Opinion: Elect the Right to Housing slate to the Berkeley rent board

It brings a commitment to tenants’ rights while the opposing slate is united by a single trait: a personal financial investment in undermining tenant protections

We are speaking out about the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board race this year because we remember what it was like the last time anti-rent control landlords took over.

Now more than ever, tenants need strong protections. Vote for the Right to Housing Slate for Rent Board.

We are in the middle of a converging storm of crises. COVID-19, climate change, and a recession are all battering our state and our beloved community here in Berkeley. Mass evictions seem possible in the near future. California’s tenants have never faced a challenge this large.

And in the middle of all this, the National Association of Realtors and High Wire Strategies — a PR firm that brags about crafting messaging to defeat rent control on its website– has spent over $130,000 – trying to buy this election. That’s more than three times what all the candidates have raised combined!

The choice in the election could not be clearer. The Right to Housing Slate is composed of a diverse group of experienced and passionate community advocates and housing affordability experts. Leah Simon-Weisberg, Mari Mendonca, Andy Kelley, Dominique Walker, and Xavier Johnson each bring a unique and valuable perspective to the board. Leah and Xavier both have extensive experience working within the legal system and successfully securing common-sense tenant protections. Andy has leveraged his working relationships with policymakers, community organizations, and public officials throughout the county to secure a record of successfully advocating for affordable housing development. Mari, an appointed incumbent, is an organizer against gentrification and displacement in South Berkeley and brings a grassroots perspective as well as a collaborative, consensus-building approach to the rent board’s work. Dominique, as a founder of Moms4Housing, has taken direct action to turn a vacant corporate-owned home into housing for homeless single mothers – and, eventually, a commitment by one of the largest corporate landlords in California to ensure that it remains affordable housing for families.

Leah Simon-Weisberg, Mari Mendonca, Andy Kelley, Dominique Walker, and Xavier Johnson are endorsed by the Sierra Club, Alameda Labor Council, Alameda County Building and Construction Trades, Green Party, Wellstone Democratic Club, Cal Berkeley Democrats, Berkeley Tenants Union, Healthcare Workers, Peace and Freedom Party, Mayor Jesse Arreguín, City Council members Sophie Hahn, Rigel Robinson, Kate Harrison, and Ben Bartlett.

The opposing slate, however — lacks even a single mutual endorsement from an elected official or community organization. They are united by a single trait: a personal financial investment in undermining tenant protections. Each candidate on the opposing slate is either a landlord, a realtor, or a for-profit builder and comments on their slate website illustrate their contempt for existing and well-established Berkeley law. One member of their slate has said that “rent control is counterproductive to the goal of lowering rents.” Another says that Berkeley’s eviction protections are unnecessary because state and county laws are sufficient. He doesn’t think that rent control should apply to “small multi-unit buildings,” even though those make up a substantial portion of Berkeley’s current rent-controlled housing.

While the Right to Housing Slate works so that our whole community — both homeowners and tenants — can be safe in this pandemic against eviction and displacement, the opposing slate is fighting for their own pocketbook.

Max Anderson is a former Berkeley City Council member and former chair of the rent board. Jeffrey Carter is a former directing attorney of the rent board. Sharon Maldonado, Kathy Harr, Jesse Townley and Marsha Feinland are all former rent board commissioners.