… come on, you can guess, right? Why would protesters in Berkeley halt construction for low-income and student housing? Reason’s Emma Camp reports that the demonstrators declaring that “Housing is a human right!” also demanded that new construction cease displacing the homeless that have occupied the construction area.
No, really, and apparently they made that point violently:
On Wednesday, protesters flooded People’s Park in Berkeley, California, chanting, “Housing is a human right, fight, fight, fight!” The reason the crowd was protesting? The University of California, Berkeley, was set to begin construction on a student housing project, which would not only house 1,100 Berkeley students at below-market rates, but also provide subsidized apartments for 125 homeless people. And the protesters want to stop this project.
According to the Associated Press, protesters threw rocks, bottles, and glass at construction workers. They also removed several sections of the chain-link fence surrounding the park. On Wednesday, the university announced that it would pause construction of the park, citing protester violence.
“All construction personnel were withdrawn out of concern for their safety,” Dan Mogulof, UC’s assistant vice chancellor, said in a statement to NBC News. “The campus will, in the days ahead, assess the situation in order to determine how best to proceed with construction of this urgently needed student housing project.”
It wasn’t just slogan chanting and drum circles, either. The university shut down the construction after the crowd began assaulting the workers, the Associated Press reported — although readers have to get near the end of the report to find that out:
After the fences were put up again early Wednesday morning, about 100 police officers, some in riot gear, were at the park as the crew began cutting down trees to the derision of onlookers who were mostly kept outside barricades.
The police looked stoically at the onlookers amid period chants of “Power to the people!” before the majority of the protesters marched away in unison after the university stopped construction. UC Berkeley police said in a statement that protesters threw rocks, bottles, and glass at crews working at the park, which is considered aggravated assault. The department didn’t say if anyone was arrested.
It’s not as if UC Berkeley hasn’t tried to put that “human right” ethos into action. Camp reports that the school has tried for five years to add enough student housing to alleviate a shortage so profound that some of their students have to sleep in their cars.
After reviewing a dozen sites, UC Berkeley chose what’s been known for decades as “People’s Park,” the scene of a riot that left one dead and dozens injured from the police response. The park has become a haven for the homeless, which the school newspaper defended as a “cultural and historical landmark” the day after this protest. Rather than build 125 units for the homeless to live in safety and better comfort — let alone the 1100 fellow students that can’t afford housing in and around the very expensive area of Berkeley — the paper wants to continue to leave the grounds undisturbed as part of the argument for, um … more housing.
And the best part of this? UC Berkeley offered to find shelter for the 50 or so homeless people in the construction zone — and nearly all of them accepted it. This protest was literally over three people who refused to leave this public space:
Two or three homeless people who were still at the park Wednesday were offered shelter, transportation, and storage for their belongings. The university didn’t say whether they accepted the offer. Another 46 homeless people who used to live at the park previously accepted offers for shelter at a motel that is being paid for by the city of Berkeley, the university said.
So UC Berkeley wants to provide housing to students and the homeless. The city of Berkeley is providing shelter for the homeless. And yet demonstrators violently blocked efforts to create permanent solutions to this housing crisis by declaring it a human right so precious that any construction workers helping to solve it should be terrorized. There’s only one way to explain that, as Berkeley Law professor Orin Kerr reminded me last night: