The rent board during the announcement of the hiring of DéSeana Williams (bottom left) as executive director on Nov.15, 2021. Credit: Screenshot

The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board has appointed DéSeana Williams as its new executive director after an 18-month vacancy following the untimely departure of Jay Kelekian, who served in the position for nearly two decades.

Williams comes to the position from the Detroit Housing Commission, where she served for 15 years in advocacy and affordable housing service roles. She began the position in Berkeley on Nov. 15.

“I’m humbled and honored to be here,” Williams said during the announcement at the board’s meeting Thursday, adding that the body has championed rent stabilization work in Berkeley and throughout the country. “I’m so excited because this is the gold standard — I really look forward to the work.”

Williams, who was born and raised in New York, was selected in a nationwide search, according to the rent board, and will be paid a starting salary of $200,366 on a three-year contract.

Her hire comes over a year after the lengthy and expensive termination of Kelekian, the former executive director of 18 years, who was placed on administrative leave in April 2020. Berkeleyside obtained a settlement agreement in February that alleged Kelekian retaliated against a former employee, prompting nine commissioners on the board to place him on leave.

The board ultimately paid a $210,000 settlement to the employee, with an additional $340,000 in legal fees and payments.

Kelekian worked for the city for 36 years, including 19 years at the rent board. He retired early after being placed on administrative leave and was making $220,696 before his departure.

Supriya Yelimeli is a housing and homelessness reporter for Berkeleyside and joined the staff in May 2020 after contributing reporting since 2018 as a freelance writer. Yelimeli grew up in Fremont and...