Top (left to right): Soli Alpert, Stefan Elgstrand, Carole Marasovic and Vanessa Marrero. Bottom: Ida Martinac, Nathan Mizell, Negeene Mosaed and Wendy Saenz Hood. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Berkeleyside wants to help you get to know your 2022 candidates for Berkeley City Council, school board, rent board and more. That’s why we’re publishing questionnaires with local candidates.

Q&As with rent board candidates follow. We asked candidates why they were running and what they’ve accomplished, and to spell out their views on what should be done before and after the eviction moratorium is lifted and whether they think Berkeley has a healthy rental ecosystem.

more on the rent board race

Eight candidates are running for five seats on Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board in November, with only one incumbent up for re-election. Incumbent Soli Alpert, the board’s vice chair and an aide to Councilmember Rigel Robinson, is running along with Stefan Elgstrand, aide to Mayor Jesse Arreguín; Carole Marasovic, a policy commissioner and attorney; Vanessa Danielle Marrero, the executive director of a parent advocacy group; Ida Martinac, an attorney; Nathan Mizell, a paralegal and Berkeley Police Accountability Board member; Negeene Mosaed, a physical therapist; and Wendy Saenz Hood, a retired media coordinator. With all members on the Berkeley rent board elected at-large, voters’ top five picks among the eight candidates running will join the board.

See all of Berkeleyside’s 2022 election coverage. We’ll continue to publish more stories on the key Berkeley races and ballot initiatives to help readers make informed decisions about the potential leaders and policies that could help shape Berkeley’s future.

Click the questions below to see candidates’ answers. They are listed in alphabetical order.

Why are you running?
Tamar Michai Freeman

Soli Alpert: I am running for reelection because COVID-19, record inflation, and the ongoing housing crisis all threaten Berkeley working families and the stability and diversity of our community. Now more than ever we need leaders with a proven record of defending rent control and fighting for housing security.

Stefan Elgstrand: The housing crisis makes maintaining roots in Berkeley increasingly unaffordable and unattainable for too many. Economic challenges are squeezing tenants and small landlords. We need experienced, progressive leadership on the rent board to protect existing renters and support needed new housing.

Carole Marasovic: Serving on the rent board is a segue from my long-term commitment to the Berkeley community including my extensive work making housing policy recommendations. With increasingly unaffordable rents, the rent board needs to fulfill its duties in a manner that honors the Rent Stabilization Ordinance.

Tamar Michai Freeman

Vanessa Marrero: Housing is a human right! Our long-time renters earn just enough to scrape by and need strong rental protections to prevent them from being displaced from Berkeley. I will demonstrate effective, collaborative, transparent and fiduciary public organizational management using data-informed practices.

Ida Martinac: I am running because I feel that the balance of power in Berkeley is increasingly hurting renters, i.e. working families, and especially single moms like myself. I want to ensure our ability to keep living in this diverse city with a rich history of progressive politics.

Nathan Mizell: I am running because Berkeley residents deserve progressive, pro-tenant leadership on the rent board. Berkeley’s rent board has a unique role that should focus on the protection of tenants and hold accountable bad actors. I believe, with community, I can bring important leadership to the board.

Negeene Mosaed: Many of my clients have suffered eviction and displacement. Their agony drove me to advocacy because few of them know their rights or the protections provided by just-cause evictions, tenant protections and rent-control laws. Running expresses my concern over the disintegration of my community.

Wendy Saenz Hood: I decided to run for the rent board because I want to see balanced housing policy. I wish to give a voice to the unrepresented small housing provider. As a one-time Berkeley housing provider, and now a current Berkeley tenant, my aim is to be an advocate for incentivizing housing opportunities.

What are your biggest accomplishments?
Tamar Michai Freeman

Alpert: In my time on the board I have been proud to advocate for expanding tenants protection laws to vulnerable renters, shine a light on inaction by the city in addressing unsafe housing conditions, and advance recommendations to council to use our zoning laws to benefit working people, not wealthy developers. We also dealt with a number of crises at the board in the last term, and I am thrilled to have been able to find an excellent new executive director with a track record of public service in housing. We also worked with the Council to place Measure MM on the ballot expanding our rental registry to partially regulated units, which has brought the board valuable data that will inform our public policy and made rent board services available to many more Berkeley tenants. While I am proud of these achievements, there is much left incomplete that I look forward to tackling in a second term.

