by Carol Denney September 2018
Welcome to the Company Town - Housing for Teachers, But Not for You, by Carol Denney
They can't say it worked in West Virginia. When employers - the coal companies - owned the housing and the stores where workers bought equipment, food, and clothing, all it took was a whiff of union talk for management to whistle coal miners right out of a job, and sometimes coal miners' families out of a home.
But memories are short on the west coast. The Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) is promoting a plan to cannibalize recreational and parking facilities and replace them with teachers-only housing, and even then for only a miniscule ratio of teachers burdened with long commutes. These are some of the same spaces they apparently can't imagine using to situate people living in RVs despite some of those people being teachers, students, and Berkeley employees.
Let's be fair. All of our workforce is burdened by the highest rents in the nation and the choking commutes we face getting to and from work, or the venues we play as musicians. And with all due respect to teachers, is the argument that they are more important than police officers? Firefighters? More poorly paid than food workers, musicians, artists? Or students, for that matter? At least one commissioner on the Housing Advisory Board winced when this argument was made.
Those who asked the obvious question at a recent presentation of the teachers-only housing proposal about what happens to one's housing if one takes a different job, or gets fired got a lot of "we'll see." Didn't we all pay for our schools and school property whether we have kids in public school or not? Shouldn't the whole community share any housing resources available, especially those made available with public funding?
As respected as the teaching profession is, they are not our most vulnerable or most housing-challenged group. A recent city report clarifies that Berkeley has one segment of its population on track to never find housing without a radical reassessment of who benefits from our current housing opportunities, which underestimated homelessness at 1,000, rather than the more accurate number of 2,000, a group in which African Americans are wildly over-represented.
Berkeley taxpayers should by all means support workforce housing, senior housing, and student housing. But ghettoizing these groups in class -specific or worker-specific buildings is unfair to the public whose dollars are building it if the housing benefit is hollowed out for only a few who will then lose their housing as soon as their status shifts. Our parks and recreational spaces, even our parking, needs to be carefully balanced with community needs. People who wonder why hurried measures to cram new-built housing into every backyard and median strip are right to question why parks and gardens are so easily considered frivolous or unimportant, considering that they were championed for all classes in the New Deal era when national poverty was at its worst.
All housing built in Berkeley going forward should lean toward working incomes, all working incomes, and should set aside a generous ratio for those who will never otherwise catch up. If the collective decisions we make regarding our collective taxes don't benefit the predominately African American group our own city report describes as most in need after years of overt, racist redlining, it is the height of hypocrisy to restrict such benefits to a group which, in the City of Berkeley, is predominately white.
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