bounded by Univer­sity Av­enue, Ox­ford Street, Wal­nut Street and Berke­ley Way. At that time, the school owned five of the six parcels; 1921 Wal­nut is the sixth. The project would break ground in the third quar­ter of 2021, the memo said.

The let­ter to 1921 Wal­nut ten­ants was sent un­der a UC pol­icy that re­quires oc­cu­pants to be no­ti­fied of po­ten­tial re­lo­ca­tion be­fore a prop­erty is ac­quired, Mogulof said, not­ing that it says the ten­ants do not have to move now. The cur­rent res­i­dents “can plan on re­main­ing in the build­ing for at least sev­eral months,” he wrote.

“If and when the sale closes, and the shel­ter­in­place rules are lifted, the Univer­sity will en­sure res­i­dents re­ceive all of the re­lo­ca­tion as­sis­tance they are en­ti­tled to,” Mogulof said, re­fer­ring to a 52­page UC pol­icy that says res­i­dents dis­lo­cated by the univer­sity should re­ceive “fair and rea­son­able re­lo­ca­tion pay­ment” and as­sis­tance to find com­pa­ra­ble dwellings. How much as­sis­tance de­pends on cir­cum­stances such as in­come, cost of com­pa­ra­ble hous­ing and mov­ing ex­penses, he said.

But wor­ried ten­ants fear that will not be good enough.

“Ide­ally we want UC not to buy the build­ing so we could stay,” said Paul Wal­lace, who’s lived at the site for five years, and noted that the univer­sity pre­vi­ously planned to build on the parcels around 1921 Wal­nut, while leav­ing it in­tact. “A dis­tant sec­ond choice (would be to) com­pen­sate us for the re­lo­ca­tion, and (move) to sim­i­lar ac­com­mo­da­tions with sim­i­lar rent in a rent­con­trolled build­ing.”

Find­ing com­pa­ra­ble space could be a tall or­der in Berke­ley, which, like much of the Bay Area, has a hous­ing cri­sis. Rent­con­trolled units rarely come to mar­ket and when they do, their cur­rent ask­ing rents are much higher than those paid by peo­ple who’ve been in a unit for many years.

The charm and char­ac­ter of the 111­year­old build­ing, which has hard­wood floors, wain­scot­ing and higher ceil­ings, would also be hard to find else­where.

“UC can’t find us com­pa­ra­ble apart­ments,” said Lo­gusch, who relies on be­ing close to pub­lic tran­sit. “If they evict us, I can be dis­placed from Berke­ley per­ma­nently, maybe from the Bay Area.”

Google Street Vew

UC Berke­ley is in con­tract to buy 1921 Wal­nut St. and po­ten­tially would raze it for stu­dent hous­ing.

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