Critics protest new UC Berkeley student apartments at People's Park

A group on Friday is organizing against UC Berkeley's plan to build more affordable student housing with a plan to disrupt classes.

The protest targets a plan to build 1,100 units at People's Park near Cal's campus, because the critics say the student housing will displace the homeless who live there and increase the cost of local housing, which is a longtime problem for Berkeley at the university. Protestors named it "Defending Peoples Park."

"They're here every month," said Joshua So, a freshman business administration major. "It's almost normal at this point. It's kind of fun, it contributes to the Berkeley atmosphere."

Earlier this year, a judge activated an enrollment freeze for UC Berkeley  admissions, saying the school would need to accept 3,000 fewer students next year until it came up with more affordable housing ideas.

The state Legislature bypassed that and now, the university has nine sites in mind to create more housing space, according to Berkeley mayor Jesse Arreguin.

The school is not building on its own campus.

Mayor Arreguin says he sees both sides of the argument.

"I support building housing on all those nine sites," Mayor Arreguin said. "But we know building housing on the city jurisdiction does create impacts on those neighborhoods, so I think the university should look at building housing on its campus as a solution." 

Students say finding a place to live adds stress to their lives. 

"I feel like most students go into this process blind and not knowing how bad and how difficult it is to find a roof over your head in Berkeley," said Cal freshman Sanaa Sodhi.

Cal senior Jennifer Lopez added: "I definitely was not prepared to be this stressed about housing every year."

Ramon Mendoza stood with protestors Friday morning, saying he "genuinely cares" about the homeless living at People's Park, and he personally brings them food once a week, and has for years. 

In a statement, UC Berkeley said that the school is grateful the city of Berkeley is allowing transitional housing and a new daytime drop-in center for unhoused people living in the park. The school plans to proceed with plans in the summer, adding an independent survey showed 65% of its study body supported the plans.

The student housing crisis is not unique to Berkeley or the Bay Area.

Nationwide, students are reporting struggling to find on-campus dorms or apartments at major public universities.

Some have resorted to couch-surfing, renting motels, or sleeping in their own cars.