Elgstrand: Over the last decade, I’ve helped shape nearly every major tenant policy adopted by the city as a senior legislative aide to Mayor Jesse Arreguín and a community advocate. I strengthened our Rental Housing Safety Program after the tragic 2015 balcony collapse that killed seven young people. I helped write the Tenant Protection Ordinance, a landmark legislation to provide civil remedies to harassment. I helped write the COVID-19 Emergency Response Ordinance to expand tenant protections during the pandemic. I helped secure millions of dollars for affordable housing and rental relief for tenants and small businesses through the city budget, through anti-displacement programs and COVID-19 relief, in addition to supporting Measures U1 and O, which has helped fund hundreds of new units of affordable housing.

Marasovic: I have served in multiple policy advisory positions in the city as current chair of the Homeless Services Panel of Experts; chair of the Homeless Commission; chair of the Mental Health Commission; commissioner, Commission on the Status of Women; commissioner, Commission on Labor; and long-term member of the Mental Health Services Act Advisory Committee.

I have written and presented recommendations on housing policy and policies mitigating homelessness to council for several years. I research laws and regulations on a regular basis, write and present recommendations with a strong probability of success. My anti-displacement, anti-discrimination work and experience addressing disability-related issues are needed on the rent board. I bring a pragmatic, analytical approach that is balanced and responsive to the most vulnerable tenants with an openness to the needs of small landlords.

Tamar Michai Freeman

Marrero: I have an expansive and diverse set of experiences and expertise in serving the public, including over 23 years of experience working across sectors to build real and equitable pathways for all people! I promote the fundamental value of democracy in my professional and lived experience and expertise. I am known for my track record in effective public organizational management, collaborative, action-oriented and transparent board governance, proper oversight of fiscal development and management using data-informed practices. I am a progressive, pro-tenant candidate chosen by the 2022 Rent Board Convention. I currently serve on two large California-based nonprofit organization boards both focused on educational outcomes and support services. I have been recognized for my service to social justice and received a multitude of awards, recommendations and recognitions.

Martinac: I am proud to have been nominated by the 2022 Berkeley Tenant Convention, a diverse coalition of tenants, landlords and homeowners committed to protecting rent control and tenants’ rights. Housing is a human right. As an immigrant and single mother who has had to move 11 times since coming to the Bay Area in 2003, I have lived the working-class struggle of building community while repeatedly being priced out of my home. I have dedicated my career to civil service, and am also a shop steward with my union, SEIU Local 1000. I focused my legal studies on renewable energy policy and will work to create climate programs at the Rent Board that will improve the quality of life of Berkeley tenants while building our community’s climate resiliency and reducing our emissions. I am also concerned for the ability of elderly and disabled Berkeley tenants to age in place with dignity.

Mizell: Since I arrived in Berkeley I’ve sought to learn and lead.

As a paralegal, I work at a civil rights employment firm, where I assist in the defense of workers. As a Cal student I served in a number of student leadership capacities pushing the university to keep its word to Black students and other marginalized groups.

My work in the city has revolved around public safety. As the Police Accountability Board vice-chair, I’ve successfully contributed to policy change in a number of policies, including use of force and controlled equipment. As chair of the city’s Reimagining Public Safety Task Force, I’ve contributed in leading efforts to change the paradigm of public safety in our city.

While there’s work to do in our city on all of these fronts, I believe my passion in working towards progressive change in the challenging world of Berkeley governance has prepared me to serve in this important role.

Mosaed: I’m the owner of Berkeley Community Physical Therapy, a clinic in downtown Berkeley, which has been operating for 35 years. Over the past decade, I’ve helped thousands of Berkeleyans regain their functional mobility and move forward with their lives. My team and I have kept the clinic financially solvent through the pandemic by balancing the needs of the less fortunate with private cash-pay clients. In 12 years, I’ve met with, touched and healed more than 10,000 Berkeleyans. I’m a seasoned activist involved in community activism through the Berkeley Tenant Union and many other grassroots organizations that advocate for equity, diversity and human rights, including housing. I feel the pulse of our streets and that’s the foundation of legitimate representation. I know what’s going on and what’s NOT going well!

Saenz Hood: I am a longtime volunteer with organizations for children with disabilities and chronic illness, as well as a successful fundraiser within the nonprofit sector. If elected to the rent board, I would use my influence and experience to advocate for increased housing, particularly for those with disabilities and subsidized housing needs. I would work to make the rent board an active and helpful partner for creating opportunities to add (already created, but vacant) units to the rental market. When we speak of “affordable housing” many forget that some of the more affordable housing is provided by community members who often live on property with their tenant. I want to help educate and incentivize those owners to open up their housing to others.

