Opinion: Mari Mendonca, a tenant in Section 8 housing, is the voice Berkeley needs on the rent board

She was once homeless, has lived below the poverty line, and recognizes the importance of a right to decent, safe, secure and affordable housing.

We are so excited to introduce  Mari Mendonca to your readers. Mari was unanimously appointed to the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board in November 2019 and is also a sitting member of the Housing Advisory Commission.

Mari has lived and breathed the importance of a right to decent, safe, secure and affordable housing her entire life. Mari’s story is an experience that many in Berkeley who are economically vulnerable can relate to. A native Berkeleyan, Mari has been a tenant living below the poverty line and experienced the pain of homelessness as a young mother. She was displaced from Berkeley in 1994. Only after a 10+ years wait on the Section 8 waiting list, was she able to return. As a renter and Section 8 voucher holder, Mari represents an important and underrepresented voice of our community.

She has been a passionate advocate for the rights and dignity of low-income people. It is her belief that 100% affordable housing be built at both BART stations, in advocacy of housing as a human right, and in mobilizing for housing justice in the form of policy changes that do not give benefits to developers over community needs. Mari also believes that extending rent control to new units and a cap on the manipulated inflation of the market is an effective way to help low-income and very low-income households.

Mari is inspired by her belief that natural existence is one of interdependence. When a community works for the common good for all, everyone can thrive and no one is left behind.

Mari believes that we must have the courage to face the way that Berkeley has viewed housing and development historically and to ask who it should benefit now. As a community activist, Mari has honed the skill of listening. She believes that when we engage deeply with a real commitment to exploring these difficult questions together, we discover our most profound insights.

We agree with Mari. We believe that she will address these issues by asking the hard questions needed. Given her experience on the rent board and her lived experience, she has a profoundly unique understanding of the issues. Mari has the vision to address the multiple and complex challenges that Berkeley faces to insure Berkeley becomes a more equitable place to live.

James Chang is a rent board commissioner, writing as a private citizen. Edythe Boone is a mural artist in South Berkeley, Michai Freeman is a holistic health advocate and disability activist. Catherine Hutchting works in publishing and is a longtime South Berkeley resident. Willie Phillips is former president, West Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation. All of them, except Chang, are members of Friends of Adeline, a community group in South Berkeley.