Pro-tenant slate chosen for Berkeley rent board race

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Maggie Soun/Staff

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At a convention Sunday afternoon, more than 100 Berkeley residents elected five candidates to run for rent board on the pro-tenant slate this November.

At the Berkeley Tenants Convention, incumbents Katherine Harr and Jesse Townley, along with James Chang, John Selawsky and Paola Laverde, were elected from a pool of seven candidates — although one dropped out right before voting — to the Affordable Housing slate. For more than a decade, the convention has been held to choose a slate of pro-tenant candidates.

The Rent Stabilization Board has five seats up for election this year. Its duties include administering the Berkeley ordinance that regulates rents and protects against unwarranted evictions.

Chang, who graduated from UC Berkeley this year, was the top vote-getter. Chang has served as vice president of external affairs at the Berkeley Student Cooperative and led efforts to create a student district. He emphasized the importance of students’ political voices and noted the need for diversity on the board.

“I’m talking about fighting for the soul of Berkeley,” Chang said at the convention. “In Berkeley, student issues are community issues, and community issues are student issues.”

Harr, vice chair of the rent board, emphasized her stance on a Berkeley law stipulating that rent-controlled housing units can only be demolished if replaced by affordable housing. One interpretation of the ordinance that has arisen is that housing units not be considered rent-controlled if empty. Harr said she would want the rent board to sue the city if it interpreted the law in such a way.

Harr refuted that the Affordable Housing slate is unfairly anti-landlord, noting that she is a landlord herself.

The Affordable Housing slate, which has recently dominated the rent board, has been accused of disfavoring landlords. In 2012, a report from the Alameda County Superior Court also criticized the rent board for overcharging landlords of registration fees.

Selawsky also noted that he wants to increase membership of the Berkeley Tenants Union. Selawsky said he served on the Berkeley School Board for 12 years and co-founded the union, which advocates tenants’ rights.

Laverde, a videographer, noted that the rent board could better inform tenants of their rights, possibly with online videos.

“Knowledge is power,”  Laverde said at the convention. “Too many tenants in Berkeley don’t have the necessary knowledge to fight unfair evictions,”

Townley advocated automatic inspections of buildings and received praise from Councilmember Jesse Arreguin for pushing for Berkeley’s soft-story ordinance, which requires a certain type of buildings to be retrofitted within the next five years.

In 2012, the Affordable Housing slate faced competition from Tenants United for Fairness, a slate known for being pro-landlord and supported by the Berkeley Property Owners Association. No TUFF candidates have yet announced their candidacy.

Melissa Wen is a news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @melissalwen.