Tenants and property owners in Berkeley are facing an eviction cliff as state and local COVID-19 resources expire. What steps should the board take to address the concerns of tenants and property owners while the moratorium is still in effect? What should it do once the moratorium is lifted?
Tamar Michai Freeman

Alpert: I am terrified of what will happen when the eviction moratorium ends. I hope that comes because COVID has been thoroughly resolved and not because pending litigation in Oakland kills our protections and throws our community out in the cold. Throughout the moratorium the board has offered counseling and referrals to services for small landlords who need help navigating the new environment, including connecting them with the state rental assistance program to pay rent debt. As we prepare for the end of the moratorium, the board has already begun to plan and strategize for how to protect tenants. We will continue this planing and start rolling out information and services as soon as we have enough details to have confidence we are providing accurate advice. We are also working on plans to ensure that the parts of the law that persist past the state of emergency will be thoroughly enforced.

Elgstrand: The ongoing local eviction moratorium is tied to the local state of emergency relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. While we are still in the midst of this pandemic, there will come a day where this will end. I have worked to secure millions of dollars in rental assistance, helping tenants and small property owners weather through the financial uncertainties caused by the pandemic. These services must continue during and after the moratorium. Having strong and robust rental assistance and anti-displacement programs are more important than ever as we face the worst levels of inflation in over 40 years. Ensuring that tenants can pay their rent and property owners can pay their mortgage is vital to creating stable and healthy communities. Importantly, we need leaders on the rent board who are focused on achieving results and bridging divides in our community.

Marasovic: Two months ago, on the Homeless Services Panel of Experts, as chair, I wrote a recommendation to increase housing retention monies so that tenants’ rental obligations can be met. Pursuing tenants for eviction who are engaged in violence, currently an exception under the moratorium, must also be honored.

When the moratorium is lifted, the RSB Ordinance must be followed, while council continues to fund legal services to represent low-income tenants.

The most vulnerable tenants, seniors and persons with disabilities, frequently require additional assistance.

The rent board needs to explore if mediation can be used more frequently so that both tenants and small landlords have an opportunity to express, and reconcile, their positions.

Tamar Michai Freeman

Marrero: Tenants are protected from unjust evictions by the Eviction for Good Cause Ordinance. Tenant Protection Ordinance protects tenants from harassment by landlords. The rent board will need to continue implementing dynamic practices so that rental housing business owners and tenants know their rights and responsibility under the moratorium. Landlords need to be aware that they can not harass tenants. We need to ensure tenants have long-term protections to prevent displacement and ensure their unique needs are being adequately addressed. With effective and reliable communication, tenants in rent-controlled units and under Measure MM who face possible eviction will be kept informed so they are able to access necessary support and legal services. Rental property business owners can access the rent board for information on their rights.

Martinac: Even with the eviction cliff approaching, there are still many unknowns in the mix. I see the rent board as the main education, outreach and enforcement mechanism for Berkeley tenants in this challenging situation. Parts of the ordinance will still be in effect as the pandemic emergency is lifted, and it will be our role to ensure they are being enforced, always with fairness and justice in mind.

Mizell: The eviction cliff poses a looming risk to the tenants in Berkeley and I’ll do all I can as a commissioner to ensure our moratorium stays in place. I plan to closely monitor any court decision that may affect Berkeley’s

While the ordinance remains in effect, I believe the board should ensure that the law is enforced and ensure tenants are aware of any change to the city’s moratorium. Beyond what can be done at the board-level, I would work collaboratively with fellow commissioners to advocate for legislation that will address this serious issue.

Mosaed: Berkeley declared a state of emergency and passed the COVID-19 Emergency Response Ordinance in March 2020, banning evictions. It establishes a repayment period for back-rent owed due to COVID-19. Tenants have until May 31, 2023, or one year from when the state of emergency ends, whichever is sooner, to pay back-rent from March 17, 2020, through Sept. 30, 2021.

The state extended rental assistance to tenants who could not pay their rent. Many needed help to access and apply for this relief. As a Berkeley Tenant Union steering committee member, I listened to their concerns while answering our hotline. Anyone who’s applied for and not received this assistance by the time the moratorium is lifted is offered a grace due to filing. The rent board should enforce and uphold these rulings and assist the tenants and landlords with mediation through this difficult transition.

