The Robin Hood Committee needs your help gathering signatures to place two initiatives on the November ballot. The initiatives will create $4.5 million for affordable housing and other city services in Berkeley by taxing the windfall profits of large landlords. Right now, Berkeley tenants are paying more than $100 million a year in excess rent, wealth that is taken out of our community. We can recapture a fraction of that by putting these measures to a vote of the people.
Join us this Sunday to pick up petitions and a partner for signature gathering.
Cant make it Sunday or want petitions earlier? Call us at 1-510-548-FAH-1. The Robin Hood Committee is supported by the Green Party of Alameda County, Councilmembers Worthington and Arreguin, Rent Board members Stephens, Harr, Soto-Vigil and Townley, the Berkeley Tenants Union and many others.
The Windfall Profits Tax on High Rents Initiative will raise the business license tax on residential rental units by 1.9%, but exempts small live-in and low-income landlords with less than 10 units. It also reduces the tax for units occupied by long-term tenants with moderate rents. In order not to discourage new construction, it allows a 20 year exemption from the increase starting with initial occupancy of the building. This is expected to raise $4.5 million annually for the City’s general fund to start with, rising as units occupied by long-term tenants turn over, as 20 year exemptions expire and as rents continue to rise. The tax cannot be passed on to tenants, since current tenants are protected by the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance.
The Affordable Housing Initiative will require the City Council to set aside at least $3 million annually for the Housing Trust Fund, which is used to develop affordable housing for low-income people either through new construction or acquisition and rehabilitation of existing housing by non-profit organizations. Once passed by the voters, Council will have 120 days to do a fiscal analysis and determine whether to accept the measure or to reduce or veto the allocation. The $3 million set-aside is expected to derive from the windfall profits tax revenue described above. Activists consider passage of the tax measure to be the best means of ensuring that the City can invest in affordable housing without reducing other needed services.
Background: Rents in Berkeley are rising to record highs, bringing windfall profits to most landlords while tenant incomes remain stagnant. Rents are going up because Berkeley is a very desirable place to live, not because landlords have so greatly improved the buildings they own. A strong Bay Area economy and public investments in the University, transit, parks and other public services all make Berkeley an attractive place to live. When public activities increase the value of private property it is only fair that the public recapture a small fraction of the value we the people create and use it for public benefit rather than allowing it all to be taken for private profit.
Before 1999 Berkeley had a strong rent control system that only allowed landlords to raise rents enough to provide a constitutionally required fair return on their investment but did not allow windfall profits at the expense of tenants. In 1999 the State legislature imposed �vacancy decontrol�, which now allows landlords to raise rents without limit whenever a new tenant moves in.
As a result, 85% of Berkeley’s older rentals have had vacancy increases. Tenants are now paying more than $100 million annually in additional rent, over and above what is needed to provide landlords with a fair return on their investment. Real, inflation-adjusted rents have gone up by more than 50% yet Berkeley’s landlords are taking out permits for building renovations equal in value to less than 3% of their massive annual rent increases. This transfer of wealth from Berkeley tenants to landlords, the majority of whom live outside of Berkeley, drains money from the community and increases demands for public services of all kinds, from social services to subsidized housing to public safety.