Candidates running for Rent Stabilization Board, top from left, Soli Alpert, Stefan Elgstrand, Carole Marasovic and Vanessa Danielle Marrero; bottom row, from left, Ida Martinac, Nathan Mizell, Negeene Mosaed and Wendy Saenz Hood. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Eight candidates vying for five Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board seats want to guide tenants and property owners as the city moves forward from emergency pandemic housing laws in an ongoing region-wide housing crisis.

The rent board oversees all properties in Berkeley that fall under rent control (including the new rent registry), sets the rent ceiling and provides resources and education for tenants and property owners of rentals in the city.

The board also pushes for expanding rent board policies citywide — like implementing good cause eviction laws for golden duplexes and accessory dwelling units, and reviewing grievance cases from tenants and property owners. 

In 2020, the rent board successfully campaigned for Measure MM, which created a database of rental properties in the city. Owners of partially exempt properties have to pay a fee and provide rental unit information (like tenancy numbers) so that the rent board can maintain inventory.

And during the pandemic, the rent board pushed for Berkeley to be one of the first jurisdictions to implement an eviction moratorium for all tenants — even before the state did the same.

Five candidates seeking board seats are running on a “progressive, pro-tenant” slate that swept the election in 2020: incumbent Soli Alpert, Ida Martinac, Vanessa Danielle Marrero, Negeene Mosaed and Nathan Mizell. They are all using public financing.

Carole Marasovic, Stefan Elgstrand and Wendy Saenz Hood are running independently; Marasovic and Saenz Hood were candidates in the 2020 election and are using public financing.

Elgstrand, who serves as Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s legislative aide, has a supermajority of endorsements from the City Council and the Berkeley Unified School Board. He said he isn’t using public financing this year because the limit ($8,000 a person) is too low to run a citywide campaign, modeled after how much money a slate receives (individual limits multiplied by five to make $40,000), but that he hopes to use it in the future.

The candidates have a lot in common. All acknowledge the pressures of the housing crisis, especially as illuminated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential of an eviction cliff when the eviction moratorium expires. But they have varying solutions to address these problems.

Regulations for small property owners divide candidates

In a forum with the League of Women Voters in early October, Saenz Hood pushed back against rent board attempts to extend good cause eviction protections to golden duplexes and accessory dwelling units (or in-law units), saying it discourages property owners from offering up their existing properties for the rental market.

Saenz Hood ran as part of a property owners slate in 2020 but is now a renter after she sold her Berkeley Hills home to move into an elderly neighbor’s duplex, where she helps maintain the property.

She said part of her motivation to sell the home was the possibility that her former golden duplex — which she said she would need to rent out for financial reasons — would be subject to just cause eviction laws. She worried this would put her in a position where she didn’t have control over a tenant living in close quarters with her.

Alpert, the only incumbent in the race, is a legislative aide for Councilmember Rigel Robinson. The “pro-tenant” slate of Alpert,  Martinac, Marrero, Mosaed and Mizell was selected by the Berkeley Tenants Convention, which represents local union groups, the Berkeley Tenants Union and neighborhood organizations like Friends of Adeline.

The slate strongly supports extending good cause evictions to golden duplexes and ADUs.

“Tenants deserve to have a say in their own future,” Alpert said, speaking for the slate at the forum, describing “mom and pop” landlords and corporate-owned housing as both situations where tenants have no agency and can be displaced on a whim. “[Tenants] are part of our community; they are not ‘other’ than our community because they do not own property.”

Alpert said he’s very worried about the impending eviction cliff. He and the rest of the slate are disappointed that the city council declined twice to put good cause evictions for golden duplexes on the ballot.

Elgstrand has emphasized using multiple sources of funding to ensure anti-displacement strategies while ensuring property owners can pay their mortgage, and touts his work organizing rental assistance for tenants in the mayor’s office.

Marasovic believes a singular focus on tenant protections for property owners who have one ADU or a unit in a duplex is misguided because they are not in the “profit-making business.” She suggests a compromise: A tenant evicted from one of these units would get a six-month notice of displacement and a relocation reimbursement if they move in three months.

“I believe in rent control, but I don’t believe someone should have to keep someone on their property indefinitely, with whom they’re incompatible,” said Marasovic, adding that it’s extremely hard to be displaced, and strong tenant protections are needed at larger properties.

Different approaches to ensuring affordable units, preventing displacement

Though the rent board doesn’t have a direct hand in how much new housing is built in the city, Berkeley’s housing crisis and affordability of available units are at the top of candidate mind’s in the rent board race.

Many candidates have approaches to preserving existing units in tandem with building anew.

The tenant slate strongly supports the vacancy tax (Measure M), which would charge certain property owners for not renting their units. Alpert was involved in drafting the measure with Councilmember Kate Harrison.

Martinac said funds generated from this tax could go toward affordable housing, creating a better rental environment regardless of whether those units are filled. Elgstrand and Marasovic support Measure M, and Elgstrand has also thrown his support behind Measure L, the infrastructure and affordable housing bond championed by the council.

Saenz Hood said it’s crucial to build more affordable housing in the city, but again emphasized that naturally occurring affordable housing is one of the city’s best options. She said the rent board needs to support small property owners to ensure those properties stay on the market.

All of the candidates have mentioned anti-displacement strategies in their platforms. The slate has especially pushed for expanding the rent board’s authority as a way to increase rent control and keep tenants in Berkeley.

Marasovic, who served as chair of the Berkeley Homeless Commission, has been vocal about including homeless residents and residents with disabilities in plans to ensure people are not pushed out of the city due to inadequate housing, especially through the city’s Housing Retention Fund.

Marrero also advocates for these groups, noting especially “vulnerable residents of color, who still exist here in Berkeley,” as well as individuals with disabilities and seniors.

Mizell, a recent Cal graduate, said Costa-Hawkins has had “profound” impacts on the rental market, especially in buildings with high turnover like student-centered apartments, and should be repealed. The 25-year-old state law widely restricts local rent control, exempting properties built in California after 1995. He said in the forum that TOPA (the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act), which hasn’t yet gained much ground in Berkeley, is another strong option to prevent displacement.

Mosaed added that local ballot measures will be important for housing affordability in the long term, but repealing statewide legislation like Costa-Hawkins is crucial.

“We need to organize tenants in a nationwide movement,” Mosaed said.

Most candidates in the election are critical of Costa-Hawkins and want it overturned. But Saenz Hood said while the legislation “has its flaws,” including “arbitrary” date ranges for rent control, it was designed to encourage property owners to keep their units on the market. She believes supporting property owners, especially small ones, goes hand in hand with building more housing to tackle the housing crisis.

The deadline to register to vote online or by mail in Alameda County is Oct. 24, and the election is Tuesday, Nov. 8. We put together a guide to the essentials of how to register and vote, what’s on the ballot, voters’ rights and more.

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See complete 2022 election coverage on Berkeleyside.

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...