Saenz Hood: Few people understand that the rent board is limited in what they can do as it relates to the eviction moratorium. They do not control the eviction moratorium (that is in the hands of the City Council), nor can they provide legal guidance on how to manage problems arising from the eviction moratorium. However, they can continue to take steps to provide as much education and as many resources as possible for both tenants and owners who have questions about the moratorium.

Many tenants and property owners in Berkeley are not aware of resources available to them. What are your plans to improve the rent board’s outreach and education?
Tamar Michai Freeman

Alpert: I’m proud that the board conducts events throughout our community to meet tenants and small landlords where they are with critical information. This is great for reaching older folks and longtime community members, but misses more online demographics and the student community. We need to improve and modernize our online and social media outreach so that we can connect with those folks as well, without giving up our current effective methods. Young people in Berkeley are often renting for the first time and need access to the services and information the board provides.

Elgstrand: Rental law is complex and constantly changing, which makes it difficult for tenants and property owners to understand their rights and obligations. This is acutely true in Berkeley where a large percentage of the population is students who are first time renters. The rent board sends out annual mailers and has a public information unit responsible for outreach and education, but clearly more needs to be done. I will make sure the rent board has consistent communication with tenant and landlord organizations to help disseminate critical information, particularly through social media presence.

Marasovic: Outreach needs to be conducted in a manner most likely to reach the tenants and property owners impacted.

For some individuals, such as seniors, they need to be reached through workshop presentations and coordinating with agencies that work with and advocate for them. For others that daily access social media, that may be the best form of outreach for them.

Persons with disabilities need to know of their rights to accommodations and their rights under the elevator ordinance. There should be increased outreach on discrimination laws and freedom from retaliation provisions.

Tamar Michai Freeman

Marrero: Our communities need to be informed on what the Rent Board services are and why they are important and related to their daily lives. We need to amplify our efforts through a formal Communication and Outreach Plan with goals across platforms like promoting the Tip of the Month in social media, continue holding information webinars and to have a strong staffing plan for the Public Information Unit to implement and sustain services.

Martinac: I think the rent board is already doing a pretty good job, but there is always an opportunity to improve on existing processes. As a parent, I know many parents and children have been struggling through the pandemic, and even before the pandemic, and believe there is an opening for the rent board to collaborate with the Berkeley Unified School District on an outreach program to educate Berkeley parents on resources available to them.

Mizell: As a member of the Police Accountability Board, the issue of visibility and outreach is a recurring question in my work in the city. During the application period for the PAB, we held an informative webinar explaining the new board and the role of PAB board members.

The rent board should launch outreach events timed to the move-in and move-out seasons, and clearly describe the powers of the board. Beyond direct events, I believe an accessible public dashboard should be created to track major cases of negligence in addressing needed repairs and habitability issues.

Mosaed: As a physical therapist and clinic owner, I’m always trying to educate and do outreach to both providers and clients. In addition, I’ve been organizing to promote and spread the word on tenants’ rights through the Berkeley Tenant Union. I have a very strong background in outreach and I plan to use my skills to bridge the divide between landlords and tenants by educating both about the resources that the rent board provides.

Saenz Hood: The rent board has a more than $6.5 million annual budget, yet their advertising and marketing budget is only $50,000 per year. Effective education requires repeated communications via a multitude of channels. My goal would be to increase the channels of outreach and find more creative ways to communicate the role the rent board plays in the Berkeley community.

Do you think Berkeley has a healthy rental ecosystem? Why or why not?
Tamar Michai Freeman

Alpert: No. A handful of large corporations own a huge percentages of the city’s rental units. This is especially concerning when that includes companies owned by the infamous Lakireddy family, who have a history of substandard care of their units and well known criminal activity. We also have a critical shortage of housing, especially on the Southside where the university’s failure to build at pace with enrollment growth has driven up prices throughout our city. This shortage is not evenly distributed; we have built far less of our RHNA targets for middle- and low-income housing than for market-rate.

Elgstrand: No. A healthy rental market would mean renters are paying no more than 30% of their income towards rent, but far too many people are paying much more. While there are many variables causing this, a key one is the lack of housing. We are way behind where we need to be, which has been exacerbated by a lack of new student housing. Fortunately, in recent years things are improving, with 9,000 units to be built over the next decade, in addition to thousands of student beds being proposed by the university. We need to protect tenants, preserve affordable housing and produce housing.

Marasovic: There can be no healthy rental ecosystem when we have inequities in it. Under Costa-Hawkins, once a tenant moves out, the apartment is no longer under rent control nor are apartments constructed after 1995 under Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board ordinance. Rents have become increasingly astronomical, which substantially has decreased socioeconomic, racial and other diversity.

