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Five New Pro-Tenant Members Elected to Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board

New members Leah Simon-Weisberg, Mari Mendonca, Andy Kelley, Dominique Walker, and Xavier Johnson aim to make housing a human right.

On November 3, the five members of the Right to Housing Slate were elected to the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board. On their campaign website, the candidates describe themselves as “a group of progressive, pro-tenant candidates,” who “believe that housing is a human right.”

The new board members are Leah Simon-Weisberg, Mari Mendonca, Andy Kelley, Dominique Walker, and Xavier Johnson. There are no pro-landlord members currently on the nine-member board. Additionally, several of the new board members are active in the Friends of Adeline group, a South Berkeley-run organization that opposes and works to fight gentrification. 

The slate introduced multiple campaign promises, one of which was to afford tenants the ability to request bulk junk pick ups, a right already held by landlords. Although small, this is an achievable goal that will likely result in a better living and renting experience for tenants. 

Another prevalent topic regarding housing in Berkeley is rent control, the practice of keeping artificially low rent prices for old buildings and houses. The Right to Housing Slate aims to enforce and expand rent control across Berkeley. However, changing the fundamental restrictions on the expansion of rent control must take place at the state level; the expansion of rent control within Berkeley is unlikely. Proposition 21, which would have done just that, failed in the November election by over three million votes.

The slate also aims to increase the taxation and regulatory burdens on real estate developers, a policy that could work against the interest of renters. Berkeley is in the midst of a housing crisis, and most economists agree that additional costs or regulation discourage development.

“The general finding is that rent control reduces the supply of housing,” said Alan J. Auerbach, director of the Robert D. Burch Center for Tax Policy and Public Finance at the University of California, Berkeley. “[It also] increases the ability of existing tenants to remain,” he explained. 

Leah Simon-Weisberg, a member of the slate, disagrees. “Rent control … has no impact on the creation of housing. The purpose of rent control is to stabilize the price of housing while tenants are living in the unit,” she said.

Making housing a human right is the main priority of the slate. The Right to Housing Slate has limited local power, and some rudimentary economic principles stand in their way. One problem is cost. Auerbach explained that introducing a human right to housing “depends on how the city would pay for this very expensive initiative.” While the rent board may fight for a state or nationwide right, the impact will be severely limited for now and the foreseeable future .

Another campaign promise of the slate was to increase the accessibility of rented units in the city. The promise to increase accessibility to rent controlled units already passed in the Berkeley Fair Chance Housing Ordinance, which introduced many new protections for tenants. This recent legislation has made it unlawful for landlords to inquire about a tenant’s criminal history or source of income.

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