Name: Leah Simon-Weisberg
Job: Tenants rights attorney
What office are you are running for? Berkeley Rent Board Commissioner
What is the main reason you are running? I am running for Berkeley Rent Board Commissioner because I feel strongly that all rent boards must be accountable to the people — there is no better way than through an election. Berkeley and Santa Monica both have elected rent boards and I believe it is no surprise that they are the two most effective and well enforced rent control ordinances in the state. This, however, requires qualified people to volunteer to run.
Why are you qualified for the position? If elected I would bring 14 years of legal experience as a tenant attorney. I have practiced in almost every rent control jurisdiction in the state. Over the last two years, I have been a leader in the movement to pass rent control and just cause protections in new jurisdictions. I developed a rent control tool kit and have extensively studied rent control and just cause eviction protections in order to draft several ordinances and ballot measures to ensure that they reflected the best practices from around the state.
What sets you apart from other candidates? For the last 14 years, I have fought to safeguard existing rent control and just cause eviction protections. I have provided critical legal support to five Bay Area campaigns to pass new rent control laws; including writing comprehensive rent control measures that qualified for the Richmond and Alameda ballots this November.
I also have extensive experience with supervision and the running of an organization. This provides me with the skills necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of the rent board and provide leadership in the impending process of hiring a new executive director when the present director retires.
Along with the other members of the CALI progressive, pro-tenant Rent Board slate, I have extensive community support. After being elected out of a field of more than ten candidates to run on the progressive slate at the Berkeley Tenant Convention, I have received an extensive range of endorsements such as the Sierra Club, the Alameda County Democratic Party and the Alameda Labor Council, AFL-CIO.
How did you end up in Berkeley? I moved with my husband and daughter to Berkeley in 2009 after more than a decade working in Los Angeles. I represented tenants in eviction cases and ran a non-profit law firm called the Eviction Defense Network. We returned to the Bay Area to be closer to friends and family. We chose Berkeley because we wanted to live in a community that prioritized quality, integrated and inclusive schools, the outdoors, the arts and rent control. My daughter attended the JCC East Bay preschool and now is a second grader at Malcolm X Elementary.
What are the three biggest challenges Berkeley faces in the near future?
1. Lack of housing that working families and students can afford and resulting displacement of long term families of color.
2. Loss of teachers due to lack of housing affordability.
3. The Costa- Hawkins Act which allows landlords to charge any price for housing regardless of the detrimental impact on the community.
What are your ideas to solve them? There are several factors that have created the perfect storm for a housing crisis in Berkeley. One factor is the over dependence on profit-driven development instead of development that reflects the needs of the community.
Another factor was the passage of the Costa-Hawkins Act which prevents local governments from regulating new rents even when vacancy rates are as low as 1.5%. When there is absolutely no supply and extreme demand for a necessary commodity such as health care, education, food or housing, regulations are required to protect the consumer and the economy from speculation.
I also believe that corporate investors have created a business model that puts many tenants at risk. Properties are transferred from good long-term landlords to speculator landlords who only intend to hold the property long enough to empty the property of long-term tenants and tenants of color. In addition to strong enforcement and eviction defense, we need to find ways to prevent this type of speculative investment. I will work with the rent board, the city council and the community to encourage owners to sell rental units to community land trusts, instead of to corporate landlords who have no interest in maintaining a long term rental business.
I will also use my regional ties with tenant advocates around the bay area and across the state to bring together all of the rent control jurisdictions including the 5 communities that will be voting on rent control on November 8th to address the needed changes at the state level.
I would also like to work with BUSD to increate more affordable housing opportunities for our teachers. Malcolm X Elementary lost 6 teachers last year. Many because they chose to move to other communities where they could afford the housing costs on a teacher’s salary.
What is your most inspired/unique idea for Berkeley? The City of Berkeley should consider providing seed money for community land trusts. Community land trusts can play an important role in protecting tenants against speculative out of town corporate landlords.
How will you be accessible to constituents? I would like to emulate many of the very effective practices of the BUSD. One is that they all have regular “office hours.” I will hold regular office hours and will continue to be available through email and face book.
I will also do my part to have an ongoing discussion with community groups in Berkeley. As issues and challenges arise I will reach out to community groups to solicit feedback, ideas, and input. I will work with rent board staff to ensure concerns are communicated to the board and outreach is a priority.
How much money do you expect to spend on your campaign? Collectively as a slate, we have raised approximately $9,000, and are targeting raising between $20,000 and $25,000 through the course of the campaign.
A final thought? I am very proud to be part of such a strong, diverse and committed slate and encourage all of Berkeley to vote for the progressive, pro-tenant, pro-rent control CALI slate: Christina Murphy, Alejandro Soto-Vigil, Leah Simon-Weisberg and Igor Tregub. Please visit our website at www.berkeleyrentboard.org for more information.
See complete 2016 election coverage on Berkeleyside.