Tamar Michai Freeman

Marrero: No. As a rent board commissioner, I will advocate for the vacancy tax which can place rent control units back on the market. The vacancy tax is necessary in the city of Berkeley, we have too many vacant units that are creating scarcity and increasing rents. The crisis is manufactured by business owners and intentionally keeps properties empty. Measure MM, passed in 2020, is providing Berkeley with a clear picture of what the rental ecosystem really is and is showing units sitting vacant.

Martinac: If I did, I wouldn’t be running for this position! The rents are way too high; elderly and disabled tenants are struggling to age in place with dignity; gentrification is pushing long-term residents out of the city, thus changing the character of our beautiful, diverse city into something I frankly don’t want to be a part of. Many challenges lie ahead, and I wish to tackle them.

Mizell: In a word, no. I think it’s fairly obvious to tenants in Berkeley that the rental ecosystem is deeply unfair. Costa-Hawkins, the housing shortage (due, in part, to the racist origins of single-family zoning and federal housing disinvestment), and the long-term effects of gentrification work as a toxic combination. Together they ensure high starting rents, limited options for housing mobility and a cost climate that forces community members out. The rent board and Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization and Eviction for Good Cause Ordinance are two of the critical tools with some ability to combat the effects of these issues in the rental ecosystem.

Mosaed: Berkeley’s rental system is not separate from the forces that dictate housing at a state and federal level. Yet, due to the density and demand, it’s even more unhealthy.

The financialization of the housing market, the subprime mortgage meltdown, government bailout of banks, compounded by the deregulation of the housing and banking sector, led to the working class’ inability to buy homes and growing numbers of tenants. This same commodification of housing led to the lucrative investment in rental housing by millionaires in market-rate homes — way out of reach of the average Berkeleyans.

Saenz Hood: As long as demand outstrips supply, we will not have a healthy rental ecosystem. In a “healthy” ecosystem, the network is resilient enough to withstand change and stressors. Unfortunately, the pandemic showed us this wasn’t true for Berkeley. The stressors of an eviction moratorium that is more than two and half years old has caused turmoil for both tenant and rental housing provider. With a tight housing market that is short on options, we need to craft housing policy that is sustainable for our future and encourage increased existing housing supply, or our ecosystem will continue to erode.

Could you share an interesting story or fact about yourself that voters might be surprised to learn about?
Tamar Michai Freeman

Alpert: I am a huge nerd (maybe not surprising) and am really into TTRPGs (think Dungeons and Dragons). I spend a lot of time at Games of Berkeley. My favorite systems right now are Pathfinder 2e and Monster of the Week. You will be my friend forever if you ask to see my dice collection.

Elgstrand: While I was not born here, I can be considered a third-generation Berkeleyan. My grandparents and mother lived in Berkeley in the 1960s. I want to make sure other families can live in Berkeley for generations instead of being priced out/displaced.

Marasovic: At my first position as a mental health worker, after I reported a co-worker, and his associates, for molesting children, no action was taken. After years, several men were convicted, including an international child pornographer. Those who attempted to discredit me were themselves discredited.

Tamar Michai Freeman

Marrero: Yes, I have acted in several play readings — stories about loved ones with dementia. Last year, I wrote my first play.

Martinac: I love to study languages and have dabbled in 10 altogether. Currently studying French on Duolingo at my leisure.

Mizell: I was once known for my height. Back in the sixth grade, I was in the 99.86 percentile for height. I was 6-foot-2 in seventh grade. Both of my parents are 5-foot-7. Four years later and I hadn’t grown since middle school and I decided to quit organized basketball to focus exclusively on student leadership issues. I still love basketball, but it was definitely the right choice for me.

Mosaed: I’ve been a homeowner in Berkeley since 2011. I believe it’s important to understand and relate to tenants and landlords. Unfortunately, this is often forgotten by homeowners who become landlords that, when their property becomes a business, it’s no longer their home; it’s also someone else’s.

Saenz Hood: When I’m not bothering my neighbors by informing them of Berkeley housing policy, I write Haiku.

Watch forums with the rent board candidates

The Berkeley Neighborhoods Council hosted a forum for the rent board candidates. Watch a recording.

The League of Women Voters of Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville also hosted a forum for the candidates. Watch a recording.

See a full list of candidate forums in Berkeley.

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.

Here are some other helpful election resources:

See complete 2022 election coverage on Berkeleyside.

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