Name: Pawel Moldenhawer, green general contractor
What office/district are you are running for? Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board commissioner
What is the main reason you are running? Berkeley has been my home for almost 30 years. I strongly believe in retaining Berkeley’s diversity. Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board (BRSB) should represent all residents equally whether they are homeowners or renters so that we don’t lose the Berkeley character. I grew up in Poland under a communist regime, so I have seen the results of “good intentions” gone wrong. As a result, I want to provide a “voice of reason” to the current rent board. The current board has nine commissioners who do not represent the perspective of the homeowners and housing providers and their approach has not solved our housing problems in Berkeley. Democracy is a process of working out a compromise among the various points of view to move forward.
Why are you qualified? In the many decades that I have lived in Berkeley, I’ve seen the rental situation from every perspective. Over the years, I rented a one-bedroom apartment, a duplex and a small house. We later bought a house in which we now live. As a contractor I bought two fixer-uppers in Berkeley, renovated them and rented them. I have an excellent, cooperative, respectful and friendly relationship with my tenants. My experience as a renter, housing provider and a contractor gives me firsthand experience of issues and interactions between various renters and housing providers and also city bureaucracy. I want to use this hands-on experience to serve my community that I deeply care about. I believe in a pragmatic approach to solving problems and in transparent decision making by public servants.
What sets you apart from other candidates? I have thought deeply about our housing shortages, rent affordability, gentrification and displacement of some long-term Berkeley residents and the best way to spend tax-payer dollars.
BRSB is responsible for making recommendations to the Berkeley city government on matters related to rental housing. I believe BRSB has a responsibility to adopt and recommend evidence-based policies that expand housing units, policies that encourage more ADU builds, encourage desegregation policies that support low-income families to move to high opportunity areas, focus on strengthening policies to help families receive housing vouchers and use them most effectively. Instead I find the BRSB hyper-focused on protecting the limited number of rent control units and the lucky few who are locked into rent control units. An example of a data-driven recommendation would be the research by Raj Chetty, recipient of MacArthur Genius Fellowship, that providing additional service support to housing voucher recipients allowed 54% of the families to move to high-opportunity areas with rich community resources. These efforts are likely to reduce the persistence of poverty across generations.
What brought you to Berkeley and when did you come? I came to Berkeley after graduate school in VA, to work in the Biotech field. My wife and I raised our family here. Our son was born, raised here and educated in the Berkeley Public school system. I knew almost nothing about Berkeley before I arrived, but after a few months I realized that this is “the best place in the known universe” and that it was truly lucky that I could make this my home.
What are the three biggest challenges for Berkeley in the next five years? The challenges related to housing for Berkeley in the next five years are:
1. Housing affordability, availability and quality
2. Accountability and transparency of the rent board
3. Homelessness and supportive housing services
What are your ideas to begin to solve them? Change rent board priorities away from failed, punitive policies towards homeowners and housing providers, and instead focus on encouraging increase in quality and quantity of housing available for rent. Make decisions based on evidence of which policies are effective. I believe that rent control in its current form is failing to solve the problem of affordability since it only benefits those lucky few who are currently locked into a rental unit but not for all those who are actually economically disadvantaged. Therefore, I support the Biden plan for housing which is based on economic need. The idea of providing resources in addition to housing vouchers that allow people to move from high poverty, racially segregated neighborhoods, to more integrated neighborhoods is supported by UC Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging’s program.
A 2012 Alameda County Grand Jury inquiry into the BRSB concluded that it operates with little accountability. The report found that “the board is not providing strong enough oversight, not holding the agency accountable – not scrutinizing personnel hiring, not questioning compensation, not balancing both landlord and tenant interests, not trying to constrain increases in registration fees.” My focus will be to provide transparency and streamline bureaucracy.
What is your most inspired/unique idea for Berkeley? I believe Berkeley is willing to lead by example on addressing climate change. We can, and should become carbon neutral within a few years even if it costs us a lot of money and effort. Climate change is, and will remain for decades to come, the main challenge for everybody around the world. We all know that it will get worse before it gets better. The last few years we have been choking on the smoke of unprecedented fires California. Consequences of climate change are here, and we must act now.
How will you be accessible to constituents? I will provide my email, phone number and establish biweekly or monthly “office” hours to meet with anybody who has concerns or suggestions. I will participate in all meetings related to rent issues in Berkeley and afterwards make myself available to participants. I love to connect with people and do not shy away from conversations.
Why should voters choose you over the incumbent? Berkeley rent board policies have failed spectacularly. We have a shortage of affordable rental housing, while spending 80% of the BRSB budget (for 2020 is $6,000,000) on salaries and office rent. According to Transparent California, the 2019 salary of the head of Berkeley rent board was $249,000 plus benefits, while the salary of Gavin Newsom, was around $197,000. This is not right and must change. I am willing to try. Currently all board members claim to represent only renters and are not interested in proportional representation. I will represent both renters and housing providers and focus on improving the situation through incentives rather than failed punitive measures. I will advocate for desegregation policies that support low income families to move to high opportunity areas.
How much money do you expect to spend on your campaign? $2,000
Share a personal interest or passion people might be surprised to learn about. I love creek ecosystems and I wish I was a part of the creek and habitat restoration projects in Berkeley. For the last few years, I have been observing, marveling and enjoying the results of the lower Codornices creek (near Harrison Street and Gilman area) and Berkeley Marina restoration project. It is inspirational to me that in Berkeley we can, at least partially, fix what our predecessors have destroyed, and a semblance of wilderness can return to our city. As a contractor I am planning to get involved in the creation and installation of green roofs and living walls.
Learn more about Pawel Moldenhawer online: Website