Univ. of California – Berkeley to redevelop underused site into much-needed affordable housing for 7500 low-income students

On January 27, 2021—with the help and support of a generous donor–the University of California – Berkeley (UC Berkeley) is taking a significant step forward in addressing the urgent need for additional student housing. Anchor House, a transformative new housing project with more than 750 beds, will redevelop an underutilized residential site in the city of Berkeley that is bounded by University Avenue, Oxford Street, Walnut Street and Berkeley Way.

The design and construction of the building are being paid for in full by a philanthropic foundation, and once the building is open, the net operating revenues it generates will go toward providing scholarships for low-income Berkeley students. Anchor House will be the first donor-funded residence hall on campus since Rosalie Stern funded Stern Hall, which opened in 1942.

The Anchor House project also represents substantial progress toward improving the transfer student experience. This will be the first campus housing project dedicated to transfer students, who represent 20% of Berkeley undergraduates; tend to come from more economically disadvantaged families, compared to the general student population; and often face challenges connecting to, and becoming a part of, the campus community. Housing close to campus that is prioritized for transfer students will help them thrive and succeed at Berkeley.

When planning for the Anchor House project began in 2018, the campus owned the entire square block, except for a small apartment building at 1921 Walnut Street.

That changed in 2019, when the then-owner informed the university of the then-owners intent to sell the property. The university acquired 1921 Walnut Street in early 2020 to prevent any other redevelopment that could have jeopardized the planned student housing. Subsequently, a process began to determine the best use of the property by the university.

After careful analysis and consideration, it became clear that the successful and efficient construction of Anchor House, with hundreds of new, urgently needed beds for transfer students, requires the inclusion and redevelopment of this property. Regretfully, this decision will necessitate the permanent relocation of tenants in the remaining five units in the Walnut Street apartment building.

The inclusion of the property will add 75 beds to the overall project, which, over the building’s anticipated 100-year lifespan, equates to housing for 7,500 additional students.

The university is ready and able to be flexible and accommodating with the Walnut Street residents,” said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof. “We can and will balance the needs of thousands of students who require housing and the needs of the 10 tenants who remain in the building.

In a letter sent to the tenants on January 26, the campus explained that, while there is a need to move as quickly as possible to address a severe student housing crisis impacting the city and campus communities, the university is also aware of how challenging relocation can be, particularly during these difficult times.

For that reason, the tenants have been assured that no one will be required to move while either a state-ordered eviction moratorium or a city of Berkeley shelter-in-place order is in effect. This means that the tenants will not, under any circumstances, be required to permanently relocate before the end of August 2021, at the earliest.

Tenants of 1921 Walnut Street are being assured that the university is ready and able to provide generous, comprehensive relocation packages. Depending on each household’s financial circumstances, the value of the relocation package could easily reach six figures.

At a minimum, their relocation benefits package will include:

  • Assistance with locating comparable and available housing that is nearby and maintains their standard of living. Each unit in 1921 Walnut will be considered a two-bedroom apartment. This ensures that every tenant will have an opportunity to relocate to a comparable home at the university’s expense;
  • A lump sum or reimbursement for reasonable moving expenses;
  • The university’s rental assistance provision provides tenants with a payment equal to 42 months of the difference between what their new rent will be and their current rent, or the difference between their new rent and 30% of their total household income, whichever would provide them with greater benefit. For example, a tenant household is currently paying $1,200 per month for rent and utilities. If the cost increase between a new comparable unit and the household’s current unit is $1,300 per month, then that difference would be multiplied by 42 months, which would result in total rental assistance of $54,600; and
  • Should the tenant provide household income information that qualifies the household for a greater benefit, that is the benefit that will be provided.
    The option of a one-time lump sum payment equal to the household’s total rental assistance payment, to use toward purchasing a home in the community of its choice. The university says it’s committed to working with the tenants of 1921 Walnut Street, and to be as flexible and accommodating as possible.

The student housing project will be presented to the UC Board of Regents for approval in July 2021.

Photo of the South Gate of the campus is courtesy of UC Berkeley.

See UC Berkeley website.

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