Without diminishing UC Berkeley’s academic rigor and standards, I want students to thrive, not just survive, on our campus. As my administration moves to improve the undergraduate experience, we are confronted with the dark side of the Bay Area’s vibrant economy, a spreading housing crisis. Long gone are the days when students could find cheap rentals; too many live in distant, expensive, and crowded apartments, undermining their academic aspirations and sense of belonging to the campus community.
To resolve the student housing crisis, we are developing university-owned property in the City of Berkeley, and making innovative arrangements to cast light on how the University is adapting to an era of constrained state financing without abandoning our commitment to student welfare and the greater good.
With limited debt capacity and an absence of state funding for capital projects, the University is building new residence halls through public-private partnerships; we lease our land to a private sector developer who then builds and operates housing following our rules and standards, funded through the rental revenues.
We are also active in the housing market; master lease agreements have been signed by the campus at privately developed housing projects now under construction. They are projected to expand our inventory by more than 665 beds for undergraduate and graduate students by 2023.
And, then there’s People’s Park, the putative “third rail” of local politics. Whatever one thinks of the ideals that motivated the park’s creation, it no longer embodies those ideals. The space currently attracts about 40-50 members of the homeless community on a daily basis. These individuals tend to be the victims, not the perpetrators of serious crimes too often committed on the park’s grounds.
I believe that the University has a responsibility over the park, to collaborate with the city in support of its homeless population, and to address our students’ need for housing. With that in mind, I decided that People’s Park would be among the first university-owned parcels to be developed, for it is the only site that allows the campus to address student housing needs, revitalize a neighborhood, and provide improved safety and services to all.
In line with our public service mission, and the park’s founding ideals, we will provide a portion of the site to non-profit organizations for the
construction and operation of “supportive housing” for the homeless, with 75 to 125 apartments and social services fully funded by
external sources. Then, using a public-private partnership, we will also build a new student residential facility that will provide between 700
to 1,000 new beds onsite. There will be more than enough room for new, safe, and welcoming open space, as well as a physical memorialization of the park’s history and legacy.
None of this would be possible absent a new and extraordinarily positive town-gown relationship. We are working closely with the mayor and
other elected officials, as well as leaders of civic, religious, and business organizations. Together, we can and will greatly improve upon a status quo that poorly serves the needs of those we care about most. We must consider and support the people who will benefit from the park’s renovation, rehabilitation and re-purposing: the homeless, our students, neighbors, local
businesses, and visitors to our campus and city.